Montemaggi, Francesca E. S. 2017. “The authenticity of Christian Evangelicals: between individuality and obedience,” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 32(2): 253-268.
Abstract: Based on ethnographic data in a Christian Evangelical church in the UK, the article shows how Evangelical Christians construct their individual and group identity through appeals to authenticity. Authenticity, as it emerges from the local narratives, shares much with philosophical and sociological understandings of it, yet it is articulated within the framework of tradition. By grounding authenticity in Christian tradition, Evangelicals construct an identity which they understand as distinctive rather than morally superior to other moral traditions. Christian authenticity is a moral pursuit that requires obedience—the acceptance of God’s will. This is contrasted with the celebration of individual self-authority that is at the core of Western society. The tension between individuality and obedience to God is the motif that makes Christianity distinctive in the eyes of the informants in this study. It is also the basis for the formation of the Christian self.
Bielo, James. 2015. “Replicating the Holy Land in the U.S. (a ‘Materializing the Bible’ Road Trip).” Material Religions. 30 December.
Abstract: James S. Bielo analyzes a practice of religious replication: re-creations of Holy Land sites in the United States. Such replications invite visitors into an experience of sensorial and imaginative immersion, marshaling indexical techniques for materializing the Bible. Replicating the Holy Land is a strategy for actualizing the virtual problem of authenticity, a problem that animates any and every lived expression of Christianity. To explore this phenomenon, we indulge another national tradition: the great American road trip. This essay emerges from a larger project, Materializing the Bible, curated by Bielo.
Bekkering, Denis. 2015. Drag Queens and Farting Preachers: American Televangelism, Participatory Media, and Unfaithful Fandoms. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Religious Studies. Waterloo, Canada: University of Waterloo.
Abstract: Studies of religion and fandom have generally considered sincere devotion a fundamental point of contact between the two cultural phenomena, an assumption not reflected in fan studies proper. This dissertation aims to expand the scope of research on religion and fandom by offering cultural histories of “unfaithful” fan followings of three controversial American televangelists – Robert Tilton, Tammy Faye Bakker/Messner, and Jim Bakker – dating from the 1980s to 2012, and consisting of individuals amused by, rather than religiously affiliated with, their chosen television preachers. It is argued that through their ironic, parodic, and satirical play with celebrity preachers widely believed to be religious fakes, these unfaithful fans have engaged in religious work related to personal and public negotiations of authentic Christianity. Additionally, it is demonstrated that through their activities, and in particular through their media practices, these fans have impacted the brands and mainstream representations of certain televangelists, and have provoked ministry responses including dismissal, accommodation, and counteraction.
Huang, Jianbo. 2015. Symbolic Representation of Rural Christianity and the Inventiveness of Faith Traditions. Cultural Diversity in China 1(1): 101-114.
Abstract: There are two dominant perceptions on the relationship between Christianity and rural society and culture in China. One is more concerned about the authenticity of Christianity from the church’s perspective, while the other talks about ‘cultural security’ from the view of the local tradition of China. These seemingly contradictory views are in fact based on the same historical model known as impact response. It is a welldeveloped model in that it could explain the “mission church” (church in China), while it seems less or less likely to help us grasp the nature and reality of the “local church” (China’s Church). Hence, this article deals with the following questions, taking Huanan church (South China Church, or SCC) as a case study. Is it plausible for us to consider this kind of local church and its believers as a sort of Christian faith tradition de facto? In light of the assumption, how do we understand the diversified symbolic representations and even inventions? Furthermore, how do we understand the continuity and discontinuity of tradition, if we consider the faith tradition as a cultural tradition?
Dulin, John. 2013.Messianic Judaism as a Mode of Christian Authenticity: Exploring the Grammar of Authenticity through Ethnography of a Contested Identity. Anthropos 108(1):33-51.
Abstract: While most studies of Messianic Jews focus on how they grapple with anxieties of in-authenticity in relation to the broader Jewish community, this article considers how adherents understand their faith as a unique form of authenticity. On one level, both Messianic Jewish claims of authenticity and critics of Messianic authenticity reflect the same cultural logic of what I call the “evaluative grammar of authenticity.” The evaluative grammar of authenticity values causal/metonymic indexes over manipulated symbols and is undergirded by a suspicion that general appearances are symbolically manipulated in order to mask actual indexical underpinnings. This article argues that the strong stance on Messianic Jewish authenticity in this community is facilitated by the employment of the evaluative grammar of authenticity within a model of reality strongly influenced by the eschatology and epistemology of American Christian fundamentalism. The indexical underpinnings of the cosmos within this model of reality make it logical to conceive of the Messianic Jewish movement as a manifestation of authentic biblical religion. This mode of authenticity is briefly compared to that reflected by critics of Messianic Jewish authenticity who tend to employ this evaluative grammar within a more natural/historical model of reality. This ethnographic example is useful for exploring some of the basic contours of conflicts over authenticity, including how the value-laden domains of knowledge and agency are implicated in these conflicts. It also illustrates how the evaluative grammar of authenticity exemplifies a shared cultural value that, due to its internal logic, tends to engender division and cultural heterogeneity as much, or more, than it engenders cultural consensus.
Bielo, James S. 2012. Belief, Deconversion, and Authenticity among U.S. Emerging Evangelicals. Ethos 40(3):258-276.
Abstract: In this article I examine the status of belief among U.S. evangelicals organizing under the moniker of the “emerging church.” As part of their cultural critique of the conservative Christian subculture, many emerging evangelicals recast their standpoint toward the role of propositional doctrine in their definition of an authentic Christian self. I join with colleagues in the anthropology of religion, in particular the anthropology of Christianity, who are rethinking the nature of belief as a form of relational commitment. I argue that emerging evangelicals seek a faith where human–human relationships are a precondition for human–divine relations to flourish. To achieve their desired sense of community emerging evangelicals create ritual structures that foster a highly relational religiosity. I illustrate this recasting of belief through analyses of narrative and institution making, grounded in three years of ethnographic fieldwork.
Bielo, James S. 2011. Emerging Evangelicals: Faith, Modernity, and the Desire for Authenticity. New York: NYU Press.
Publisher’s Description: The Emerging Church movement developed in the mid-1990s among primarily white, urban, middle-class pastors and laity who were disenchanted with America’s conservative Evangelical sub-culture. It is a response to the increasing divide between conservative Evangelicals and concerned critics who strongly oppose what they consider overly slick, corporate, and consumerist versions of faith. A core feature of their response is a challenge to traditional congregational models, often focusing on new church plants and creating networks of related house churches.
Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork, James S. Bielo explores the impact of the Emerging Church movement on American Evangelicals. He combines ethnographic analysis with discussions of the movement’s history, discursive contours, defining practices, cultural logics, and contentious interactions with conservative Evangelical critics to rethink the boundaries of “Evangelical” as a category. Ultimately, Bielo makes a novel contribution to our understanding of the important changes at work among American Protestants, and illuminates how Emerging Evangelicals interact with the cultural conditions of modernity, late modernity, and visions of “postmodern” Christianity.