Bielo, “Ark Encounter”

Bielo, James S. 2018. Ark Encounter: The Making of a Creationist Theme Park. New York: New York University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Opened to the public in July 2016, Ark Encounter is a creationist theme park in Kentucky. The park features an all-timber re-creation of Noah’s ark, built full scale to creationist specifications drawn from the text of Genesis, as well as exhibits that imagine the Bible’s account of life before the flood.  More than merely religious spectacle, Ark Encounter offers important insights about the relationship between religion and entertainment, religious publicity and creativity, and fundamentalist Christian claims to the public sphere.

James S. Bielo examines these themes, drawing on his unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the Ark Encounter creative team during the initial design of the park. This unique anthropological perspective shows creationists outside church contexts, and reveals their extraordinary effort to materialize a controversial worldview for the general public. Taking readers from inside the park’s planning rooms to other fundamentalist projects and diverse Christian tourist attractions, Bielo illuminates how creationist cultural producers seek to reach both their constituents and the larger culture.

The “making of” this creationist theme park, Bielo argues, allows us to understand how fundamentalist culture is produced, and how entertainment and creative labor are used to legitimize creationism.  Through intriguing and surprising observations, Ark Encounter challenges readers to engage with the power of entertainment and to seriously grapple with creationist ambitions for authority. For believers and non-believers alike, this book is an invaluable glimpse into the complicated web of religious entertainment and cultural production.

Bubandt, “The Empty Seashell”

Bubandt, Nils. 2014. The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Publisher’s DescriptionThe Empty Seashell explores what it is like to live in a world where cannibal witches are undeniably real, yet too ephemeral and contradictory to be an object of belief. In a book based on more than three years of fieldwork between 1991 and 2011, Nils Bubandt argues that cannibal witches for people in the coastal, and predominantly Christian, community of Buli in the Indonesian province of North Maluku are both corporeally real and fundamentally unknowable.

Witches (known as gua in the Buli language or as suanggi in regional Malay) appear to be ordinary humans but sometimes, especially at night, they take other forms and attack people in order to kill them and eat their livers. They are seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The reality of gua, therefore, can never be pinned down. The title of the book comes from the empty nautilus shells that regularly drift ashore around Buli village. Convention has it that if you find a live nautilus, you are a gua. Like the empty shells, witchcraft always seems to recede from experience.Bubandt begins the book by recounting his own confusion and frustration in coming to terms with the contradictory and inaccessible nature of witchcraft realities in Buli. A detailed ethnography of the encompassing inaccessibility of Buli witchcraft leads him to the conclusion that much of the anthropological literature, which views witchcraft as a system of beliefs with genuine explanatory power, is off the mark. Witchcraft for the Buli people doesn’t explain anything. In fact, it does the opposite: it confuses, obfuscates, and frustrates. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia—an interminable experience that remains continuously in doubt—Bubandt suggests the need to take seriously people’s experiential and epistemological doubts about witchcraft, and outlines, by extension, a novel way of thinking about witchcraft and its relation to modernity.

Premawardhana, “Spirit(s) in Motion”

Premawardhana, Devaka. 2018. “Spirit(s) in Motion: Pentecostalism, Pluralism, and Everyday Life”. PentecoStudies. 17(1): 37-53.

Abstract: Despite its rituals of rupture and discourse of discontinuity, Pentecostalism does not always succeed in dislodging church participants from their pre-existing religious worlds. This paper connects the eclectic, everyday engagements of rank-and-file Pentecostals to a variety of concepts deployed in studies of religious pluralism (e.g. syncretism, hybridity, polyontology, bricolage, and especially the recently theorized butinage). Drawing on empirical evidence from Mozambique, while also glancing comparatively at Brazil, this paper aims to help open new questions regarding Pentecostal religious identity by arguing for the presence of pluralistic impulses within Pentecostalism itself.

Montemaggi, “Compassion and Purity”

Montemaggi, Francesca. (2018) “Compassion and purity: the ethics and boundary-making of Christian evangelicals”. Religion. DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2018.1470117

Abstract: The paper explores the ethical attitude of Christian evangelicals in a church in Britain and how it affects boundary-making of their community. Evangelicals in the case study seek to be accepting of the person and to refrain from being judgemental. The paper distinguishes between the person-centred ‘ethic of compassion’and the norm-centred ‘ethic of purity’. The ethic of compassion consists in accepting another and recognising the dignity of another based on shared humanity. It is a frame of mind that combines moral intention with the emotions of empathy and sympathy. In contrast, the ethic of purity privileges adherence to the moral order of the group over considerations for the person. The ‘compassionate’ frame of mind weakens boundaries, while the ‘pure’ frame of mind reinforces them. The boundaries of a community result from the interplay of the two ethics.

Irvine, “Our Lady of Ipswich”

Irvine, Richard D.G. 2018 Our Lady of Ipswich: devotion, dissonance, and the agitation of memory at a forgotten pilgrimage site. JRAI 24(2): 366-384.

Abstract: This article traces the social life of Our Lady of Ipswich, a statue taken to be destroyed during the English Reformation, and the possibility of pilgrimage in the context of dramatic urban change and loss of place memory. Arguing that iconoclasm is not an end‐point, we see that the life of the image is not extinguished on the pyre, but is set into motion by conflict surrounding its significance, efficacy, and survival. Indeed, it is not simply the act of iconoclasm that animates the statue; rather, such agonistic animation is an ongoing process which involves both those who reject and those who are devoted to the image. My argument is that the potency of contemporary images of Our Lady of Ipswich relies on an active cultivation of dissonance: the consciousness of religious schism; the disjuncture between Ipswich’s historical importance and the perceived failures of twentieth‐century development; and the juxtaposition between devotional pilgrimage destination and disenchanted shopping space.

Bialecki, “Character as Gift and Erasure”

Bialecki, Jon. 2018. Character as gift and erasure. Social Anthropology. SS(0): 1-11.

Abstract: For Southern Californian members of the Vineyard network of charismatic churches, character is a gift of God, traits bequested on them that are equal in dignity and importance to the classical divine gifts such as tongues, prophecy, healing or casting out demons. The chief difference is that these more classical gifts are not about gaining or valuing character traits, but about submission to God, and therefore are as much moments of character’s erasure as they are of elaboration. And both forms of character, as perduring divine gift or as an ascetically earned moral character shaped through submission, help believers understand character in a third sense: as their being participants, and therefore personages, in the wider Gospel narrative of cosmic salvation.


Reed and Bialecki, “Introduction to Special Section 1: Anthropology and Character”

Reed, Adam and Bialecki, Jon. 2018. Introduction to special section 1: Anthropology and character. Social Anthropology. SS(0): 1-9.

Abstract: This introductory essay seeks to reintroduce character to anthropological inquiry. Although it has long been out of favour due to its historical associations with accounts that attempt to describe national or ethnic character, we argue that a return of the under‐theorised concept may be in order. The essay invites socio‐cultural anthropologists to describe the diverse contexts in which character is recognised or enacted, out‐there‐in‐the‐world, and to become far more reflective about the ways in which characterization is deployed in our ethnographic writing. At the same time, it asks how the concept might be fruitfully operationalized at a meta‐language level to reorient current fields of anthropological study, without necessarily resorting to any collective or individual essentialisms. To illustrate the utility of re‐interrogating the concept, the question is addressed to two specific fields in which one might expect a concept such as character to already feature strongly: the anthropology of ethics and the anthropology of Christianity. What does an ethnographic attention to the ways in which character gets attributed reveal? How differently might these and other fields look if anthropologists embraced the concept of character or rejected it more knowingly? Finally, the essay asks what kinds of recombination of insights an anthropology and character approach might enable.

Pedersen, “Becoming What You Are”

Pedersen, Morten A. 2018. Becoming what you are: faith and freedom in a Danish Lutheran movement. Social Anthropology SS(0): 1- 15.

Abstract: Based on fieldwork in the Danish protestant movement Tidehverv, this article explores what it means to try to live one’s life according to a neo- orthodox Lutheran and explicitly Kierkegaard- inspired theology, whose overarching existential, social and political ideal is always to be true to oneself. Departing from the seemingly paradoxical notion that the essence of living a genuinely Christian life is ‘to become what you are’, as a Tidehverv priest put it, I seek to pin down the distinct concept of character, and wider concepts of personhood and temporality, upon which this ‘fundamentalist existentialist’ theology and ethics rest. This will involve discussing in some detail a number of core Kierkegaardian concepts such as ‘the moment’ (øjeblikket), the ‘decision’ (afgørelsen) and ‘the leap’ (springet), and making a preliminary attempt to contextualise Tidehverv’s existentialist project within the wider political, religious and cultural history of the modern Danish nation state. In doing so, the article offers an exploration of the relationships between Lutheran concepts of character and political expression, and between the concept of Christian individual character and Danish national character.

Vagramenko, “Chronotopes of Conversion and the Production of Christian Fundamentalism in the Post-Soviet Arctic”

Vagramenko, Tatiana. 2018. Chronotopes of Conversion and the Production of Christian Fundamentalism in the Post-Soviet Arctic. Sibirica. Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies. 17(1): 63–91.

Abstract: This article discusses the contribution of the chronotope as an analytic category in studies of Christian conversion, applying it to postsocialist religious changes in the Russian Arctic. Looking through basic categories of human experience—space and time—the article focuses on the comparative analysis of the two missionary movements working in northwestern Siberia—neo-Pentecostalism and Baptism. The article examines postsocialist Evangelical missionary movement among the Nenets people who live in the Polar Ural tundra. The Nenets tried out multiple faiths on the emerging religious spectrum, choosing in the end fundamentalist Baptism. The article elaborates on possible conditions that made Christian fundamentalism appealing in this part of the Arctic. I suggest that Nenets historical experience as a colonized periphery of the Russian state, particularly the Soviet experiments with space and time, have bridged Nenets social expectations and a radical form of Evangelical Christianity.