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.

Occasional Paper: Howell, “19 and Counting: Religion, Gender, and the Hermeneutics of Agency”

19 and Counting: Religion, Gender, and the Hermeneutics of Agency in Liberal America

Brian Howell (Wheaton College)

Editorial Note – This article was written prior to Josh Duggar’s recent admission to having molested unspecified minors twelve years ago, and also to his resignation from the Family Research Council. Points made herein about liberalism, agency, and coercion, though, have much to contribute to current debates regarding this issue. 

Abstract: TLC’s reality show “19 and Counting” (nee 18 and Counting; nee 17 and Counting) follows the Duggar family and their many children and grandchildren through “everyday life.” Described as “conservative Christians,” the show presents insights into the challenges of managing such a large family as well as extended coverage of the particular beliefs and practices of the family, such as the practice of “courtship,” a kind of arranged marriage, strictly limited physical contact prior to marriage, and the practice of rigid gender roles. While this form of conservative/fundamentalist Christianity fits within the scholarly orbit of what Susan Harding termed the “repugnant cultural other,” this reality show has consistently been one of the most popular TLC shows and generated wide-spread celebrity for the family. In this paper I argue that the network employs discourse of liberal freedom and autonomous moral choice to make the presence of an illiberal community in the midst of the United States acceptable, even attractive, to the wider audience. The audience of this TLC program learns very little about the sociality of this form of religion, even as they are inspired to accept and embrace the cultural others in their midst.

The Duggar family is nothing if not adorable. The 19 children of Michelle and “Jim Bob” (James Robert) Duggar are attractive, funny, and opinionated. The cameras of their TLC reality show, “19 Kids & Counting,” frequently turn to 9 year old Jackson and 8 year old Johanna, who offer their wisdom on everything from which of their older sisters will be the first to marry, to how many “bajillions of people” came to the family’s book signing in Harrisburg, PA, and whether their mother will have another baby. Just as frequently, the episodes feature matriarch Michelle calmly recounting the daily activities of homeschooling her large family, and patriarch Jim Bob often chimes in with the challenges of getting everyone to the airport on time to make their trip to New York, or organized for a mission trip to Central America. As a result of their reality-show fame, the Duggar parents have published two books and regularly appear on daytime shows such as Good Morning America and the Today Show. Now in its seventh season on air, 19 Kids and Counting has proven to be one of TLC’s most popular shows.

Although the extraordinary size of the clan is certainly one key to the show’s popularity, the producers highlight a second, and arguably more intriguing aspect of this family, the unusual theology and cultural practices they embody. In the first season of the show, the family self-described during the introduction as having “conservative values,” referring to the fundamentalist Christianity that is a regular feature of each episode. They are shown praying together, attending church, and visiting Christian conferences. Father Jim Bob makes frequent mention of his conviction against being in debt for any purchase, and it is a staple of the show that it is their faith that motivates their commitment to un-restrained fertility. Mother Michelle is very clear that she cedes authority in the family to her husband and views herself as “under his covering.” A popular story arc followed eldest son Josh through his “courtship,” engagement, and marriage to Anna, a young woman from a “like-minded family.” Their relationship and engagement was overseen, and largely arranged, by their fathers. What is remarkable about the popularity of this show is that this fringe theology is not portrayed, nor largely consumed, as a spectacle of a “repugnant” subculture (Harding 1991), but as a beloved and embraced family. How has a religious expression that seemingly runs counter to wider American views of gender, family, and social mores become a mainstream hit known not as a domestic train wreck but as a more fecund, real world Waltons? This article argues that despite the countercultural fundamentalism and conservative gender norms the family embraces, the show serves, through those who accept and those who critique the family, to reinforce the hegemonic ideology of liberal autonomy.[1]

Continue reading

Stewart, “The “Almost” Territories of the Charismatic Christian Internet”

Stewart, Anna Rose.  2015. The “Almost” Territories of the Charismatic Christian Internet.  In The Changing World Religion Map.  Stanley D. Brunn, ed.  Pp. 3899-3912.  Amsterdam: Springer Netherlands.

Abstract:

The constantly emerging technologies of the internet are frequently described in terms that evoke space. As online technologies continue to grow in their global ubiquity, it is appropriate to consider how the virtual geographies that are conjured in online engagement extend beyond the web browser. This chapter builds upon anthropological approaches studying religious communication to consider how internet engagement with some religious Believers creates and provides a sense of presence in an inspirited world. I first discuss how anthropologists approached the relationship between religious communication and space before considering Charismatic Christians in the UK. Following 12 months of fieldwork in their churches in the South of England, I describe a range of everyday internet practices and the spiritual implications held by my informants. The key finding is that the technologies of the internet provide for Believers contexts in which they are able to perceive and directly experience the dimensions of their spiritual battles. While British Christianity continues to suffer steady decline, web-based resources allow Christians opportunities to experience connections with others as part of an unstoppable, global, wave of revival. This sense of sanctified online community is tempered by knowledge that words transmitted in some online contexts may be witnessed by non-Believers. While this knowledge is mostly welcomed by members, shared spaces such as Facebook or Youtube can become sites for spiritually hazardous confrontations. In their engagement with online media these Christians experience online comments lists, blog entries, and social networking platforms as sites in which struggles for global, national, and personal salvation are staged and restaged. For these Christians, the spaces of the internet come to be experienced as territories in constant transition.

Hackett and Soares (eds), “New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa”

Hackett, Rosalind I. J. and Benjamin F. Soares.  2014.  New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Publisher’s Description:New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa casts a critical look at Africa’s rapidly evolving religious media scene. Following political liberalization, media deregulation, and the proliferation of new media technologies, many African religious leaders and activists have appropriated such media to strengthen and expand their communities and gain public recognition. Media have also been used to marginalize and restrict the activities of other groups, which has sometimes led to tension, conflict, and even violence. Showing how media are rarely neutral vehicles of expression, the contributors to this multidisciplinary volume analyze the mutual imbrications of media and religion during times of rapid technological and social change in various places throughout Africa.

Table of Contents: Acknowledgments

Foreword
Francis B. Nyamnjoh

Introduction: New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa
Rosalind I. J. Hackett & Benjamin F. Soares

Part I. “Old” Media: Print and Radio
1. A History of Sauti ya Mvita (“Voice of Mombasa”): Radio, Public Culture, and Islam in Coastal Kenya, 1947-1966
James R. Brennan
2. Between Standardization and Pluralism: The Islamic Printing Market and its Social Spaces in Bamako, Mali
Francesco Zappa
3. Binary Islam: Media and Religious Movements in Nigeria
Brian Larkin
4. Muslim Community Radio Stations: Constructing and Shaping Identities in a Democratic South Africa
Muhammed Haron

Part II. New Media and Media Worlds
5. Mediating Transcendence: Popular Film, Visuality, and Religious Experience in West Africa
Johannes Merz
6. The Heart of Man: Pentecostalist Emotive Style in and beyond Kinshasa’s Media World
Katrien Pype
7. Islamic Communication and Mass Media in Cameroon
Hamadou Adama
8. “We Are on the Internet:” Contemporary Pentecostalism in Africa and the New Culture of Online Religion
J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu
9. Conveying Islam: Arab Islamic Satellite Channels as New Players
Ehab Galal
10. Religious Discourse in the New Media: A Case Study of Pentecostal Discourse Communities of SMS Users in South-western Nigeria
‘Rotimi Taiwo

Part III. Arenas of Exchange, Competition, and Conflict
11. Media Afrikania: Styles and Strategies of Representing “Afrikan Traditional Religion” in Ghana
Marleen de Witte
12. Senwele Jesu: Gospel Music and Religious Publics in Nigeria
Vicki L. Brennan
13. Managing Miracles: Ambiguities in the Regulation of Religious Broadcasting in Nigeria
Asonzeh Ukah
14. Living across Digital Landscapes: Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and an Indian Guru in Ethiopia
Samson A. Bezabeh
15. Zulu Dreamscapes: Senses, Media, and Authentication in Contemporary Neo-shamanism
David Chidester

Bompani and Brown, “A ‘religious revolution?'”

Bompani, Barbara and S. Terreni Brown.  2015. A “religious revolution”? Print media, sexuality, and religious discourse in Uganda. Journal of Eastern African Studies 9(1): 110-126.

Abstract: Recently, Uganda has made international headlines for the controversial Anti-homosexuality Bill and for a set of tight measures that have limited the freedom of sexual minorities. This article argues that Uganda’s growth of Pentecostal-charismatic churches (PCCs) is playing a major role in influencing and defining the Ugandan public sphere, including (but not limited to) the ways in which sex and sexuality are conceptualized by and within Uganda’s print media. This article suggests that the socially conservative nature of PCCs is highly influential in shaping the way print media write about sex and sexuality. This is because Pentecostal-charismatic (PC) constituencies constitute a considerable numerical market that print media cannot ignore. Second, PCs actively work toward influencing and shaping public policies, politics, and public spaces, like newspapers, that discuss and address public morality and decency in the country. As this article will show, within a highly “Pentecostalized” public sphere, alternative public discourses on sexuality are not allowed.

Carl, “The Ritualization of the Self”

Carl, Florian.  2014.  The Ritualization of the Self in Ghanaian Gospel Music.  Ghana Studies 17: 101-129.

Excerpt: Considering the prominence of gospel music in Ghana’s public sphere (see also Atiemo 2006; Carl 2012 and 2013; Collins 2004 and 2012), as well as the central place it occupies in Charismatic worship itself, this article explores gospel music performance at the interface of ritual and media.1 I particularly focus on the interrelationship between the performance practices of congregational worship and the mediated performances that inhabit Ghana’s mediascape in various audiovisual formats. Existing studies understand Charismatic expressive culture in Ghana as a “conversion to modernity” (Marshall-Fratani 1998: 286; cf. Dilger 2008; Meyer 1999), as cathartic relief (Collins 2004), or in terms of the indigenization of Christianity (Amanor 2004 and Atiemo 2006). Instead, I argue for approaching this culture as ritual performance, as a form of mimesis that involves embodied patterns of ritualized behavior as well as playful improvisation and that serves, in this way, as a medium of self-creation and self-transformation, what, with reference to anthropologist Thomas Csordas (1990 and 1994), I call the ritualization of the self (see also Butler 2002 and 2008). In doing so, I want to contribute to the understanding of an aspect of Ghanaian popular culture that has so far received relatively little attention. Additionally, I want to add to the more detailed study of Charismatic ritual in general which, as Joel Robbins remarked, “despite its widely acknowledged importance, […] is notably scarce in the literature” (2004: 126).

Merz, “A Religion of Film Experiencing Christianity and Videos Beyond Semiotics in Rural Benin”

Merz, Johannes. 2014. “A Religion of Film Experiencing Christianity and Videos Beyond Semiotics in Rural Benin.” PdD diss,. 

Excerpt: In 2002, Paul Eshleman of the American Jesus Film Project claimed that their flagship known as the Jesus Film was “the most-watched, and the most-translated film in world history” (2002: 69). Seven years later, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra (2009) declared Nigeria the “Christian movie capital of the world” in the influential American evangelical magazine Christianity Today. In more academic circles, New Testament scholar Adele Reinhartz speculated that “it may well be the case that more people worldwide know about Jesus and his life story from the movies than from any other medium” (2007: 1), while Asonzeh Ukah commented for Nigeria: “The medium of video has become one of the preferred channels for the communication of religious truth, hope, ideas and propaganda” (2003: 226).

These different observations indicate a trend in evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity towards an increasing use of films and videos. This raises the question, which I address as the overarching theme of this book, of whether we are witnessing a shift in certain forms of Christianity from a religion of the book towards a religion of film. Such a shift from text to film would have wide-ranging implications not only for Christians but also their wider socio-cultural settings, both on a local and global scale. I address the various factors that contribute to such a shift and discuss its implications for rural Benin. I propose that the best way to approach this theme is to study how contemporary Christians engage with audiovisual media. More specifically, I am interested in how people watch and experience Christian films, what they make of them and how these films become part of their lives and the world they live in. In order to grapple with such ques- tions and fully understand the results of my ethnographic research, I need to move beyond semiotics, which has been one of the foundational premises of Western science.

With Nigeria having become the world leader in the production of Christian video films, West Africa seems an ideal place to study this phenomenon. While obvious places may be cities in southern Nigeria or Ghana, such as Ibadan or Accra, I chose a less likely area for my research on Christian films, namely the rural Commune of Cobly in the northwest of the Republic of Benin. Cobly is often considered one of the remotest parts of the country and those Beninese from outside the region who have heard of it associate it with backwardness and as being steeped in tradition. State employees, such as teachers or policemen, resent being sent to work there and missionaries often consider it a difficult place to work given that its people are largely “unreached” (cf. Mayrargue 2005: 247), a current missionary euphemism for “pagans”. My knowledge of the area, on the other hand, made me realise that the Commune of Cobly would be a fascinating site for researching people’s experience of Christianity and video films. Especially during the last two decades, the younger generation have become increasingly interested in all things they consider modern, whether mobile phones, television sets, videos or Christianity, thereby participating in the trends of the wider region. Older people often stayed more sceptical towards these developments, promising an interesting mix of views and opinions in a society that is facing rapid and significant social and cultural changes.

In this book I discuss three Christian films that are all known in the Commune of Cobly and that have been used in evangelistic events and sometimes circulated on Video CD or DVD: Jesus (1979, produced by John Heyman) has been made in American evangelical circles with the goal of global evangelism; La Solution (The Solution, 1994, David Powers) was produced by American missionaries in Côte d’Ivoire; and Yatin: Lieu de souffrance (Yatin: Place of Suffering, 2002, Christine Madeleine Botokou) is a Beninese video production that has a direct link with the Nigerian Christian film industry.

I am particularly interested in how people watch and experience these films, focusing not only on their contents, but also, and maybe more importantly, on their materiality. I include what people make of television sets as material objects that are usually used to watch videos. Furthermore, it is important to discuss the history and backgrounds of the films and how they became popular in rural parts of Benin. This allows me to link my research with regional and global trends of Christianity and address my overarching question of whether Christianity is shifting its focus from Biblical texts to Christian films…

Kaell, “Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage”

Kaell, Hillary. 2014. Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage. New York: New York University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: Since the 1950s, millions of American Christians have traveled to the Holy Land to visit places in Israel and the Palestinian territories associated with Jesus’s life and death. Why do these pilgrims choose to journey halfway around the world? How do they react to what they encounter, and how do they understand the trip upon return? This book places the answers to these questions into the context of broad historical trends, analyzing how the growth of mass-market evangelical and Catholic pilgrimage relates to changes in American Christian theology and culture over the last sixty years, including shifts in Jewish-Christian relations, the growth of small group spirituality, and the development of a Christian leisure industry.

Drawing on five years of research with pilgrims before, during and after their trips, Walking Where Jesus Walked offers a lived religion approach that explores the trip’s hybrid nature for pilgrims themselves: both ordinary—tied to their everyday role as the family’s ritual specialists, and extraordinary—since they leave home in a dramatic way, often for the first time. Their experiences illuminate key tensions in contemporary US Christianity between material evidence and transcendent divinity, commoditization and religious authority, domestic relationships and global experience.

Hillary Kaell crafts the first in-depth study of the cultural and religious significance of American Holy Land pilgrimage after 1948. The result sheds light on how Christian pilgrims, especially women, make sense of their experience in Israel-Palestine, offering an important complement to top-down approaches in studies of Christian Zionism and foreign policy.

Grätz, “Christian religious radio production”

Grätz, Tilo.  2014.  Christian religious radio production in Benin: The Case of Radio Maranatha.  Social Compass 61(10: 57-66.

Abstract: The author focuses on a Christian broadcaster in Parakou, northern Benin, and analyses its main production structures, its programming, and the actors and their motives involved. It demonstrates how religious media, themselves an assemblage of institutions, actors, significations and infrastructures, participate in consituting the religious domain. Religious culture in Parakou and, more generally, in Benin is not dictated by religious authorities alone: it is made by pastors, lay presenters and their listeners – especially when they participate in interactive radio shows, or join a listeners’ club. Both producers and listeners find new avenues to live their faith. Radio producers and their listeners occupy new spaces to live their faith and gain new media experiences to valorise their skills and knowledge, as well as to experience themselves as part of a larger religious community.

Heo, “Saints, Media, and Minority Culture”

Heo, Angie. 2013. Saints, Media, and Minority Culture: On Coptic Cults of Egyptian Revolution from Alexandria to Maspero. In Politics of Worship in the Contemporary Middle East: Sainthood in Fragile States, Edited by Andreas Bandak and Mikkel Bille, 53-73. Leiden: Brill.