McCloud, “American Possessions”

McCloud, Sean. 2015. American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States. New York: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Stories of contemporary exorcisms are largely met with ridicule, or even hostility. Sean McCloud argues, however, that there are important themes to consider within these narratives of seemingly well-adjusted people who attend school, go shopping, watch movies, and also happen to fight demons. American Possessions examines Third Wave spiritual warfare, a late twentieth-, early twenty-first century movement of evangelicals focused on banishing demons from human bodies, material objects, land, regions, political parties, and nation states. While Third Wave beliefs may seem far removed from what many scholars view as mainstream religious practice, McCloud argues that the movement provides an ideal case study for identifying some of the most prominent tropes within the contemporary American religious landscape. Drawing on interviews, television shows, documentaries, websites, and dozens of spiritual warfare handbooks, McCloud examines Third Wave practices such deliverance rituals (a uniquely Protestant form of exorcism), spiritual housekeeping (the removal of demons from everyday objects), and spiritual mapping (searching for the demonic in the physical landscape). Demons, he shows, are the central fact of life in the Third Wave imagination. McCloud provides the first book-length study of this influential movement, highlighting the important ways that it reflects and diverts from the larger, neo-liberal culture from which it originates.

Wood, “Soundscapes of Pilgrimage: European and American Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City”

Wood, Abigail. 2014. “Soundscapes of Pilgrimage: European and American Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City.” Ethnomusicology Forum. DOI:10.1080/17411912.2014.965080 [Early Digital Release].

Abstract: Building on the recent ‘auditory turn’ in ethnomusicology and on recent anthropological approaches to pilgrimage, this article considers how the soundscapes and vocal practices of European and American Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem’s Old City shape the practices and experiences of pilgrimage. Sounds colour the ethical comportment of pilgrims; listening, both voluntarily and involuntarily, intervenes in their interactions with others in the pilgrimage environment, provoking a range of public and private responses. Focusing attention on the auditory landscape provides compelling insights into the practices and politics of pilgrimage, in particular revealing moments of tension as pilgrims seek to realise personal and communal ideals in a crowded, shared space.


DeRogatis, “Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism”

DeRogatis, Amy. 2014. Saving sex : sexuality and salvation in American evangelicalism. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: A long history of vehement public opposition to pre-marital sex, pornography, masturbation, gay-marriage, and birth control has cast the evangelical Christian community as regressive and “anti-sex” in the minds of many Americans. In a groundbreaking investigation of evangelical sex education, Amy DeRogatis reveals that this representation could not be farther from the truth: in fact, evangelicals view sex not only as natural and sanctioned by the Bible, but as an essential part of any Christian marriage.

For decades, evangelical sexual education has been a thriving industry. Evangelical couples have sought advice from Christian psychologists and marriage counselors, purchased millions of copies of faith-based “sexual guidebooks,” and consulted magazines, pamphlets, websites, blogs, and podcasts on a vast array of sexual topics, including human anatomy, STDs-sometimes known in evangelical circles as “Sexually Transmitted Demons”-mutual masturbation, sexual role-play, and sex toys, all from a decidedly biblical angle. DeRogatis explores every corner of the industry, from purity literature for young evangelicals to sex manuals for married couples to “deliverance manuals,” which instruct believers in how to expel demons that enter the body through sexual sin.

DeRogatis also shows how feminism has seeped into the evangelical sexual ethic: despite a subscription to traditional gender roles based on the literal interpretation of scripture, many evangelical sexual guides emphasize the importance of mutual consent and female climax. The evangelical approach to sex transcends mere mechanics, emphasizing the fundamental importance of sexual fulfillment in a Christian marriage and perceiving sex as a spiritual act that furthers a couple’s relationship with God.

Saving Sex is a long-overdue exploration of the role of sex in America’s evangelical Christian community, and of the many ways in which American evangelicals participate in cultural conversations about sexuality.

Kaell, “Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage”

Kaell, Hillary. 2014. Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage. New York: New York University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: Since the 1950s, millions of American Christians have traveled to the Holy Land to visit places in Israel and the Palestinian territories associated with Jesus’s life and death. Why do these pilgrims choose to journey halfway around the world? How do they react to what they encounter, and how do they understand the trip upon return? This book places the answers to these questions into the context of broad historical trends, analyzing how the growth of mass-market evangelical and Catholic pilgrimage relates to changes in American Christian theology and culture over the last sixty years, including shifts in Jewish-Christian relations, the growth of small group spirituality, and the development of a Christian leisure industry.

Drawing on five years of research with pilgrims before, during and after their trips, Walking Where Jesus Walked offers a lived religion approach that explores the trip’s hybrid nature for pilgrims themselves: both ordinary—tied to their everyday role as the family’s ritual specialists, and extraordinary—since they leave home in a dramatic way, often for the first time. Their experiences illuminate key tensions in contemporary US Christianity between material evidence and transcendent divinity, commoditization and religious authority, domestic relationships and global experience.

Hillary Kaell crafts the first in-depth study of the cultural and religious significance of American Holy Land pilgrimage after 1948. The result sheds light on how Christian pilgrims, especially women, make sense of their experience in Israel-Palestine, offering an important complement to top-down approaches in studies of Christian Zionism and foreign policy.

O’Neill, “Beyond Broken: Affective Spaces and the Study of American Religion”

O’Neill, Kevin Lewis.  2013. “Beyond Broken: Affective Spaces and the Study of American Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion.  doi: 10.1093/jaarel/lft059 (early digital publication).

Abstract:  This article addresses the politics of space in the study of American religion. Part 1 argues that an attention to broken space, namely an assumed division between the sacred and the profane as well as between the local and the global, limits the kind of political relationships that the scholar can posit between religion and space. Part 2 proposes the term “affective space” as a flexible analytical tool with broad utility for the study of American religion, one that prompts scholars to address those social processes that constitute felt difference amid an unevenly interrelated world. To animate the production of affective spaces, this article draws on more than a decade of ethnographic research in and on postwar Guatemala.