Over the past decades, biblical scholars have gradually become more aware of the importance of the social sciences for their own field. This has produced a steady flow of studies informed by work that was done in the fields of group formation psychology, the sociology of emerging movements and the sociology of religion, and historical anthropology. This volume offers the proceedings of a conference that brought together a number of expert biblical scholars, specialists of ancient religious practices, and proponents of an anthropological approach to ancient Christian and Greco-Roman religious tradition. It was the explicit purpose not to focus exclusively on purely methodological reflections, but to explore and evaluate how methodological concepts and constructs can be developed and then also checked in applying them on specific cases and topics that are typical for understanding earliest Christianity.
This article examines the performance practices of U.S. gospel magicians, evangelical Christians who convey religious messages with conjuring tricks. Emphatically denying that they possess supernatural powers and scrupulously avoiding effects that resemble biblical miracles, they take pains to present their tricks as unambiguously skillful performances intended to entertain, uplift, and instruct. When patterned on a Christian motif, otherwise self-referential magic tricks constitute a versatile signifying medium. Addressing the poetics of gospel magic in the setting of instructional workshops, this analysis explores a variety of ways performers utilize iconic resemblances between conjuring effects and Christian referents to produce complex and evocative expressions of faith. At the same time, they carefully manage signifiers of virtuosic agency that are intrinsic to the efficacy of gospel magic performance, but that also threaten to undermine their Christian message.