Abstract: The image of a violated social contract has long held a distinctive place in African American Christian thought about injustice. This essay discusses the efforts made by members of Pentecostal churches in Buffalo, New York, to enter into forms of contract with God that supersede the broken social contracts they see as devaluing their lives. These believers listen to God’s words as expressed in prophetic utterances for “confirmation” of the significance of events. In their view, “catching the word” through faithful listening enables them to create social commitments on their own terms, whereas their creative capacities are liable to be alienated from them if they listen improperly. Applying David Graeber’s revisionist treatment of “fetishism” as a form of social creativity, this essay explores how believers create their blessings within a dialogic space involving themselves, God, the devil, and pastor- prophets with exceptional abilities to listen to and convey the terms of the divine contract.
Abstract: Within many North American evangelical Christian communities, discernment denotes attentiveness to an interior voice that believers learn to identify as God’s. This article adopts a comparative perspective on everyday domains of perception and feeling that practices of discernment implicitly distinguish as unmarked by God’s activity, and as characterized by specific forms of anxiety from which believers desire to be redeemed. In a majority White Pentecostal congregation in suburban Buffalo, New York, believers cast emotional insecurity as a condition demanding redemption, while members of African American churches in the inner city hope to be redeemed from sensitivity to insults. While practices of discernment counter such anxieties by fostering forms of intimacy and trust, they also reinforce anxiety by focusing believers’ attention on how familiar relations may be distorted in uncanny ways.
In an effort to engage with new and innovative research in the anthropology of Christianity, AnthroCyBib has invited Fred Klaits to explore a series of conversations he has had with a key research participant, a pastor of an African American Pentecostal church in Buffalo, New York, USA.
I am currently engaged in a comparative project on Pentecostal insight, focusing on how believers in majority White and African American congregations in Buffalo, New York understand knowledge derived from God as essential to their well-being. By comparing how Pentecostal believers in largely segregated faith communities attempt to foster well-being, I explore how specific sets of anxieties associated with Whiteness and Blackness lead believers to adopt distinctive methods for obtaining insights from God — what they call “discernment” — into their own and others’ life circumstances.
In November 2016, I invited Pastor John (a pseudonym), the leader of one of the African American congregations I am working with in inner-city Buffalo, to attend a roundtable at the American Anthropological Association meetings in Minneapolis entitled “Towards an Ethnography of God,” where I served as a presenter. Pastor John is a former drug dealer who was saved in 1999, at the age of 19. While serving as a minister under a series of bishops of African American Pentecostal churches, Pastor John developed a gift of prophecy whereby he receives words and visions from God about particular people in attendance at church services or revivals, or about others connected to them who may not be present. In 2011, he founded the nondenominational church I call Victory Gospel, most of whose members are from disadvantaged backgrounds. The church encourages enthusiastic worship and prophetic utterances in keeping with African American Holiness and Pentecostal styles.
Early in 2016, Pastor John called out in church that he was receiving a message from God about me that, he said, “I can’t even articulate. I see you speaking in front of a large group of people, making connections between academic work and God’s word.” Shortly afterwards, I received the invitation to participate in the panel and told Pastor John, whereupon he volunteered to attend the event with me. I felt that his presence and participation at the event would contribute positively to the politics of representation surrounding my ethnographic enterprise.
At the kind invitation of the AnthroCyBib curators, I subsequently recorded conversations with Pastor John about the panel, as well as about experiences of divine “confirmation” of the significance of events that I discussed in my paper. Below are partial transcripts of the conversations, interspersed with my own commentary.
Fred Klaits (SUNY, Buffalo) Continue reading
Abstract: A common trope in recent Black popular literature compares pastors and pimps on the grounds that both collect money from their dependents. We frame this comparison in terms of regimes of value operating in U.S. inner cities, where the commercial economy and legal system commonly fail to affirm the personhood of the racialized poor. Drawing on fieldwork in Buffalo, New York, we show that in eliciting tithes and protection money, pastors and pimps combine care and exploitation in ways that assert the value of their own and others’ lives against heavy odds. We extend the concept of “human economy” developed by David Graeber to these transactions, arguing that pimps and pastors construe the money they gather in terms of its power to recognize the value of the lives of givers, askers, and receivers.
Publisher’s Description: This interdisciplinary introduction offers students a truly global overview of the worldwide spread and impact of Christianity. It is enriched throughout by detailed historic and ethnographic material, showing how broad themes within Christianity have been adopted and adapted by Christian denominations within each major region of the world.
- Provides a comprehensive overview of the spread and impact of world Christianity
- Contains studies from every major region of the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, the North Atlantic, and Oceania
- Brings together an international team of contributors from history, sociology, and anthropology, as well as religious studies
- Examines the significant social, cultural, and political transformations in contemporary societies brought about through the influence of Christianity
- Takes a non-theological approach, focusing instead on the impact of and response to Christianity
- Discusses Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox forms of the faith
- Features useful maps and illustrations
- Combines broader discussions with detailed regional analysis, creating an invaluable introduction to world Christianity
This is an engaging multidisciplinary introduction to the worldwide spread and impact of Christianity. Bringing together chapters from leading scholars in history, sociology, anthropology, and religious studies, this book examines the major transformations in contemporary societies brought about through the influence of Christianity.
Each chapter shows how the broad themes within Christianity have been adopted and adapted by Christian denominations within each major region of the world. In this way, the book paints a global picture of the impact of Christianity, enriched by detailed historic and ethnographic material for each particular region. Throughout, the chapters examine Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox forms of Christianity. The combination of broader perspectives and deep analysis of particular regions, illuminating the social, cultural, political, and religious features of changes brought about by Christianity, makes this book essential reading for students of world Christianity.