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

Bielo, “Where Prayers May Be Whispered”

Bielo, James S. (2019) ‘”Where Prayers May Be Whispered”: Promises of Presence in Protestant Place-Making’. Ethnos. DOI:10.1080/00141844.2019.1604559

Abstract: This article examines themes of religion tourism, presence, devotional labour, and place-making from the vantage point of a ‘forgotten’ Christian attraction in the United States. I integrate archival, oral history, and ethnographic data to analyze the accumulations throughout the 60-year life course of the Garden of Hope, a site in northern Kentucky (USA): from distinctly Protestant and distinctly Catholic material features, more ambiguous theological features, stories of supernatural intervention and stories of human ingenuity, competing claims to authority and authenticity, choreographed rituals, and multiple forms of devotion. I argue for an interpretation of the Garden that accounts for the ways in which Christian engagements with the problem of presence accumulate promises of presence: the expectation, anticipation, and potentiality that a desired spiritual intimacy will be actualised. In particular, I highlight the devotional labour of custodians and visitors as integral for defining, narrating, and maintaining this promise.

Hennigan and Purser, “Jobless and Godless”

Hennigan, Brian and Gretchen Purser. 2017. Jobless and Godless: Religious neoliberalism and the project of evangelizing employability in the US. Ethnography Online First.

Abstract: In the wake of welfare reform, there has been growing scholarly attention to ‘religious neoliberalism’ and, specifically, to the practices and politics of faith-based organizations in neoliberalized landscapes of social service provision. While much of this scholarship has suggested a seamless ‘fusion’ between conservative evangelicalism and neoliberal ideology, ethnographic research has tended to reveal the far more complicated, and contradictory, reality of evangelical social projects as they play out on the ground. Presenting the first in-depth ethnography of a faith-based job-readiness program, this article examines the contradictory logics operative within the project of what we call ‘evangelizing employability.’ Targeting joblessness, the program urges entrepreneurial independence. Targeting godlessness, the program urges righteous dependence on God. The project of evangelizing employability reveals the extraordinary utility of religion for the enactment of neoliberal priorities and policies of work enforcement and contributes to our understanding of religious neoliberalism and its class-based contradictions.

Werbner, “Political prayer and the dignity of labour”

Werbner, Pnina. 2016. Political prayer and the dignity of labour: Botswana’s workers’ movement. Anthropology Today 32(1): 14–18.

Abstract: The article draws on recent fieldwork to explore the intersection between class and Christian faith in the collective worldview of African labour unions in Botswana. Workers across different churches appeal to a Christian God whom they believe supports their struggle for dignity and a living wage. It is this axiomatic faith that underpins the spiritual interpretation of worker vocation and worker solidarity. Moreover, in Botswana, unlike in some neighbouring African countries, no contradiction is perceived between workers’ left-wing, socialist leanings and their Christian faith. Workers’ identities are equally intertwined in their affiliation to their churches and to the labour movement in Botswana. Above all, I argue, following E.P. Thompson and other historians of early British and American labour movements, that the sanctification of labour dignifies for manual workers their physical labour, despite their lack of formal education.

Liebelt, “Mama Mary”

Liebelt, Claudia. 2014. The “Mama Mary” of the White City’s Underside: Reflections on a Filipina Domestic Workers’ Block Rosary in Tel Aviv, Israel. In Migrant Domestic Workers in the Middle East: The Home and the World, edited by Bina Fernandez and Marina de Regt.  Pp: 95-116. New York: Palgrave. 

Excerpt: Each Friday, a loose network of Catholic migrant domestic workers, almost exclusively women from the Philippines, carries a figure of the Virgin Mary through the marginalized neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv, Israel. As the figure is carried from one participant’s home to another of this so-called block rosary, they believe “she” (the Virgin Mary) blesses these homes and the surrounding neighborhood, hears hundreds of the women’s petitions, creates a community of devotees, and performs miracles. Against the backdrop of the troubled neighborhood’s Friday night life and the turbulence of the devotees’ own lives, “Mama Mary,” as she is tenderly addressed, has come to stand for compassion, refuge, and protection. This chapter seeks to describe and analyze domestic workers’ Marian devotion in a complex Middle Eastern locale. In doing so, this chapter contributes to the literature on diaspora, gender, and religion and investigates ritual performance and processes of homemaking in the context of female migrants’ diasporic journeys and a gendered global economy based on the international division and feminization of labor, especially in the field of reproduction and care.

Mohr, “Enchanted Calvinism”

Mohr, Adam. 2013. Enchanted Calvinism: Labor Migration, Afflicting Spirits, and Christian Therapy in the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

Release Date: November 15, 2013

Publisher’s Description: Enchanted Calvinism’s central proposition is that Ghanaian Presbyterian communities, both past and present, have become significantly more enchanted–that is, more attuned to spiritual explanations of and remedies for suffering–as they have become more integrated into capitalist modes of production. The author draws on a specific Weberian concept of religious enchantment to frame the discussion of spiritual affliction and spiritual healing within the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, particularly under the conditions of labor migration: first, in the early twentieth century during the cocoa boom in Ghana and second, at the turn of the twenty-first century in the context of the healthcare migration from Ghana to North America. Relying on extensive archival research, oral historical interviews, and participant-observation group interviews conducted in North America, Europe, and West Africa, the study provides evidence that the more these Ghanaian Calvinists became dependent on capitalist modes of production, the more enchanted their lives, and, subsequently, their church became, although in different ways within these two migrations. One striking pattern that has emerged among Ghanaian Presbyterian labor migrants in North America, for example, is a radical shift in gendered healing practices, where women have become prominent healers, while a significant number of men have become spirit-possessed.