Publisher’s Description: What is the work that miracles do in American Charismatic Evangelicalism? How can miracles be unanticipated and yet worked for? And finally, what do miracles tell us about other kinds of Christianity and even the category of religion? A Diagram for Fire engages with these questions in a detailed sociocultural ethnographic study of the Vineyard, an American Evangelical movement that originated in Southern California. The Vineyard is known worldwide for its intense musical forms of worship and for advocating the belief that all Christians can perform biblical-style miracles. Examining the miracle as both a strength and a challenge to institutional cohesion and human planning, this book situates the miracle as a fundamentally social means of producing change—surprise and the unexpected used to reimagine and reconfigure the will. Jon Bialecki shows how this configuration of the miraculous shapes typical Pentecostal and Charismatic religious practices as well as music, reading, economic choices, and conservative and progressive political imaginaries.
Abstract: How do American Charismatic Evangelicals imagine human difference? Ethnographic fieldwork with the Vineyard, a Southern California originated but now nation-wide Charismatic Evangelical movement, suggests that for many lay American Charismatic Evangelicals, difference is conceptualized in three different modes, involving potentialities, relations, and boundedness. Much like a grammar shapes communication without imposing a single meaning, these forms of conceiving human difference mandate no single intrinsic political position, but do affect the way that American Charismatic evangelicals express and contest notions of human difference.
Howell, Brian, J. Derrick Lemons, Jon Bialecki, James Bielo, Tanya Luhrmann, and Timothy Larsen. 2016. Faith in Anthropology: A Symposium on Timothy Larsen’s The Slain God. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 34(2):140-152.
Abstract: Timothy Larsen is the Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Illinois, and the author of The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), an intellectual history of the relationship between anthropology and Christianity. Here Brian Howell, Professor of Anthropology at Wheaton, introduces comments on the book from J. Derrick Lemons, Jon Bialecki, James Bielo and Tanya Luhrmann, as well as a response from Larsen.
Bialecki, Jon. 2015. Protestant Language, Christian Problems, and Religious Realism. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 37-42.
Excerpt: If there is one thing that can be ticked off as ‘accomplished’ by the nascent anthropology of Christianity, it is cementing the idea that in multiple and disparate ethnographic locales featuring self-designated Protestant and Post-Protestant Christians, there are often shared and religiously inflected ideas about what constitutes effective and ethical language. In places as physically distant as Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea, Northern Europe and the United States, ethnographers have found patterns in language use and in speech ethics; again and again, we see that the referential aspects of language are celebrated, and that linguistics agency and responsibility is properly placed directly with the ‘sincere’ speaker.
Opas, Minnas. 2015. Religion, Christianity and the Question of Generative Problems: Comment to Jon Bialecki. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 43-47.
Excerpt: The idea of looking at religion through the notion of the generative problem is, I think, a prolific point of departure for comparative work. Nevertheless, instead of looking at religion only through one specific problem, we could ask, what different kinds of generative problems motivate religious traditions?
Utriainen, Terhi. 2015. Language, Presence and Transforming Christianities through the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion: Comment to Jon Bialecki. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 47-51.
Excerpt: The anthropology and sociology of religion make an interesting couple—a couple that could perhaps have even more conversation and family-life than they have today. From the perspective of the academic study of religion (or ‘religious studies’ as it is often called), which is my home base, anthropology and sociology are often considered two alternative approaches for the empirical study of contemporary religion—approaches to religion as a presence as well as to the presence (or absence) of religion in modernity. Even if they share some classics, Durkheim anyway, these two disciplines are sometimes considered to differ both in their methods (ethnography for anthropology and predominantly quantitative methods for sociology) and their fields and respective theories (non-Western others for anthropology and the religious and secularizing people in the West for sociology). This is, however, changing.
Abstract: This essay discusses the relationship between the Vineyard and the various other apostolic networks. By comparing the Vineyard with C. Peter Wagner and the New Apostolic Revival, I contend that the chief difference between these two movements lies in a Vineyard interest in pedagogy over a New Apostolic Revival interest in governance, and in the Vineyard’s use of the figure of John Wimber as an exemplar for practice rather than as a figure of authority.
By: Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)
Liahona is not an ethnographic film. It is not even a documentary, or, at least, a documentary of the standard type. Consisting of images shot on scratchy 16 millimeter film using a hand camera, mixed with a wealth of found footage (much of it originally filmed by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, for either missionary or apologetic purposes), and shot through with decontextualized voice-overs, it is not concerned with clear explication, or at least with granting immediate clarity. Rather, it has more of the sense of a piece of symphonic music, with images or scenes briefly introduced, which are returned to again and again in different ways as the film proceeds. Again and again, we are shown shots of the stark landscape and expansive skies of Northern Utah, both of which are presented as sublime (in the Kantian sense of the word). This landscape is repeatedly juxtaposed with vintage shots of quotidian Mormon life, as well as with views of prominent Mormon temples in the region, scenes from the Days of ’47 Parade down Salt Lake City or the Manti Mormon Miracle Pageant. Some of these scenes are eventually given the necessary context to become readable as the film progresses. Other elements, such as the repeated and unexplained use of characters from the desert alphabet, a column of smoke from a scrub wildfire, or the haunting image of a feathered headdress, worn at either dawn or sunset, shrouded in shadow as it is juxtaposed against the Manti Temple, remain unexplained even at the film’s close. (Similarly, the source of the movie’s title goes unexplained for those not familiar with it). The soundtrack is equally jarring; we shunt between thundering church organs, atonal droning, and acapella renditions of iconic Mormon hymns such as “If You Could Hie to Kolob” and “Called to Serve.” Continue reading
Abstract: While a great deal of social science literature has examined the explosion of pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in the Global South as well as conservative and anti-modern forms of resurgent Christianity in the United States, little work has been done to investigate the causal effects of the former on the latter. Drawing from existing literature, interviews, and archives, this article contributes to filling that gap by arguing that in the mid-twentieth century, evangelical missionary concerns about competition from global Pentecostalism led to an intellectual crisis at the Fuller School of World Missions; this crisis in turn influenced important Third Wave figures such as John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner and is linked to key moments and developments in their thought and pedagogy.
The Judgment of God and the Non-elephantine Zoo: Christian Dividualism, Individualism, and Ethical Freedom After the Mosko-Robbins Debate
Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)
Abstract: The recent debate between Joel Robbins and Mark Mosko regarding whether Melanesian and extra-Melanesian forms of Christianity should be considered “individual” or “dividual” gives us the opportunity to revisit the question of dividualisms, and to question the over one decade old “current anthropological wisdom” that “all persons are both dividuals and individuals.” (Englund and Leach 2000: 229; see also Lipuma 1998). Reading deployments of Mosko’s argument outside of Melanesia, in conjunction with careful attention to the works of Robbins and Webb Keane, as well as with fieldwork with American Charismatic Christians, this essay argues for a more complex analytic in which individualism as well as disparate dividualism form an economy, working at different scales and temporal frameworks, and at times toward unanticipated ends.
Bialecki, Jon. 2014. Diagramming the Will: Ethics and Prayer, Text, and Politics. Ethnos 1-23 (DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2014.986151)
Abstract: Framing prayer as an ethical exercise that operates on a recalcitrant will, this essay examines both this practice in the Vineyard, an American Neocharismatic church, and texts written by Vineyard pastors for the purposes of instructing believers in how to engage in prayer. It argues that the same abstract play of forces can be identified in both these areas. But that does not mean the two areas are identical. While prayer as a practice is marked by a certain indetermination about how and in what ways prayer is effective, instructional material about prayer are shown to be much more exacting. However, different choices among pastors in how they situate prayer is shown to have specific political effects; it also suggests some of the benefits for an anthropology of ethics in being careful to disarticulate ethical practice from texts describing means to properly engage in ethical practice.