This article examines religious language in a contested public sphere by analyzing performances of linguistic creativity among creationists in the United States. The public creation‐evolution debate has been a central speech event in the development of modern creationism, and functions as a key site for claiming cultural legitimacy. Focusing on three creation‐evolution debates spanning 33 years, I advance the concept of “creationist poetics” to capture how framing, stance taking, and speech play define the performance repertoire of creationists in the debate context. In particular, I illustrate how creationist speakers work to create a conspiracy‐populist frame and a revealer stance. Together, these strategies sketch a lifeworld that envisions elitist “secular” actors suppressing scriptural authority and creationists as humble, clear‐eyed people exposing the conspiracy through scriptural fidelity. I argue that this system of poetics is a key expressive resource in the ongoing struggle to wrest authority away from evolutionary science and claim it for biblical fundamentalism. Ultimately, this analysis of creationist poetics informs our understanding of how authority as a contingent social process is discursively mediated, a central theme in the study of both religious and political language.
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.
Abstract: This article attempts to push Mauss’ work on the sociality of prayer (1909) to its fullest conclusion by arguing that prayer can be viewed anthropologically as providing a map for social and emotional relatedness. Based on fieldwork among deep-sea fisher families living in Gamrie, North-East Scotland (home to 700 people and six Protestant churches), the author takes as his primary ethnographic departure the ritual of the ‘mid-week prayer meeting’. Among the self-proclaimed ‘fundamentalists’ of Gamrie’s Brethren and Presbyterian churches, attending the prayer meeting means praying for salvation. Yet, contrary to the stereotype of Protestant soteriology as highly individualist, in the context of Gamrie, salvation is not principally focused upon the self, but is instead sought on behalf of the ‘unconverted’ other. Locally, this ‘other’ is made sense of with reference to three different categories of relatedness: the family, the village and the nation. The author’s argument is that each category of relatedness carries with it a different affective quality: anguish for one’s family, resentment toward one’s village, and resignation towards one’s nation. As such, prayers for salvation establish and maintain not only vertical – human-divine – relatedness, but also horizontal relatedness between persons, while also giving them their emotional tenor. In ‘fundamentalist’ Gamrie, these human relationships, and crucially their affective asymmetries, may be mapped, therefore, by treating prayers as social phenomena that seek to engage with a world dichotomised into vice and virtue, rebellion and submission, and, ultimately, damnation and salvation.
Bielo, James S. 2016. Creationist History-Making: Producing a Heterodox Past. In Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices, 81-101. Edited by Jeb J. Card and David S. Anderson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Excerpt: The past, though quite real, is forever and densely mediated by this production of histories. As a cultural process, history-making is a social and ideological accomplishment that is achieved through material means and infrastructure. In turn, the anthropology and ethnography of history-making confronts important questions: how are different relationships to the past cultivated? What strategies and resources are marshaled to perform history-making? And, what is up for grabs in competing acts of history-making? A key contribution of this volume is to develop better ways of thinking about how non-professional historians and scientists perform the work of history-making (cf. Beisaw this volume). The Answers in Genesis creative team reminds us with little subtlety that the past is ideologically contested and that even the most scientifically established historical claims can be actively challenged. As the historian Raphael Samuel writes: “History is not the prerogative of the historian, nor even, as postmodernism contends, a historian’s ‘invention.’ It is, rather, a social form of knowledge; the work, in any given instance, of a thousand different hands” (1994: 8). Moreover, those thousand hands are not working in concert, which means the present hosts multiple historical narratives vying for cultural authority. Anthropologically, our remit is to understand whose hands are doing what and to seek a full ethnographic account of all history-making projects, including those of creationists. To aim for any less is to shrug off our most profound scholarly responsibility.
Abstract: Previous work on conservative Protestant creationism fails to account for other creationists who are much less morally invested in opposition to evolution, raising the sociological question: What causes issues’ moral salience? Through ethnographic fieldwork in four creationist high schools in the New York City area (two Sunni Muslim and two conservative Protestant), I argue that evolution is more important to the Christian schools because it is dissonant with their key practices and boundaries. The theory of evolution is salient for American Evangelicals because it is dissonant with reading the Bible literally, which is both their key practice and key boundary. For American Muslims, the key practice is prayer, and the key boundary is gender performance, neither of which is dissonant with evolution. These cases provide evidence for a theory of moral salience that is more cultural and micro-level than the typical political and macro-level studies of issues’ political salience.
Abstract: The “AHRC Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in Britain” (EFB) project ran over two years, from 2008 to 2009. The network addressed the question “To what extent have Evangelicals in Britain been Fundamentalist?”. This article develops one of the project papers. Drawing on my doctoral research, I explore the relationship between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism through an ethnographic perspective on how two contrasting evangelical congregations did biblical hermeneutics. The congregational hermeneutics approach addresses the mix of hermeneutical discourses, practices, and artefacts within the churches and I show that congregational hermeneutics are revealing for questions of evangelical identity. I maintain that the language of ‘fundamentalising tendencies’ is to be preferred to more static conceptions, which are not well suited for describing dissonant tendencies within congregations. The study supports the view that fundamentalising tendencies are not identical with Evangelicalism and shows that implicit hermeneutical traditions can be found in such churches with the potential to shape broader congregational traditions.
Abstract: While most studies of Messianic Jews focus on how they grapple with anxieties of in-authenticity in relation to the broader Jewish community, this article considers how adherents understand their faith as a unique form of authenticity. On one level, both Messianic Jewish claims of authenticity and critics of Messianic authenticity reflect the same cultural logic of what I call the “evaluative grammar of authenticity.” The evaluative grammar of authenticity values causal/metonymic indexes over manipulated symbols and is undergirded by a suspicion that general appearances are symbolically manipulated in order to mask actual indexical underpinnings. This article argues that the strong stance on Messianic Jewish authenticity in this community is facilitated by the employment of the evaluative grammar of authenticity within a model of reality strongly influenced by the eschatology and epistemology of American Christian fundamentalism. The indexical underpinnings of the cosmos within this model of reality make it logical to conceive of the Messianic Jewish movement as a manifestation of authentic biblical religion. This mode of authenticity is briefly compared to that reflected by critics of Messianic Jewish authenticity who tend to employ this evaluative grammar within a more natural/historical model of reality. This ethnographic example is useful for exploring some of the basic contours of conflicts over authenticity, including how the value-laden domains of knowledge and agency are implicated in these conflicts. It also illustrates how the evaluative grammar of authenticity exemplifies a shared cultural value that, due to its internal logic, tends to engender division and cultural heterogeneity as much, or more, than it engenders cultural consensus.