Feller, “Portable Power, Religious Swag”

Feller, Gavin. “Portable Power, Religious Swag: Mediating Authority in Brazillian Neo-Pentecostalism.” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. 14(3). 

Abstract: This study is an ethnographic and conceptual analysis of religious objects, their uses, and mediation of authority within the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Universal Church) in Brazil. Drawing on scholarship within media studies, religion and media, and material religion, I distinguish between artifacts used to cement implicit contracts between Universal Church followers and their church community, which I call contractual media, or swag, and those that followers bring to meetings to be blessed and then take home to mediate both good and evil forces in family, work, and social life—these I call portable media. While portable object media are seen by their owners as powerful tools, contractual media, on the other hand, create implicit power relations that keep followers tied to the institutional church in a reciprocal exchange predicated upon expected prosperity as evidence of faithful attendance, fidelity, and personal sacrifice. The physical exchange of material goods in religious spaces constitutes a perpetuation rather than a disruption of institutional religious authority. As infrastructure, contractual object media establish and maintain conditions for otherwise mundane materials to mediate power on a daily basis. Through attention toward portable and contract object media, as part of what I am calling material microstructure, we can further complicate religious authority as it is mediated through objects, not just in one-way flows but as dynamic exchanges and trade-offs between personal empowerment and institutional control.

Lehto, “Screen Christianity: Video Sermons in the Creation of Transnational Korean Churches”

Lehto, Heather Mellquist. 2017. “Screen Christianity: Video Sermons in the Creation of Transnational Korean Churches.” Acta Koreana 20 (2) (December): 395-421. 

Abstract: This article attends to the central role of video and projection screens in transnational multisite churches based in South Korea. Drawing on field research in Seoul and in Los Angeles, this article illustrates how the relationship between congregants and the screens themselves is a condition for the emergence of a particular configuration of Christian community, which I will peirastically call “screen Christianity.” The place of screens and their related practices undergird theological conceptions of contact and community, such that screens are said to transmit healing touches and pastors are understood to be present through the proliferation of their screened image. Considering these Christian churches as engaging in screen Christianity highlights how particular material configurations animate these church bodies and ultimately make such transnational communities imaginable

Brennan, “Singing Yoruba Christianity”

Brennan, Vicki. 2017. Singing Yoruba Christianity: Music, Media, and Morality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Publisher’s Description:

Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.

Klaver, Roeland, Versteeg, Stoffels and van Mulligen, “God changes people.”

Klaver, Miranda, Johan Roeland, Peter Versteeg, Hijme Stoffels and Remco van Mulligen. 2017. “God changes people: modes of authentication in Evangelical conversion narratives,” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 32(2): 237-251.

Abstract: One of the distinguishing characteristics of Evangelicalism is the conversion story. In this article we focus on the conversion stories of interviewees within the setting of several related Evangelical television programs broadcast in the Netherlands since the 1980s. We argue that the conversion story is construed through a particular view on and practice of authenticity. Thus we see that, in the televised conversion story, modes of authentication are at work in what we analytically distinguish as frames, narratives, and strategies of authentication. We argue that the idea of an authentic transformation has changed from a more fundamentalist mode of authentication, emphasizing the subjection of the self to a particular religious narrative, to a more expressive mode of authentication that emphasizes the exploration of the inner, unique self of the interviewee.

Abdel-Fadil, “Conflict and Affect”

Abdel-Fadil, Mona. 2016. Conflict and Affect among Conservative Christians on Facebook. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 11:1-27.

Abstract: Drawing on the ethnographic study of the Norwegian Facebook group Yes to wearing the cross whenever and wherever I choose, this article focuses on the emotive performance of conflict. The author delves into the multitude of ways in which emotion appears to drive the conflict(s) in Yes to wearing the cross whenever and wherever I choose. This Facebook group, by virtue of dealing with religion and identity issues contains typical trigger themes, which may lead audiences to emotively enact conflict. Still, these modes of enactment of conflict cannot be understood as a characteristic of religious strife alone. Drawing on Papacharissi’s concept of ‘affective publics’ this article compares the modes of conflict performance, the most salient frames, trigger themes, and emotive cues in this Facebook group to findings from other studies about mediatized conflict. The analysis demonstrates that mediatized conflicts appear to be emotively performed in very similar, at times even identical ways, across a variety of themes and contexts. Participatory media audiences’ tendency to remediate conflicts in ways that draw on an abundance of emotional cues appears to be integral to the enactment of mediatized conflicts. It is argued that we ought to speak not only of affective publics but also of the politics of affect.

Elisha, “Saved by a Martyr”

Omri Elisha, 2016. “Saved by a Martyr: Evangelical Mediation, Sanctification, and the “Persecuted Church” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 84(4): 1056-1080.
Abstract:This article examines the significance of mediation in the public programming and activism of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an organization that offers international aid and advocacy to Christians identified as victims of persecution. Focusing on VOM’s efforts to rally Westerners, especially evangelical Protestants, I argue that the antipersecution movement urges supporters to share the mantle of martyrdom by engaging in purposeful acts of religious mediation, including the consumption and circulation of martyrological media. I explore a related tendency among evangelicals to valorize non-Western Christians in precarious circumstances as exemplars of self-sacrificing piety, whose suffering represents and inspires conditions of sanctification. Drawing on media analysis and fieldwork, I explore how practices of mediation, as forms of “witness,” invite evangelicals to embody otherwise elusive virtues and modes of agency associated with Christian martyrs, while reflecting ambiguous modern conceptions of the nature of embodied suffering and the relationship between vulnerability and power.

Sensational Movies: Book Review

Meyer, Birgit. 2015. Sensational Movies: Video, Vision, and Christianity in Ghana. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

By John Durham Peters and Gavin Feller (University of Iowa)

One of the most exciting things about the anthropology of Christianity is the way it uses the minutiae of practices in out of the way cultures to cast light on ancient and deep philosophical and religious questions. To think about will and personhood, one can turn equally to St. Augustine and to Joel Robbins’ Urapmin. To think about translation and denominational schism, one can turn equally to Martin Luther and to Courtney Handman’s Guhu-Samane Christians. (Like the Urapmin, they live in New Guinea.) The anthropology of Christianity likes to coax theologizing from its armchair and show it at work in the wild, in the field, in vernacular forms.

Birgit Meyer’s Sensational Movies is a worthy contribution in this project. Amassing and integrating over two decades of her research, the book shows, as we will see, how richly the film culture of south Ghana treats the theological problem of necessary but productive evil and the theoretical problem of the ontology of the photographic or cinematic image. The producers, actors, and audiences she has worked with over the years may not be trained religious thinkers or media theorists, but their constant meditations about the occult, about the nature of acting, the power of the image, and the willing suspension of disbelief show them to have rich ideas about how media can form entities in this world and the world beyond. The resulting book is a major contribution to the interdisciplinary sweet spot where religion, media, and cultural anthropology converge. Continue reading

Bielo, “Literally Creative”

Bielo, James. 2015. Literally Creative: Intertextual Gaps and Artistic Agency. In Scripturalizing the Human: The Written as the Political, edited by Vincent L. Wimbush, 21-33. New York, NY; Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Excerpt: “In this chapter I approach Ark Encounter as a grand act of scripturalizing. Following scholarship on the social life of scriptures, an ethnography of this biblical theme park-in-the-making focuses not on scripture as text but on “the signs, material products, ritual practices and performances, expressivities, orientations, ethics, and politics associated with the phenomenon of the invention and uses of ‘scriptures’” (Wimbush 2008: 3). With the example of Ark Encounter, we can add to this list the cultural labor that must be invested to bring new scriptural forms into being. Ark Encounter is scripturalizing imagined, sketched, colored, sculpted, materialized, and engineered. Ark Encounter emerges from a long tradition of scripturalizing performed by a familiar set of scripturalizers: conservative Protestant biblical literalists. What I aim to show in this chapter is that the frame for their work—a religious theme park that promises edification and entertainment in equal doses—requires that scholars seeking to understand Ark Encounter engage in some analytical recalibrating.”

Bekkering, “Drag Queens and Farting Preachers”

Bekkering, Denis. 2015. Drag Queens and Farting Preachers: American Televangelism, Participatory Media, and Unfaithful Fandoms. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Religious Studies. Waterloo, Canada: University of Waterloo.

Abstract: Studies of religion and fandom have generally considered sincere devotion a fundamental point of contact between the two cultural phenomena, an assumption not reflected in fan studies proper. This dissertation aims to expand the scope of research on religion and fandom by offering cultural histories of “unfaithful” fan followings of three controversial American televangelists – Robert Tilton, Tammy Faye Bakker/Messner, and Jim Bakker – dating from the 1980s to 2012, and consisting of individuals amused by, rather than religiously affiliated with, their chosen television preachers. It is argued that through their ironic, parodic, and satirical play with celebrity preachers widely believed to be religious fakes, these unfaithful fans have engaged in religious work related to personal and public negotiations of authentic Christianity. Additionally, it is demonstrated that through their activities, and in particular through their media practices, these fans have impacted the brands and mainstream representations of certain televangelists, and have provoked ministry responses including dismissal, accommodation, and counteraction.

Blanton, “Hittin’ the Prayer Bones.”

Blanton, Anderson. 2015. Hittin’ the Prayer BonesMateriality of Spirit in the Pentecostal South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 

Publisher’s description: In this work, Anderson Blanton illuminates how prayer, faith, and healing are intertwined with technologies of sound reproduction and material culture in the charismatic Christian worship of southern Appalachia. From the radios used to broadcast prayer to the curative faith cloths circulated through the postal system, material objects known as spirit-matter have become essential since the 1940s, Blanton argues, to the Pentecostal community’s understanding and performances of faith.

Hittin’ the Prayer Bones draws on Blanton’s extensive site visits with church congregations, radio preachers and their listeners inside and outside the broadcasting studios, and more than thirty years of recorded charismatic worship made available to him by a small Christian radio station. In documenting the transformation and consecration of everyday objects through performances of communal worship, healing prayer, and chanted preaching, Blanton frames his ethnographic research in the historiography of faith healing and prayer, as well as theoretical models of materiality and transcendence. At the same time, his work affectingly conveys the feelings of horror, healing, and humor that are unleashed in practitioners as they experience, in their own words, the sacred, healing presence of the Holy Ghost.