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.

Hansen, “Addicted to Christ: Remaking Men in Puerto Rican Pentecostal Drug Ministries”

Hansen, Helena. 2018. Addicted to Christ: Remaking Men in Puerto Rican Pentecostal Drug Ministries. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Abstract: How are spiritual power and self-transformation cultivated in street ministries? In Addicted to Christ, Helena Hansen provides an in-depth analysis of Pentecostal ministries in Puerto Rico that were founded and run by self-identified “ex-addicts,” ministries that are also widespread in poor Black and Latino neighborhoods in the U.S. mainland. Richly ethnographic, the book harmoniously melds Hansen’s dual expertise in cultural anthropology and psychiatry. Through the stories of ministry converts, she examines key elements of Pentecostalism: mysticism, ascetic practice, and the idea of other-worldliness. She then reconstructs the ministries’ strategies of spiritual victory over addiction: transformation techniques to build spiritual strength and authority through pain and discipline; cultivation of alternative masculinities based on male converts’ reclamation of domestic space; and radical rupture from a post-industrial “culture of disposability.” By contrasting the ministries’ logic of addiction with that of biomedicine, Hansen rethinks roads to recovery, discovering unexpected convergences with biomedicine while revealing the allure of street corner ministries.

Rose, “Geometries of ‘global’ evangelicalism.”

Rose, Lena. 2018. “Geometries of ‘global’ evangelicalism.” Global Networks: A Journal of Transnational Affairs. doi: 10.1111/glob.12211.

Abstract: In this article, I explore the power dynamics at play in religious place‐making. I critically discuss the uneven co‐configurations of imaginaries of the ‘local’ and ‘global’ within global evangelicalism. Specifically, I analyse the recent recording of a live album by the famous charismatic Australian band Hillsong United (of Hillsong Church) at various locations in Israel‐Palestine, which was followed by a concert tour in Israel. Palestinian evangelical Christians were critical of this endeavour, for they felt that it marginalized and excluded them from their global evangelical faith family. The frictions between the Palestinian evangelical community and Hillsong United illustrate how dominant evangelical actors create an imagination of the ‘local’, which enters the imaginary of global evangelicalism (and bears material consequences). In the article, I thus argue that privileged financial and cultural resources and travel regimes lead to specific notions of geometries of power in global evangelicalism.

Kpobi, Sarfo, and Yendork, “‘I’m Here Because of Christ and Worshipping God . . .’: actors Influencing Religious Switching Among Ghanaian Charismatic/Neo-Pentecostal Christians

Kpobi, Lily, Anokyewaa Sarfo, Elizabeth, and Joana Salifu Yendork. 2017. “I’m Here Because of Christ and Worshipping God . . .”: actors Influencing Religious Switching Among Ghanaian Charismatic/Neo-Pentecostal Christians. Archive for the Psychology of Religion 39 (3). 295-311. 

Abstract: Many people like to identify as belonging to one church or another. Previous studies have explored the process of switching from one religious group to another, and this process has identified various factors that determine the likelihood and reasons for switching. Although this has been explored, little is known about the factors that influence switching among charismatic Christians in Ghana, and the potential implications of such switching on mental well-being. Our study therefore explored the reasons given by members of selected neo-Pentecostal/charismatic churches in Ghana for their decision to switch to these churches. The study was conducted in six neo-Pentecostal churches in Accra and Kumasi through the use of individual and focus group interviews as well as observations of church activities. A total of 86 respondents cited reasons such as geographic mobility, marriage, answers to prayer, as well as miracles and prophecies as their determining factors. These are discussed with emphasis on the potential implications for mental health such as psychological distress, blind faith, and individual agency.

Wilcox, “Queer Nuns”

Wilcox, Mellisa. 2018. Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody. New York: NYU Press. 

Publisher’s Description: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence make up an unlikely order of nuns. Self-described as “twenty-first century queer nuns,” the Sisters began in 1979 when three bored gay men donned retired Roman Catholic nuns’ habits and went for a stroll through San Francisco’s gay Castro district. The stunned and delighted responses they received prompted these already-seasoned activists to consider whether the habits might have some use in social justice work, and within a year they had constituted the new order. Today, with more than 83 houses on four different continents, the Sisters offer health outreach, support, and, at times, protest on behalf of queer communities.

In Queer Nuns, Melissa M. Wilcox offers new insights into the role the Sisters play across queer culture and the religious landscape. The Sisters both spoof nuns and argue quite seriously that they are nuns, adopting an innovative approach the author refers to as serious parody. Like any performance, serious parody can either challenge or reinforce existing power dynamics, and it often accomplishes both simultaneously. The book demonstrates that, through the use of this strategy, the Sisters are able to offer an effective, flexible, and noteworthy approach to community-based activism.

Serious parody ultimately has broader applications beyond its use by the Sisters. Wilcox argues that serious parody offers potential uses and challenges in the efforts of activist groups to work within communities that are opposed and oppressed by culturally significant traditions and organizations – as is the case with queer communities and the Roman Catholic Church. This book opens the door to a new world of religion and social activism, one which could be adapted to a range of political movements, individual inclinations, and community settings.

Swatowiski and Barbosa, “Pentecostalism and the Urban Landless Movement”

Swatowiski, Claudia Wolff and Barbosa, Luciano Senna Peres. “Pentecostalism and the Urban Landless Movement: Political Struggle and Spiritual Battle in Uberlândia, Brazil.” PentecoStudies. 17(1): 77-94. 

Abstract: This article addresses the connection between Pentecostalism and a movement of people who had occupied urban land in an effort to gain legal residence. Based on an investigation of the “Ocupação Glória” land settlement in the city of Uberlândia, Brazil, we analyse the ways in which demands for the right to housing are associated with Pentecostal dynamics and cosmologies. We examine how Pentecostals contribute to a movement to legalize unauthorized settlements in urban space, and establish an overlapping of political struggle and spiritual battle. We also investigate how the practices of evangelical churches in the “Ocupação Glória” at times work in juxtaposition and at times in opposition to other modalities of the social movement that operate in the settlement.

McIvor, “Human Rights and Broken Cisterns”

McIvor, Méadhbh. 2018. “Human Rights and Broken Cisterns: Counterpublic Christianity and Rights-based Discourse in Contemporary England.” Ethnos. 

Abstract: Although human rights are often framed as the result of centuries of Western Christian thought, many English evangelicals are wary of the U.K.’s recent embrace of rights-based law. Yet this wariness does not preclude their use of human rights instruments in the courts. Drawing upon fieldwork with Christian lobbyists and lawyers in London, I argue that evangelical activists instrumentalise rights-based law so as to undermine the universalist claims on which they rest. By constructing themselves as a marginalised counterpublic whose rights are frequently ‘trumped’ by the competing claims of others, they hope to convince their fellow Britons that a society built upon the logic of equal rights cannot hope to deliver the human flourishing it promises. Given the salience of contemporary political conservatism, I call for further ethnographic research into counterpublic movements, and offer my interlocutors’ instrumentalisation of human rights as a critique of the inconsistencies of secular law.

Bielo, “Flower, soil, water, stone”

Bielo, James S. “Flower, soil, water, stone: Biblical landscape items and Protestant materiality.” Journal of Material Culture. First Published June 18, 2018

Protestants mobilize objects such as ‘Holy Land’ flowers, Jordan River stones, vials of Dead Sea water, sand from Lake Tiberias, and Golgotha soil as potent metonymic resources, promising a kind of direct access to the scriptural past and its sacred stories. This article uses this case of biblical landscape items to reflect on the historic ambivalence that characterizes Protestant relations with religious materiality. Building on scholarship that has demonstrated the prolific role of religious materiality in Protestant ritual and everyday lifeworlds, the author extends this analysis by asking: under what conditions do Protestants experience materiality as untroubled and under what conditions is a more anxious disposition activated? To differentiate among conditions, the author proposes that it is helpful to conceptualize Protestant engagements with materiality vis-à-vis legitimized frames (e.g. pedagogy, devotion, evangelism, entertainment). Drawing together archival and ethnographic data, primarily among US Protestants, the article argues that when Protestants function within legitimized frames they are prone to embrace biblical landscape items, but when they find themselves out of frame, their engagement with this particular species of materiality becomes troubled.

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.