Schuff, “Dancing Faith”

Schuff, Hildegunn Marie Tønnessen. 2019. “Dancing Faith: Contemporary Christian Dance in Norway.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 34(3): 529-549.

Abstract: Although dance is a common religious expression, its place in the Christian tradition has been contested. In modern Protestant Norway, dance has mostly been considered irrelevant to church life or even sinful. In recent decades, however, dance has become increasingly common in Norwegian churches. The present analysis of empirical data on dance in Christian settings in contemporary Norway is based on participant observation and interviews. While younger dancers (born after 1990) consider it natural to dance in church, and are usually welcome to do so, older participants have met significant resistance. When dancing, dancers find personal meaning (wellbeing, processing emotions and life events), social meaning (communication, belonging), and religious meaning (contact with God, prayer, growth). Dance emerges as a part of lived religion that clearly highlights how bodies matter, and how spiritualities are gendered, in this contribution to understanding the embodied dimensions of religion.

Rush, “Cross(ing) the Peace Walls in West Belfast”

Rush, Kayla. 2019. “Cross(ing) the Peace Walls in West Belfast: Imitation, Exemplarity, and Divine Power.” Religion 49(4): 592-613.

Abstract: This article examines a series of spatial practices called ‘cross walks’ and ‘cross vigils’ undertaken by a Pentecostal Christian church in West Belfast, Northern Ireland. It discusses the ways in which cross walk and vigil participants used imitative practices to bring divine power to bear on the urban spaces and place-specific issues of the church’s local area. The article begins by discussing the church itself, and the ways in which participants understand themselves as situated within the ethno-political designations of ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ in Northern Ireland. It studies the various exemplars set up for the spatial practices in official discourse, and the ways in which these exemplars created a gendered narrative. Finally, it examines the links to Northern Ireland’s parading tradition and the church pastor’s suggested response to a local dispute over parade routes.

Bratrud, “Ambiguity in a Charismatic Revival”

Bratrud, Tom. (2019) “Ambiguity in a Charismatic Revival: Inverting Gender, Age and Power Relations in Vanuatu.” Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.1696855.

Abstract: During a Christian revival movement on Ahamb Island in Vanuatu in 2014, gender- and age-based hierarchies were inverted as women and children were given divine authority and men were positioned as threats to sociopolitical renewal. In analysing these events, I develop Kapferer’s insights on the inherent openness and unpredictability of ritual dynamics. However, I argue that such openness and unpredictability can also be tied to external factors including participants’ multiple and sometimes incompatible values and interests. Attempts to resolve ambiguities in ritual may eventually feed back into ritual ideology and practice in ways that make participants’ experiences disturbing and problematic rather than orderly and supportive.

Casselberry and Pritchard, “Spirit on the Move”

Casselberry, Judith and Elizabeth A. Pritchard. 2019. Spirit on the Move: Black Women and Pentecostalism in Africa and the Diaspora. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Abstract: Pentecostalism is currently the fastest-growing Christian movement, with hundreds of millions of followers. This growth overwhelmingly takes place outside of the West, and women make up 75 percent of the membership. The contributors to Spirit on the Move examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community and access to power. Exploring a range of topics, from Neo-Pentecostal churches in Ghana that help women challenge gender norms to evangelical gospel musicians in Brazil, the contributors show how Pentecostalism helps black women draw attention to and seek remediation from the violence and injustices brought on by civil war, capitalist exploitation, racism, and the failures of the state. In fleshing out the experiences, theologies, and innovations of black women Pentecostals, the contributors show how Pentecostal belief and its various practices reflect the movement’s complexity, reach, and adaptability to specific cultural and political formations.

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

Hardin, “‘Father released me'”

Hardin, Jessica. 2019. “‘Father released me’: Accelerating Care, Temporal Repair, and Ritualized Friendship among Pentecostal Women in Samoa.” American Ethnologist 46(2).

Abstract: Samoan Pentecostal churches, ritualized friendships among women are an informal but essential relationship through which churches grow. The mentorship that women provide when a new convert is introduced to church life creates escalating forms of care and obligation, as well as an experience of urgency and acceleration. Converts learn how to construct rupture in their narratives and spiritual practices, which are modeled in peer socialization practices. This period of intense yet temporary mentorship creates a temporality of “repair”—embodied, linguistic, and social practices that restore the convert’s identity, which has been disrupted by conversion. This care work compels us to consider the temporalization of care as a future‐making endeavor.

Bjork-James, “Gender and Religion”

Bjork-James, Sophie. “Gender and Religion.” Oxford Bibliographies

Abstract: Gender is central to most religious orders. In turn, religions have a significant impact on gendered relations. The study of gender and religion stems from a broader interest in feminist anthropology, and multiple approaches to the study of gender and religion have been developed. An early approach explores the ways that religious practice influences male and female behavior. Studies in this vein explore changing gender norms attending conversion to new religions, or the ways that women’s and men’s roles are constrained and shaped by religious practice. More-recent work analyzes the ways that gender itself structures religious and spiritual ethics and practice. While patriarchal relations are central to many global religions, this is not a universal principle. Some religious orders emphasize cooperation and respect for women over hierarchy. Others may prioritize male leadership but indirectly provide women with types of ethical identities and spiritual positions that create spaces for women to practice their own agency and forms of power. The ethnographic record also demonstrates that there is often a significant difference between how patriarchal gender relations are prioritized in formal religious spaces and how they are practiced. Gender often shapes the religious meanings of space and materiality. Continue reading

Negotiating Respect: Book Review

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2016. Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

By: Ruthie Meadows (University of Nevada, Reno)

In 2016, I took an evening stroll through the small city of Baracoa, Cuba as the sun set against façades of brightly-painted, columned wooden homes. In a country internationally-renowned for its rich Afro-Cuban musical genres – rumba, Latin jazz, timba, reggaetón, batá – I was surprised to encounter an unexpected sound dominating the nighttime aural landscape: the songs of evangelical Christianity. Through open doorways and windows leading into private homes, passersby could see (and hear) groups of singers standing in circles singing evangelical hymns and praise songs, their proud harmonies spilling out from living rooms into the public domain of the streets. Incredibly, I re-encountered this scenario in home after home throughout my walk, passing by multiple groups as they intoned their own sets of praise songs and asserted – through sonic presence – the arrival and dominion of evangelical Christianity within Cuba’s post-atheist religious environment.

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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.

Wilcox, “Queer Nuns”

Wilcox, Mellisa. 2018. Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody. New York: NYU Press. 

Publisher’s Description: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence make up an unlikely order of nuns. Self-described as “twenty-first century queer nuns,” the Sisters began in 1979 when three bored gay men donned retired Roman Catholic nuns’ habits and went for a stroll through San Francisco’s gay Castro district. The stunned and delighted responses they received prompted these already-seasoned activists to consider whether the habits might have some use in social justice work, and within a year they had constituted the new order. Today, with more than 83 houses on four different continents, the Sisters offer health outreach, support, and, at times, protest on behalf of queer communities.

In Queer Nuns, Melissa M. Wilcox offers new insights into the role the Sisters play across queer culture and the religious landscape. The Sisters both spoof nuns and argue quite seriously that they are nuns, adopting an innovative approach the author refers to as serious parody. Like any performance, serious parody can either challenge or reinforce existing power dynamics, and it often accomplishes both simultaneously. The book demonstrates that, through the use of this strategy, the Sisters are able to offer an effective, flexible, and noteworthy approach to community-based activism.

Serious parody ultimately has broader applications beyond its use by the Sisters. Wilcox argues that serious parody offers potential uses and challenges in the efforts of activist groups to work within communities that are opposed and oppressed by culturally significant traditions and organizations – as is the case with queer communities and the Roman Catholic Church. This book opens the door to a new world of religion and social activism, one which could be adapted to a range of political movements, individual inclinations, and community settings.