Bielo, “Particles-to-People…Molecules-to-Man”

Bielo, James S. 2019. “‘Particles-to-People…Molecules-to-Man,’ Creationist Poetics in Public Debates.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 29(1): 4-26.

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.

Tee, “Creating charisma online”

Tee, Caroline. 2019. “Creating charisma online: the role of digital presence in the formation of religious identity.” Journal of Contemporary Religion. 34(1): 75-96.

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.

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.

Bielo, “Creationist History-Making”

Bielo, James S. 2016. Creationist History-Making: Producing a Heterodox Past. In Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices, 81-101. Edited by Jeb J. Card and David S. Anderson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Excerpt: The past, though quite real, is forever and densely mediated by this production of histories. As a cultural process, history-making is a social and ideological accomplishment that is achieved through material means and infrastructure. In turn, the anthropology and ethnography of history-making confronts important questions: how are different relationships to the past cultivated? What strategies and resources are marshaled to perform history-making? And, what is up for grabs in competing acts of history-making? A key contribution of this volume is to develop better ways of thinking about how non-professional historians and scientists perform the work of history-making (cf. Beisaw this volume). The Answers in Genesis creative team reminds us with little subtlety that the past is ideologically contested and that even the most scientifically established historical claims can be actively challenged. As the historian Raphael Samuel writes: “History is not the prerogative of the historian, nor even, as postmodernism contends, a historian’s ‘invention.’ It is, rather, a social form of knowledge; the work, in any given instance, of a thousand different hands” (1994: 8). Moreover, those thousand hands are not working in concert, which means the present hosts multiple historical narratives vying for cultural authority. Anthropologically, our remit is to understand whose hands are doing what and to seek a full ethnographic account of all history-making projects, including those of creationists. To aim for any less is to shrug off our most profound scholarly responsibility.

Bielo, Replication as Religious Practice

Bielo, James. 2016. Replication as Religious Practice, Temporality as Religious Problem. History and Anthropology, DOI:10.1080/02757206.2016.1182522

Abstract: This article explores how religious communities actualize the virtual problem of temporality. Analysing two case studies from contemporary America, Mormon Trek re-enactment and a creationist theme park re-creating Noah’s ark, I argue that replication is a strategy for constructing a relationship with time in which a strict past–present divide is collapsed through affective means. This work contributes to comparative studies in the anthropology of religion and temporalizing the past.