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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Thornton, “Victims of Illicit Desire”

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2018. Victims of Illicit Desire: Pentecostal Men of God and the Specter of Sexual Temptation. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1).

Abstract: For men in the context of urban poverty in the Dominican Republic, Pentecostal conversion may lead to conditions of gender distress: frustration stemming from the challenges of reconciling the conflicting gender ideals of the church with those of the street. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with members of a Pentecostal community in the town of Villa Altagracia, I discuss how many young men come to experience the initial trials of conversion as tormenting spiritual assaults on their manhood in the form of alluring succubi. At the same time, male converts adopt newly inspired antagonisms with women familiars whom they blame for their illicit desires. Elsewhere I have discussed the strategies Pentecostal men deploy in order to mediate the conflict between barrio masculinity and evangelical Christianity; here I am concerned with illustrating how this conflict is given personal and cultural expression and how the attending experience of gender distress and its symbolic elaboration shapes masculine identity and male subjectivity in the church and local faith communities. By focusing on male converts and their struggles to remain manly, this article contributes to a richer understanding of gender dynamics in Pentecostal churches and offers useful insight into how gender is variously troubled, performed, and remade through conversion and religious practice more broadly.

Dawley, “From Wrestling with Monsters to Wrestling with God”

Dawley, William. 2018. From Wrestling with Monsters to Wrestling with God: Masculinities, ‘Spirituality,’ and the Group-ization of Religious Life in Northern Costa Rica. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1).

Abstract: This piece explores the support group movement’s role in restructuring Latin American religion and contributing to the trans-denominational and trans-secular spread of the “reformation of machismo”—Elizabeth Brusco’s (2010) name for Latin American evangelicalism’s focus on transforming men and masculinity. Using ethnographic data from two years of fieldwork in an urbanizing area of northern Costa Rica and life history interviews with men from three churches and three men’s groups there, this paper argues that a region-wide popular discourse about a “crisis of masculinity/machismo” and a “crisis of the family” has broadened the appeal of efforts to transform men and masculinity—not only among most churches, but especially among a proliferating number of trans-denominational and non-religious men’s groups that are modeled implicitly on all-male Alcoholics Anonymous groups, which are extraordinarily popular throughout Latin America. This essay’s argument borrows from Wuthnow’s analysis of “the restructuring of [North] American religion” under the influence of the support group movement (1988, 1994a, 1994b, 1998), but it also employs an historiographic approach, exploring the origins of this restructuring of Latin American religion in the same “Methodist model” of social organization that has driven evangelical growth throughout the Americas (and men’s conversions especially) during times of social change and male social dislocation (Martin 1990). The conversion histories of two Catholic men are used to illustrate how it is participation in these groups, rather than formal conversion, that transforms many men’s lives, their gender identities, and their relationships with others. Finally, the possible contributions of this research to anthropological studies of religion, ethics, and morality are explored, in particular the role that models of social organization might play in the spread of new ethical practices, discourses, or identity models.

 

Burchardt, “Saved from hegemonic masculinity?”

Burchardt, Marian.  2017. Saved from hegemonic masculinity? Charismatic Christianity and men’s responsibilization in South Africa.  Current Sociology.  Early online publication.

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.

Wignall, “From Swagger to Serious”

Wignall, Ross.  2016. From Swagger to Serious: Managing Young Masculinities between Faiths at a Young Men’s Christian Association Centre in The Gambia.  Journal of Religion in Africa 46(2-3): 288-323.

Abstract: A renewed focus on studies of masculinity in Africa has so far failed to account for the growing importance of nonproselytizing Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs) in the gendering process. This article seeks to address this issue through a case study of the Gambian branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). YMCA leaders generate a culture of dynamic leadership that equates to a form of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ based on love, self-sacrifice, and obligation. This article shows how this process is implicated in a series of tensions between the young men and their peers, families, elders, and leaders. While many young men want to ‘have swagger’, they are called ‘stubborn’ and urged to ‘get serious’. Through an ethnographic portrait, the author uses these tensions to explore how YMCA ideals of manhood may be superimposing forms of Euro-American, Christian masculinity onto Muslim Gambian men, replicating colonial modes of control, inequality, and oppression.

van Klinken “Pentecostalism, Political Masculinity and Citizenship”

van Klinken, Adriaan.  2016. Pentecostalism, Political Masculinity and Citizenship: The Born-Again Male Subject as Key to Zambia’s National Redemption.  Journal of Religion in Africa 46(2-3): 129-157.

Abstract: Africa has become a key site of masculinity politics, that is, of mobilisations and struggles where masculine gender is made a principal theme and subjected to change. Pentecostalism is widely considered to present a particular form of masculinity politics in contemporary African societies. Scholarship on African Pentecostal masculinities has mainly centred around the thesis of the domestication of men, focusing on changes in domestic spheres and in marital and intimate relations. Through an analysis of a sermon series preached by a prominent Zambian Pentecostal pastor, this article demonstrates that Pentecostal discourse on adult, middle- to upper-class masculinity is also highly concerned with men’s roles in sociopolitical spheres. It argues that in this case study the construction of a born-again masculinity is part of the broader Pentecostal political project of national redemption, which in Zambia has particular significance in light of the country constitutionally being a Christian nation. Hence the article examines how this construction of Pentecostal masculinity relates to broader notions of religious, political and gendered citizenship.

 

Wignall, “A man after god’s own heart”

Wignall, Ross. 2016. A man after god’s own heart’: charisma masculinity and leadership at a charismatic Church in Brighton and Hove, UK. Religion DOI:10.1080/0048721X.2016.1169452

Abstract: This article suggests that the gendered aspects of charisma have so far been overlooked in recent scholarship and seeks to align studies of charismatic religious leaders more fully with studies of masculinity and the ‘masculinisation’ of Charismatic churches. Based on research conducted at the Church of Christ the King (CCK) in Brighton and Hove, UK, I analyses how leadership operates as a key language for mediating masculinity, giving young men ways of being manly within both Christian and church parameters as well as forming links between experienced leaders and their young apprentices. Focusing on a dramatic visit by a notorious international preacher as an instance of charismatic masculinity in action, the author shows how an understanding of a corporate culture of masculinity can lend new insight into our understanding of charisma as both a relational construct and a system of individual authority which is tested at times of crisis and succession.

Eves, “Reforming Men”

Eves, Richard.  2016. Reforming men: Pentecostalism and masculinity in Papua New Guinea.  The Australian Journal of Anthropology.  Early online publication.

Abstract: The basic premise of this paper is that oppressive and violent behaviour is not an essential aspect of the male identity. Seeking to comprehend the underlying causes of violence, specifically against women but also more generally, this paper examines some of the alternative ways of being a man that have accompanied Christianity. Through observation of some Pentecostals from New Ireland, I have concluded that new ways of being a man that are less oppressive and dominating for women are emerging. This phenomenon I argue is a step towards gender equality, since it involves creating more caring and equitable relationships and a step towards reducing violence both against women and in the community, since it embraces non-violent ways of being a man. Particularly useful in analysing the process of reforming men is Foucault’s work on governmentality since it relates well to the Pentecostal emphasis on radical change in being ‘born again’. Conversion for born-again Christians is more than simply abandoning sin; rather it involves the creation of a new self and becoming a new person. Similarly, Foucault argues that the individual practises the art of self-governance in re-forming her or himself as she or he desires.

Pieterse, “Managing belief in a hostile world”

Pieterse, Jim.  2016. Managing belief in a hostile world: experiencing gifts of the Spirit at a small Pentecostal Charismatic Church in Pretoria.  Anthropology Southern Africa.  Early online publication. 

Abstract: This article focuses on the infrequency with which “gifts of the Spirit” are experienced during services at a small Pentecostal church in Pretoria, attended mostly by Afrikaans-speaking men who self-identify as homosexual. It aims to shed some light on the ways in which pastors work to shape churchgoers’ perceptions of the world, their place in it, as well as how experiences of marginalisation and suffering relate to spirits (and their absence) that are understood to mediate between heaven and earth. I argue that difficulties related to the cultivation of faith, on which relationships with the divine are constructed, frustrate direct experiences of spiritual gifts. I also show that certain steps are taken in this church, with varying degrees of success, to try and render the invisible corporeally present. An analysis of sermons is folded into a broader discussion of spiritual self-fashioning and the roles of technologies of the self within the church in an attempt to provide an inclusive, broad-based analysis of “gifts of the Spirit” in a Pentecostal Charismatic Church (PCC) that engages with religious belief on its own terms.

Thornton, “Negotiating Respect”

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2016. Negotiating respect: pentecostalism, masculinity, and the politics of spiritual authority in the Dominican Republic. [Place of publication not identified]: University of Florida Press.

Publisher’s Description: Negotiating Respect is an ethnographically rich investigation of Pentecostal Christianity–the Caribbean’s fastest growing religious movement–in the Dominican Republic. Based on fieldwork in a barrio of Villa Altagracia, Brendan Jamal Thornton examines the everyday practices of Pentecostal community members and the complex ways in which they negotiate legitimacy, recognition, and spiritual authority within the context of religious pluralism and Catholic cultural supremacy. Probing gender, faith, and identity from an anthropological perspective, he considers in detail the lives of young male churchgoers and their struggles with conversion and life in the streets. Thornton shows that conversion offers both spiritual and practical social value because it provides a strategic avenue for prestige and an acceptable way to transcend personal history. Through an exploration of the church and its relationship to barrio institutions like youth gangs and Dominican vodú, he further draws out the meaningful nuances of lived religion providing new insights into the social organization of belief and the significance of Pentecostal growth and popularity globally. The result is a fresh perspective on religious pluralism and contemporary religious and cultural change.