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.

Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda: Book Review

Bruner, Jason. 2017. Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Reviewed by: Emma Wild-Wood (University of Edinburgh)

Since its beginnings in the 1930s the East African Revival has had a lasting influence on the religious culture of the region. It began in Uganda and Rwanda as a lively, internal critique to the orderly and hierarchical Anglican Church of Uganda and spread into Kenya, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi. Revivalists sought to transform all aspects of society in conformity with their strict code of conduct and their expansive vision of Christianity. With this volume Jason Bruner makes a significant contribution to the study of the Revival. He takes the movement beyond the parameters of mission history, and beyond an interest in its leadership figures. He shows that the distinct spiritual culture of revivalists was a response to the late colonial social context. Continue reading

Barnes, “Speaking Body”

Barnes, Jamie. 2016. The Speaking Body: metaphor and the expression of extraordinary experience. Temenos 52(2): 261-287. 

Abstract: This article explores the relationship between language, experience, and the body. Employing a phenomenological approach that takes the sensory body as its starting point, it focuses on three instances of ‘divine experience’, looking at the ways in which social actors seek to express that experience through metaphorical translation into more familiar, everyday realms. It argues that within this perceptual process – which starts in bodily experience and ends in words – both bodies and worlds are formed: bodies open to (often sensory) aspects of divine experience, and worlds that include the divine, alongside instances of divine agency. Indeed, such bodily conceptual and linguistic work is, social actors claim, the product of divine agency. At the heart of the three instances of divine experience explored here rests the issue of ‘new birth’, itself a metaphorical move employed to express a phenomenon in which the body appears to be transformed into something new, namely a habitation of divine presence. As such presence ‘bubbles up’ from within, it sometimes ‘overflows’ in words. The body speaks. Alongside exploring the metaphorical moves employed to express this type of bodily experience, this article raises the ontological question of what kind of body it is, in such cases, that is speaking, thus providing a phenomenologically inflected response to recent ‘ontological’ debates within anthropology.

Dein, “The Experience of Healing and the Healing of Experience in the Pentecostal Movement”

Dein, Simon. 2017. The Experience of Healing and the Healing of Experience in the Pentecostal Movement. In Helene Basu and Roland Littlewood, eds. Mental Health at the Intersection of Religion and Psychiatry. Münster: LIT Verlag Münster; 207-226.

Excerpt: “In this chapter I examine the role of bodily experience in Pentecostal healing and more specifically the ways in which some Pentecostal groups have moved away from medical confirmation of the success of healings to criteria based upon bodily experience. I begin by arguing for the centrality of healing in the Pentecostal movement before examining attitudes towards biomedicine and conceptualizations of sickness and healing in more detail. I then examine anthropological work in this area.”

Barnes, “‘Stories, Senses and the Charismatic Relation’: A Reflexive Exploration of Christian Experience”

Barnes, Jamie Wallis. 2015. ‘Stories, Senses and the Charismatic Relation’: A Reflexive Exploration of Christian Experience. PhD diss., University of Sussex. 

Summary: This thesis considers the world of Christian faith, as expressed by a particular social group of which I have been a part since 1998, as an alternative knowledge system. Focusing upon the lives of a number of key agents, including myself, I argue that at the heart of this knowledge system is a charismatic relationship, in the Weberian sense, with a divine Other. This relationship is freely entered into, is conceived as involving movement into or towards an embodied, experiential and relational knowledge of God, and is often expressed by participants through such metaphors as a ‘journey’, ‘adventure’ or ‘quest’. My original contribution to knowledge is in taking a sociological concept, Weber’s notion of the charismatic relation, and innovatively applying this framework to the relation between humans and a transcendent or disembodied ‘Other’. My work responds to a) recent ‘ontological’ challenges within anthropology to ‘take seriously’ other worlds, b) invitations to those with strong religious convictions to practise anthropology without feeling that they need to lose those convictions, and c) recent debates within the anthropology of Christianity concerning how to deal with the agential characteristics of non-human/spiritual beings within ethnographic work. Through a reflexive exploration of experience, I examine how certain Christian people constitute their lives, observing how charismatic devotion to a divine Other implies both a sensorium that extends beyond the corporeal senses, as well as the ‘planting’ of various conceptual seeds that, by providing concrete metaphors of what life is, shape the lives of those willing to ‘receive’ them. As social actors seek to maintain ‘openness’ to this divine Other, a transformational journey results, in which human perception and conception are continually open to renewal. As a reflexive ethnographic account from within such an alternative knowledge system, this thesis makes an original contribution to phenomenological and sensory studies, as well as contributing to anthropological work on Christianity.

Bialecki, “Affect”

Bialecki, Jon. 2015. “Affect: Intensities and Energies in the Charismatic Language, Embodiment, and Genre of a North American Movement.” In The Anthropology of Global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism. Simon Coleman and Rosalind I.J. Hackett, eds. 95-108. New York: NYU Press.

Inbody, “Sensing God”

Inbody, Joel.  2015. Sensing God: Bodily Manifestations and Their Interpretation in Pentecostal Rituals and Everyday Life.  Sociology of Religion.  Early online publication.  

Abstract: According to Collins (2004), the performance of interaction rituals, or the practice of private religious techniques, may produce emotion believers interpret to be spiritually meaningful. Yet Collins (2004) and more recently Wellman et al. (2014) are unclear on how emotion manifests itself bodily and how these manifestations are interpreted. Using participant-observation and semistructured interviews, this study examines the spiritual experiences of 27 participants from Fellowship Christian Assembly, a Pentecostal congregation. In 21 participants, emotion manifested itself bodily as goosebumps, tingles, or similar sensations. This study examines (1) the conditions under which emotional experiences are produced and (2) how emotion was interpreted using terminology provided by spiritual “experts” (Luhrmann 2012). Findings suggest that somatic manifestations of emotion are relatively common in this congregation, and these experiences are interpreted as communication from God. The implications of these findings are discussed in light of recent theory and research on religious rituals and practices.

Stewart, “Quiet beauty: problems of agency and appearance in evangelical Christianity”

Stewart, Anna. 2015. “Quiet beauty: problems of agency and appearance in evangelical Christianity.” Religion DOI:10.1080/0048721X.2015.1042990

Abstract: How does the cultivation of beauty interact with agency? In this article the author discusses the religious value of beauty for conservative evangelical Christians in the English town of Brighton. Building on the anthropological approach to art and agency developed by Alfred Gell, the author considers the manner in which the everyday of bodies, relationships and personal testimonies become implicated in a deferential semiotics in which meaning resides in the self but is not owned by it. Through this work, women engage with an on-going project of visibility and objectification that is often tenuous and difficult but is nevertheless compelling, as they seek to mediate the agency of God.

Daswani, “Looking Back, Moving Forward: Transformation and Ethical Practice in the Ghanaian Church of Pentecost “

Daswani, GIrish. 2015. Looking Back, Moving Forward: Transformation and Ethical Practice in the Ghanaian Church of Pentecost. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Publisher’s Description: How do Ghanaian Pentecostals resolve the contradictions of their own faith while remaining faithful to their religious identity? Bringing together the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of ethics, Girish Daswani’s Looking Back, Moving Forward investigates the compromises with the past that members of Ghana’s Church of Pentecost make in order to remain committed Christians.

Even as church members embrace the break with the past that comes from being  “born-again,” many are less concerned with the boundaries of Christian practice than with interpersonal questions – the continuity of suffering after conversion, the causes of unhealthy relationships, the changes brought about by migration – and how to deal with them. By paying ethnographic attention to the embodied practices, interpersonal relationships, and moments of self-reflection in the lives of members of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana and amongst the Ghanaian diaspora in London, Looking Back, Moving Forwardexplores ethical practice as it emerges out of the questions that church members and other Ghanaian Pentecostals ask themselves.

Cassaniti and Luhrmann, “The Cultural Kindling of Spiritual Experiences”

Cassaniti, Julia L and Tanya Marie Luhrmann. 2014. The Cultural Kindling of Spiritual Experiences. Current Anthropology. DOI: 10.1086/677881

Abstract: In this paper we suggest that it is important for the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of religion more generally to develop a comparative phenomenology of spiritual experience. Our method is to distinguish between a named phenomenon without fixed mental or bodily events (phenomena that have specific local terms but are recognized by individuals by a broad and almost indiscriminate range of physical events); bodily affordances (events of the body that happen in social settings but are only identified as religious in those social settings when they afford, or make available, an interpretation that makes sense in that setting); and striking anomalous events. We demonstrate that local cultural practices shift the pattern of spiritual experiences, even those such as sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences that might be imagined in some ways as culture free, but that the more the spiritual experience is constrained by a specific physiology, the more the frequency of the event will be constrained by an individual’s vulnerability to those experiences. We will call this the “cultural kindling” of spiritual experience.