Elisha, “Dancing the Word”

Elisha, Omri. 2018. “Dancing the Word: Techniques of embodied authority among Christian praise dancers in New York City.” American Ethnologist. 45(3): 380-391. 

AbstractPraise dance is a Christian movement genre, popular among churchgoing women of color in the United States, characterized by the use of interpretive dances as vehicles of liturgical worship, testimony, and evangelism. Combining spiritual and artistic disciplines, including techniques derived from ballet and modern dance, black female praise dancers embody the gospel and cultivate religious authority in ways that reinforce orthodox norms while elevating creative skills and aesthetic sensibilities normally found outside the purview of religious tradition. Such efforts, and the challenges and opportunities they entail, demonstrate how the movement of cultural forms between secular and religious domains influences ritual innovations and the terms in which they are authorized. They also show how gendered conceptions of embodiment and power may be reimagined.

Klaits, “Catch the Word”

Klaits, Frederick. 2017. “Catch the Word”: Violated contracts and prophetic confirmation in African American Pentecostalism. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7(3): 237-260.

Abstract: The image of a violated social contract has long held a distinctive place in African American Christian thought about injustice. This essay discusses the efforts made by members of Pentecostal churches in Buffalo, New York, to enter into forms of contract with God that supersede the broken social contracts they see as devaluing their lives. These believers listen to God’s words as expressed in prophetic utterances for “confirmation” of the significance of events. In their view, “catching the word” through faithful listening enables them to create social commitments on their own terms, whereas their creative capacities are liable to be alienated from them if they listen improperly. Applying David Graeber’s revisionist treatment of “fetishism” as a form of social creativity, this essay explores how believers create their blessings within a dialogic space involving themselves, God, the devil, and pastor- prophets with exceptional abilities to listen to and convey the terms of the divine contract.

Crawley, “Blackpentecostal Breath”

Crawley, Ashon T. 2016. Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: In this profoundly innovative book, Ashon T. Crawley engages a wide range of critical paradigms from black studies, queer theory, and sound studies to theology, continental philosophy, and performance studies to theorize the ways in which alternative or “otherwise” modes of existence can serve as disruptions against the marginalization of and violence against minoritarian lifeworlds and possibilities for flourishing.

Examining the whooping, shouting, noise-making, and speaking in tongues of Black Pentecostalism―a multi-racial, multi-class, multi-national Christian sect with one strand of its modern genesis in 1906 Los Angeles―Blackpentecostal Breath reveals how these aesthetic practices allow for the emergence of alternative modes of social organization. As Crawley deftly reveals, these choreographic, sonic, and visual practices and the sensual experiences they create are not only important for imagining what Crawley identifies as “otherwise worlds of possibility,” they also yield a general hermeneutics, a methodology for reading culture in an era when such expressions are increasingly under siege.

Klatis, “Insult and Insecurity”

Klaits, Frederick.  2016.  Insult and Insecurity: Discernment, Trust, and the Uncanny in Two US Pentecostal Communities.  Anthropology Quarterly 89(4): 1143-1173.

Abstract: Within many North American evangelical Christian communities, discernment denotes attentiveness to an interior voice that believers learn to identify as God’s. This article adopts a comparative perspective on everyday domains of perception and feeling that practices of discernment implicitly distinguish as unmarked by God’s activity, and as characterized by specific forms of anxiety from which believers desire to be redeemed. In a majority White Pentecostal congregation in suburban Buffalo, New York, believers cast emotional insecurity as a condition demanding redemption, while members of African American churches in the inner city hope to be redeemed from sensitivity to insults. While practices of discernment counter such anxieties by fostering forms of intimacy and trust, they also reinforce anxiety by focusing believers’ attention on how familiar relations may be distorted in uncanny ways.

Doucet-Battle, “Sweet Salvation”

James Doucet-Battle, “Sweet Salvation: One Black Church, Diabetes Outreach, and Trust,” Transforming Anthropology, 24: 2 October 2016: 125–135

Abstract: Memories of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study persist in the minds of many in the African American community and informs both individual and group responses when exposed to the clinical gaze. However, the contemporary political value of diversity drives new forms of inclusion in both medical research projects and public health programs linking race, risk, and disease. This article is based in part on community-based participant observation and clinical fieldwork in Rochester, New York from 2008 to 2013. I provide an ethnographic narrative of one church’s Type 2 diabetes outreach efforts amid the diversity of the African American racial category in which the postcolonial subject is as embedded as the post-Jim Crow citizen. I examine the gendered problematics involved in establishing trust toward achieving robust outreach and recruitment goals within church spaces. This article aims to contribute to the literature on community health practices, the anthropology of trust, the sociology of knowledge, religion, and the study of race as a social category.

Thomas, “Strangers, Friends, and Kin: Negotiated Recognition in Ethnographic Relationships”

Thomas, Todne. 2016. Strangers, Friends, and Kin: Negotiated Recognition in Ethnographic Relationships. Anthropology and Humanism 41(1):66-85.

Abstract: Anthropologists have framed ethnographers as participant-observers, strangers, and friends and have written about ethnographic research encounters in terms of the productive spaces between researchers and research collaborators. Informed by my review of research literature on ethnographic relationships, my application of de-colonial, feminist, and postmodern research methodologies, and my experience of being reconstituted as a “[church] sister” by the members of an Afro-West Indian and African American evangelical church association, I argue that characterizations of research encounters by research collaborators hold important implications for ethnographic research and writing.

Seeman, et al., “Blessing Unintended Pregnancy”

Seeman, Don, et al. 2016. Blessing Unintended Pregnancy: religion and the discourse of women’s agency in public health. MAT: Medicine Anthropology Theory 3(1):29-54.

Abstract: Within public health and medical anthropology research, the study of women’s agency in reproductive decision making often neglects the role of religion and women’s spirituality. This article is based on ethnographic research conducted at a shelter for homeless (mostly African American) mothers in the southeastern United States. We explore the inadequacy of rational choice models that emphasize intentionality and planning, which our research shows are in tension with the vernacular religious and moral ethos of pregnancy as a ‘blessing’ or unplanned gift. Our findings confirm that young and disadvantaged women may view pregnancy and motherhood as opportunities to improve their lives in ways that mediate against their acceptance of family planning models. For these women, the notion of ‘blessing’ also reflects an acceptance of contingency and indeterminacy as central to the reproductive experience. We also question the increasingly popular distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ in contemporary public health.