Negotiating Respect: Book Review

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2016. Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

By: Ruthie Meadows (University of Nevada, Reno)

In 2016, I took an evening stroll through the small city of Baracoa, Cuba as the sun set against façades of brightly-painted, columned wooden homes. In a country internationally-renowned for its rich Afro-Cuban musical genres – rumba, Latin jazz, timba, reggaetón, batá – I was surprised to encounter an unexpected sound dominating the nighttime aural landscape: the songs of evangelical Christianity. Through open doorways and windows leading into private homes, passersby could see (and hear) groups of singers standing in circles singing evangelical hymns and praise songs, their proud harmonies spilling out from living rooms into the public domain of the streets. Incredibly, I re-encountered this scenario in home after home throughout my walk, passing by multiple groups as they intoned their own sets of praise songs and asserted – through sonic presence – the arrival and dominion of evangelical Christianity within Cuba’s post-atheist religious environment.

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Thornton, “Negotiating Respect”

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2016. Negotiating respect: pentecostalism, masculinity, and the politics of spiritual authority in the Dominican Republic. [Place of publication not identified]: University of Florida Press.

Publisher’s Description: Negotiating Respect is an ethnographically rich investigation of Pentecostal Christianity–the Caribbean’s fastest growing religious movement–in the Dominican Republic. Based on fieldwork in a barrio of Villa Altagracia, Brendan Jamal Thornton examines the everyday practices of Pentecostal community members and the complex ways in which they negotiate legitimacy, recognition, and spiritual authority within the context of religious pluralism and Catholic cultural supremacy. Probing gender, faith, and identity from an anthropological perspective, he considers in detail the lives of young male churchgoers and their struggles with conversion and life in the streets. Thornton shows that conversion offers both spiritual and practical social value because it provides a strategic avenue for prestige and an acceptable way to transcend personal history. Through an exploration of the church and its relationship to barrio institutions like youth gangs and Dominican vodú, he further draws out the meaningful nuances of lived religion providing new insights into the social organization of belief and the significance of Pentecostal growth and popularity globally. The result is a fresh perspective on religious pluralism and contemporary religious and cultural change.

Howell, “Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience”

Howell, Brian (2012) Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience. Downers Groves, Illinois: IVP Academic Press.

Publisher’s Description: Over the past few decades, short-term mission trips have exploded in popularity. With easy access to affordable air travel, millions of American Christians have journeyed internationally for ministry, service and evangelism. Short-term trips are praised for involving many in global mission but also critiqued for their limitations.

Despite the diversity of destinations, certain universal commonalities emerge in how mission trip participants describe their experiences: “My eyes were opened to the world’s needs.” “They ministered to us more than we ministered to them.” “It changed my life.”

Anthropologist Brian Howell explores the narrative shape of short-term mission (STM). Drawing on the anthropology of tourism and pilgrimage, he shows how STM combines these elements with Christian purposes of mission to create its own distinct narrative. He provides a careful historical survey of the development of STM and then offers an in-depth ethnographic study of a particular mission trip to the Dominican Republic. He explores how participants remember and interpret their experiences, and he unpacks the implications for how North American churches understand mission, grapple with poverty and relate to the larger global church.

A groundbreaking book for all who want to understand how and why American Christians undertake short-term mission.