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 →
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.
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 →
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.
Abstract: Praise dance isa Christian movementgenre, 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.
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.
Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.
Kraybill, Jeanine E. 2016. “Non-ordained: Examining the Level of Female Religious Political Engagement and Social Policy Influence within the American Catholic Church.” Fieldwork in Religion 11(2): DOI: 10.1558/firn.32964
Abstract: The Catholic Church, constructed on an all-male clerical model, is a hierarchical and gendered institution, creating barriers to female leadership. In interviewing members of the clergy and women religious of the faith, this article examines how female non-ordained and male clerical religious leaders engage and influence social policy. It specifically addresses how women religious maneuver around the institutional constraints of the Church, in order to take action on social issues and effect change. In adding to the scholarship on this topic, I argue that part of the strategy of women religious in navigating barriers of the institutional Church is not only knowing when to act outside of the formal hierarchy, but realizing when it is in the benefit of their social policy objectives to collaborate with it. This maneuvering may not always safeguard women religious from institutional scrutiny, as seen by the 2012 Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, but instead captures the tension between female religious and the clergy. It also highlights how situations of institutional scrutiny can have positive implications for female religious leaders, their policy goals and congregations. Finally, this examination shows how even when women are appointed to leadership posts within the institutional Church, they can face limitations of acceptance and other constraints that are different from their female religious counterparts working within their own respective religious congregations or outside organizations.
Publisher’s Description: In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., which is based in Harlem and one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal denominations in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Casselberry shows how the women negotiate this contradiction by using their work to produce and claim a spiritual authority that provides them with a particular form of power. She also emphasizes how their work in the church is as significant, labor intensive, and critical to their personhood, family, and community as their careers, home and family work, and community service are. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.
Abstract: In this article, the author explores the role of religion in social constructions of heterosexual masculinity in South Africa in the context of civil society driven programs to fight sexual and gender-based violence and the spread of HIV. Critically engaging with the concept of hegemonic masculinity and the sociological literature on gender relations in conservative Christian communities, the author examines how Charismatic Christian and Pentecostal communities in the townships of Cape Town negotiate their model of masculinity and gender authority in the context of the prevailing hegemonies of ‘traditional’ and ‘liberal’ masculinity. Based on ethnographic observations and qualitative interviews with Pentecostal men, the author specifies the concrete mechanisms whereby Pentecostalism both contributes to transform but also to reproduce rather than undermine hegemonic masculinity. He finds that Pentecostalism responsibilizes men not because men adopt its sexual ideology but because they adopt its model of personhood.