In Walking on the Pages of the Word of God Aron Engberg explores the religious language and identities of evangelical volunteer workers in contemporary Jerusalem. The volunteers are connected to Christian organizations which consider their work a natural consequence of the biblical promises to Israel and their responsibility to “bless the Jewish people”.
Relying on ethnographic data of the discursive practices of the volunteers, the book explores a central puzzle of Zionist Christianity: the narrative production of Israel’s religious significance and its relationship to broader Christian language traditions. By focusing on the volunteers’ stories about themselves, the land and the Bible, Aron Engberg offers a convincing account about how the State of Israel is finding its way into evangelical identities.
Why do post-pilgrimage slideshows help Transylvanian Hungarian Catholics perform domestic devotional labor? There is growing interest in breaking open pilgrimage research, and scholars have recently begun studying rituals of return—including pilgrims’ practice of using photographs to narrate their journeys after returning home. I contribute to this effort by sketching out the general characteristics of Transylvanian Hungarian Catholics’ post-pilgrimage slideshows about the Medjugorje shrine. I then give a detailed description of an exemplary case: a married couple’s presentation for their children gathered around the family computer. Although we might expect pilgrims to routinize stories and images from a chaotic journey, many slideshows were quite disorganized and impressionistic. This disorganization helped travelers tailor their stories to the diverse spiritual interests of guests in a changing Transylvanian Hungarian Catholic religious landscape. Family members’ conversations also dramatized how neoliberalism in Romania has emerged alongside new global pilgrimage sites like Medjugorje. Medjugorje appeals to pilgrims because it is a privileged site for advertising national wares on the global market.
This article examines religious language in a contested public sphere by analyzing performances of linguistic creativity among creationists in the United States. The public creation‐evolution debate has been a central speech event in the development of modern creationism, and functions as a key site for claiming cultural legitimacy. Focusing on three creation‐evolution debates spanning 33 years, I advance the concept of “creationist poetics” to capture how framing, stance taking, and speech play define the performance repertoire of creationists in the debate context. In particular, I illustrate how creationist speakers work to create a conspiracy‐populist frame and a revealer stance. Together, these strategies sketch a lifeworld that envisions elitist “secular” actors suppressing scriptural authority and creationists as humble, clear‐eyed people exposing the conspiracy through scriptural fidelity. I argue that this system of poetics is a key expressive resource in the ongoing struggle to wrest authority away from evolutionary science and claim it for biblical fundamentalism. Ultimately, this analysis of creationist poetics informs our understanding of how authority as a contingent social process is discursively mediated, a central theme in the study of both religious and political language.
While increasing Evangelical religiosity among Latin Americans in the United States has been well documented, few studies have considered how this faith shapes and is shaped by migrant experience itself. Based on fieldwork among Brazilian migrants outside of Washington, DC, a new immigrant gateway, I suggest that attention to migrant affective experience sheds new light on the growth of Evangelical faith. In the first section, I show how migrant experience configured a common portrait of affective distress marked by loneliness and feeling stuck, which in turn stimulated novel religious longings among migrants. In the remainder of the article, I illustrate how Evangelical churches effectively addressed and reinterpreted migrant-related distress through what I call affective therapeutics—the strategic healing of migrants’ negative emotion states. I outline the five discursive and practice-based tactics of this strategy that I witnessed—happiness of believers, self as vessel, watchful community, open-scripted prayer, and testimony—and consider how they relieved migrant distress. Writing against a “hermeneutics of suspicion,” I instead offer this research as part of a broader effort in the anthropology of religion and Christianity to document the hopeful and creative strategies through which individuals pursue what they conceive of as the “good.”
A personal relationship with God is central to Evangelical belief. It unfolds as believers interpret internal sensations as coming from outside—from God. How does the formulaic design of testimonies present the audience with a personal relationship with God as a pursuit that is both feasible and deeply desirable? Analyzing the discursive rules structuring the appearance of emotion in the most popular testimonies on the online platform of Christianity Today reveals that such texts expertly present a microcosm in which the experience of reading mirrors the trajectory toward belief writers describe. To read a testimony from start to finish, readers must choose to tolerate the unfamiliar: that is, feel emotions that specifically belong in an Evangelical frame. Online written testimony relies on compelling storytelling to move readers, making them practise what it feels like to hand over part of one’s own story to God.
This article investigates the construction and transmission of charisma through online channels and its role in the formation of religious identities. Mindful of Max Weber’s observation that charisma inhabits the relationship between a leader and his/her followers, I argue for a critical reappraisal of the theoretical model in the light of the ubiquity in the twenty-first century of new, virtual forms of social encounter. I focus my analysis on the Christian creationist movement in the United States and particularly on an influential leader called Ken Ham. Using digital ethnographic methods, I show how Ham constructs charisma online and how a virtual community forms itself around his charismatic claims. I illustrate how this virtual community intersects with offline worlds and suggest that the theme park attractions that Ham’s organisation runs (Creation Museum, Ark Encounter) are imbued with deflected charisma by virtue of their association with his online avatar.
In this article I explore the role of Pentecostalism in the lives of middle-class Brazilian students-turned-migrants in Australia. Brazilian students lead precarious lives in Australia. They are transitioning into adulthood, living away from the homeland and without their families for the first time and they experience downward mobility. In addition, they are at the mercy of constant changes in Australian migration policy. Drawing on three years of multi-sited fieldwork in Australia and Brazil in three Pentecostal churches (the Australian megachurches Hillsong and C3 and a Brazilian church), I argue that Pentecostalism supports these students in their migration pathway. This is particularly the case because these are Seeker churches. By focusing on youth culture, entertainment, and informality and by addressing real-life situations, these churches cater to middle-class sensibilities. I also contend that their religious beliefs and practices are interwoven with the students’ narratives of migration to Australia. Thus the students pray for visas, jobs, and sponsorships for permanent residency and they see every obstacle and achievement as God’s work in their lives. For them, God determines whether they can stay or must return home. Importantly, citizenship in God’s kingdom gives them a more significant sense of belonging than that of the Australian state.
The Thomas Souls Ministry is a prayer group founded by Catholics from the middle Sepik. It is led by a spirit of the dead called Thomas who takes possession of a Nyaura (West Iatmul) woman to preach, prophesy, counsel, and heal. While a prominent debate within the Anthropology of Christianity argues for radical change and rupture with the pre‐Christian self and society, I suggest that continuity within change is found in the way my interlocutors have made Christianity their own. I argue that the local concept of the person defined by aspects of dividualism and reflecting ontological premises of people’s lifeworld has strongly influenced the way Christianity was appropriated. In current religious practices people put these premises into action and reinforce them in intersubjective encounters with the divine other. Analysing people’s ‘onto‐praxis’, I argue that the Thomas Souls Ministry can be understood as part of a re‐empowerment process that re‐appropriates local meanings, spirits, and practices despite, and in fact against, the influence of the Catholic mission proselytizing in the region.
What do we talk about when we talk about sex? …[S]exuality as a form of knowledge is made possible by the discursive processes that constitute it. Discourse is the field on which particular ideologies, structures, and desires surrounding sexuality get played out. In many ways, discourse holds a unique status in religious contexts: it can be constructed as a holy artifact or a means to salvation, and it is also vital for creating and disseminating religious tradition and identity…
Scholarly inquiry into these three veins – discourse, sexuality, and Christianity – has spanned a number of disciplines and has been marked by disparate methodologies and analytic frameworks. My dissertation seeks to bring many of these threads together to provide a meaningful account of the current discourses around sexual ethics among Christians in the United States. I focus in particular on the Baptist denomination of Christianity as a site of study, since its loose denominational structure gives rise to a wide variety of beliefs and practices around sexuality that are discursively negotiated in community spaces. Through a methodology I call event ethnography, I provide an in-depth examination of the 2012 [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant to capture the complexities of this singular event as situated within its larger cultural context. I analyze the constraints of the physical space of the event, how plenary speakers interdiscursively engage with many of the same Christian texts and traditions in radically different ways, and the emergent dialogicality of the audience’s engagement both in person and online through Twitter. My analysis of this event shows the ways in which social histories, institutional structures, and spatiotemporal realities both enable and constrain particular types of discourse. I also explore the ways in which my research has morphed from a traditional focus on discourse analysis to a more activist approach of community-engaged research. I discuss the various ways I am currently collaborating with Baptist leaders in the development of resources that promote healthier, more holistic conversations around sexuality. I argue that these forms of academic activism can help build more robust scholarship as well as bring about positive social change.
Conflicts over conversion often involve divergent logics about religious publicity and persuasion. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Sri Lankan Buddhists began expressing renewed hostility toward Christians, who are seen as “unethically” converting Sri Lankans away from their native religions. They see the material accoutrements of Christian grace as estranging Buddhists from righteous, karmic inheritances. Distinctive economies of religious persuasion are perceived to engender differences in the essential character of persons. Buddhist nationalists tend to take evangelical Christian economic and religio-moral inclinations (prosperity gospels, charitability, and expansionism) as malignant attributes of Christian personhood (greed, zeal, misguided forgiveness, fraudulent economic manipulation). Anti-conversion discourses paint conversion to Christianity as an insidious socialization process that threatens Buddhism and generates fraudulence and anti-nationalism. These anxieties over religious difference crystallized in allegations that a Sinhala convert to Christianity—a businessman and philanthropist—was culpable for the death of a prominent Buddhist monk. The iconic conversion of the alleged culprit, seen alongside prior conversion trends, makes evident a periodized history of “pragmatic” conversions (a) from Buddhism to Christianity (colonial era), (b) from Christianity back to Buddhism (decolonization), and (c) from Buddhism to charismatic Christianity (during “nationalization” of the economy amid global neoliberalization). Religio-economic affinities are split along partisan lines in Sri Lanka, thereby intensifying the conflictual interplay between evangelical conviction and nativist skepticism.