Smith, “Unreconciled”

Smith, Andrea. 2019. Unreconciled: From Racial Reconciliation to Racial Justice in Christian Evangelicalism. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Abstract: In the 1990s, many evangelical Christian organizations and church leaders began to acknowledge their long history of racism and launched efforts at becoming more inclusive of people of color. While much of this racial reconciliation movement has not directly confronted systemic racism’s structural causes, there exists a smaller countermovement within evangelicalism, primarily led by women of color who are actively engaged in antiracism and social justice struggles. In Unreconciled Andrea Smith examines these movements through a critical ethnic studies lens, evaluating the varying degrees to which evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have addressed racism. Drawing on evangelical publications, sermons, and organization statements, as well as ethnographic fieldwork and participation in evangelical events, Smith shows how evangelicalism is largely unable to effectively challenge white supremacy due to its reliance upon discourses of whiteness. At the same time, the work of progressive evangelical women of color not only demonstrates that evangelical Christianity can be an unexpected place in which to find theoretical critique and social justice organizing but also shows how critical ethnic studies’ interventions can be applied broadly across political and religious divides outside the academy.

Rose, “Palestinian Evangelicals”

Rose, Lena. (2019) “Palestinian Evangelicals – A Theologically Engaged Anthropological Approach.” Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.1641534.

Abstract: Christian theologians have grappled for centuries with the fact that they are not Jews, yet embedded in Jewish history. Situated in the context of a Jewish-centric State that has been welcomed by a majority of evangelicals worldwide as fulfilment of biblical prophecy (and supported by their financial, spiritual, and political investment), Palestinian evangelicals are an anomaly. While they share an evangelical commitment, they have a complex and difficult relationship with the Israeli state. This paper argues that the population of Palestinian evangelicals is most productively explored through a combined interdisciplinary approach of Theology and Anthropology: it reveals the historical theologies that have shaped Palestinian evangelical engagement with the Israeli state and their global faith family. The article argues that theologically engaged Anthropology can aid in uncovering the power relationships within a transnational religious movement.

Biblical Porn: Book Review

Johnson, Jessica. 2018. Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Reviewed by: Brendan Jamal Thornton (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Depending on what you are looking for, the title of Jessica Johnson’s 2018 volume from Duke University Press may be a bit misleading: you need not be home alone or draw the curtains closed in order to crack the spine of this thoughtful text which is based on a decade of comprehensive ethnographic research on Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and its shock jock pastor Mark Driscoll. From 1996 to 2014, Driscoll built an evangelical empire whose quick ascent to national prominence was matched only by its precipitous fall from grace following a series of scandals that would topple the church and sully its reputation. Distinguishing himself as a provocateur through controversial teachings on marriage and relationships, Driscoll’s relatively novel brand of mondo evangelical theology won him both celebrity and notoriety among white middle-class Americans who found his signature sermonizing on sex to be as compelling as it was titillating. According to Johnson, Driscoll’s appeal lay in his rhetorical talents and “gift” for hyperbole, skills that for over a decade routinely seduced audiences who were at once stirred and troubled by his unorthodox preaching on “biblical oral sex,” and other salacious topics. Continue reading

Formenti, “Winning Guinea-Bissau for Jesus”

Formenti, Ambra. “Winning Guinea-Bissau for Jesus: The Guinean Evangelical Minority, from the Origins to the Present.” PentecoStudies. 17(1): 54-76. 

Abstract: This article analyses the historical course of the Evangelical minority in Guinea-Bissau, its transformations, its recent expansion and its current engagement with the public sphere. First, I trace the trajectory of the Guinean Evangelical movement from the 1940s to the present, against the background of the process of decolonization and the post-Independence history of the country. Second, I examine the recent impact of Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of Christianity on local Evangelical churches, following the transnational circulation of believers and missionaries, on the one hand, and the arrival of new international churches, mostly from Brazil and other African countries, on the other. Third, I place the current flowering of Evangelical and Pentecostal denominations in the broader context of a general shift to universal religions throughout the country. Within this framework, I argue, this success can be read as expression of a widespread craving for modernity and mobility, both in rural and urban Guinea-Bissau.

Hovland, “Beyond Mediation”

Hovland, Ingie. 2018. Beyond Mediation: An Anthropological Understanding of the Relationship Between Humans, Materiality, and Transcendence in Protestant Christianity. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 86(2): 425-453. 

Abstract: How does a relationship come about between religious practitioners and supernatural beings? According to the mediation turn—which has recently taken hold in the material religion field and the anthropology of religion—religious communities use sensational forms to mediate the presence of an otherwise invisible transcendent. This article will apply the mediation framework to a case study of a particular Protestant group—namely world-renouncing, evangelical missionaries in nineteenth-century Southern Africa. I will argue that in this case the concept of mediation limits our understanding of the multiple God-human relationships involved. This raises questions concerning how and in which contexts the mediation turn can be analytically useful. In conclusion, the article will suggest that there is a dynamic range of modes of relating God and humans in Protestant Christianity, including modes that go beyond mediation.

Handman, “Critical Failures”

Handman, Courtney. “Critical failures.” Critical Research on Religion 6, no. 1 (2018): 16-20.

Critique in evangelical Christian contexts has usually been seen as a practice in service of finding the universal. However, I examine a number of contexts in which Christian critique seems to produce serial difference. I suggest that this seriality may itself be seen as a basis on which possibility and alternatives can be found, rather than just as serial failures to reach the universal. I briefly compare different events of serial transformations, in the United States as well as in Papua New Guinea, the site of my ethnographic research on denominational difference.

Abraham, “Evangelical Youth Culture”

Abraham, Ibrahim. 2017. Evangelical Youth Culture: Alternative Music and Extreme Sports Subcultures. London: Bloomsbury. 

Publisher’s Description: This book offers a theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich study of the intersections of contemporary Christianity and youth culture, focusing on evangelical engagements with punk, hip hop, surfing, and skateboarding. Ibrahim Abraham draws on interviews and fieldwork with dozens of musicians and sports enthusiasts in the USA, UK, Australia, and South Africa, and the analysis of evangelical subcultural media including music, film, and extreme sports Bibles.

Evangelical Youth Culture: Alternative Music and Extreme Sports Subcultures makes innovative use of multiple theories of youth cultures and subcultures from sociology and cultural studies, and introduces the “serious leisure perspective” to the study of religion, youth, and popular culture. Engaging with the experiences of Pentecostal punks, surfing missionaries, township rappers, and skateboarding youth pastors, this book makes an original contribution to the sociology of religion, youth studies, and the study of religion and popular culture.

Oosterbaan, “Transposing Brazilian Carnival”

Oosterbaan, Martijn. 2017. Transposing Brazilian Carnival: Religion, Cultural Heritage, and Secularism in Rio de Janeiro. American Ethnologist Online First, DOI: 10.1111/aman.12930

Abstract: This article discusses the rise of evangelical carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro in relation to spectacular carnival parades that feature Afro-Brazilian religious elements. The article exposes divergent intersections of religion and cultural heritage in Brazilian carnival. The first intersection aims to affirm the intrinsic connection between samba enredo carnival music and Afro-Brazilian religion by means of cultural heritage narratives, and the second type employs similar narratives to undo this connection, attempting to make samba enredo accessible to evangelical religious performance. The article demonstrates the important role secularism plays in upholding distinctions between “culture” and “religion,” and shows how evangelical carnival groups engage with such historical formations by means of estratégia (strategy)—evangelical performances in cultural styles that are commonly perceived as “worldly.” This estratégia depends on and proposes a particular set of semiotic ideologies that allows for the separation of cultural form and spiritual content. Efforts to open up “national” cultural styles to different religious groups in light of multicultural politics are laudable, but advocates of such politics should keep in mind that cultural heritage regimes concerning samba push in the opposite direction and support a different set of semiotic ideologies.

Hennigan and Purser, “Jobless and Godless”

Hennigan, Brian and Gretchen Purser. 2017. Jobless and Godless: Religious neoliberalism and the project of evangelizing employability in the US. Ethnography Online First.

Abstract: In the wake of welfare reform, there has been growing scholarly attention to ‘religious neoliberalism’ and, specifically, to the practices and politics of faith-based organizations in neoliberalized landscapes of social service provision. While much of this scholarship has suggested a seamless ‘fusion’ between conservative evangelicalism and neoliberal ideology, ethnographic research has tended to reveal the far more complicated, and contradictory, reality of evangelical social projects as they play out on the ground. Presenting the first in-depth ethnography of a faith-based job-readiness program, this article examines the contradictory logics operative within the project of what we call ‘evangelizing employability.’ Targeting joblessness, the program urges entrepreneurial independence. Targeting godlessness, the program urges righteous dependence on God. The project of evangelizing employability reveals the extraordinary utility of religion for the enactment of neoliberal priorities and policies of work enforcement and contributes to our understanding of religious neoliberalism and its class-based contradictions.

Vagramenko, “Kinship in Christ’s Blood”

Vagramenko, Tatiana. 2017. “Blood” Kinship and Kinship in Christ’s Blood: Nomadic Evangelism in the Nenets Tundra. Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 11(1): 151-169.

Abstract: The article addresses a conflicting encounter of two ideologies of kinship, ‘natural’ and ‘religious’, among the newly established Evangelical communities of Nenets in the Polar Ural and Yamal tundra. An ideology of Christian kinship, as an outcome of ‘spiritual re-birth’, was introduced through Nenets religious conversion. The article argues that although the born-again experience often turned against ancestral traditions and Nenets traditional kinship ties, the Nenets kinship system became a platform upon which the conversion mechanism was furthered and determined in the Nenets tundra. The article examines missionary initiatives and Nenets religiosity as kin-based activities, the outcome of which was twofold. On one side, it was the realignment of Nenets traditional kinship networks. On other side, it was the indigenisation of the Christian concept of kinship according to native internal cultural logic. Evangelical communities in the tundra were plunged into the traditional practices of Nenets kinship networks, economic exchanges, and marriage alliances. Through negotiation of traditional Nenets kinship and Christian kinship, converted Nenets developed new imaginaries, new forms of exchanges, and even new forms of mobility.