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.

de Witte, “Television and the Gospel of Entertainment in Ghana”

de Wittte, Marleen.  2012.  Television and the Gospel of Entertainment in Ghana.  Exchange 41(2): 144-64.

Abstract: Charismatic-Pentecostal `media ministries’ have become very successful in Africa’s new media fields. They shape new forms of public religiosity that spill over into various forms of popular culture and resonate with broad audiences. This article explores the emergence of new Pentecostal publics at the intersection of media, religion, and entertainment in Ghana, raising critical questions concerning the relations between these domains. It analyses two different religious television broadcasts: a television ministry by a well-known celebrity pastor and a gospel reality show featuring a preaching competition for youth. It also considers the debates and concerns such programmes evoke locally. The analysis shows that Pentecostalism’s employment of popular media and entertainment styles is an effective source of persuasive power, but also poses challenges with regard to binding people as committed Christians. The blurring of boundaries between religion and entertainment business causes insecurities about the authenticity of religious authority and religious subjectivity.