In A Diagram for Fire, Jon Bialecki draws upon his ethnographic field research amongst Vineyard churches – principally in Southern California – to lay the groundwork for ‘a kind of commonality’ (p. xviii) not only to Vineyard religiosity, and wider evangelical charismatic and Pentecostal movements, but even (in the conclusion) Christianity and religion more broadly. Most of the pages, however, focus on specific case studies of miracle accounts, small group discussions on hearing from God, prayer circles and other examples of charismatic religiosity in order to advance, explicate, and problematize Bialecki’s concept of ‘the diagram for fire’. It is a long review, longer than most on this blog. For those not interested in a long review, I offer an abbreviated synopsis:
tl;dr: It is a rich, insightful, and at times dense and highly nuanced anthropological argument about the event moment, and how this moment is situated and becomes recognised as a miracle. Probably best for advanced UG or research students as well as professionals interested in charismatic Christianity or a more structuralist/frameworks approach (as opposed to an epistemological or concepts approach) to ontology. If you’ve only time for one chapter, read Chapter 3.
If you’ve read Diagram, skip the outline, and go straight to the Discussion, below. The Outline offers a summary of the chapters, and provides a context for the discussion at the end. Continue reading →
Publisher’s Description: What is the work that miracles do in American Charismatic Evangelicalism? How can miracles be unanticipated and yet worked for? And finally, what do miracles tell us about other kinds of Christianity and even the category of religion? A Diagram for Fire engages with these questions in a detailed sociocultural ethnographic study of the Vineyard, an American Evangelical movement that originated in Southern California. The Vineyard is known worldwide for its intense musical forms of worship and for advocating the belief that all Christians can perform biblical-style miracles. Examining the miracle as both a strength and a challenge to institutional cohesion and human planning, this book situates the miracle as a fundamentally social means of producing change—surprise and the unexpected used to reimagine and reconfigure the will. Jon Bialecki shows how this configuration of the miraculous shapes typical Pentecostal and Charismatic religious practices as well as music, reading, economic choices, and conservative and progressive political imaginaries.
Abstract: This article examines the political and public culture of Coptic Christian miracles through the circulation and reproduction of images and the mimetic entanglements of artifacts and objects. To understand the threat posed by one case of a woman’s oil-exuding hand, this study points to how semiotic orders of security and sacramentality intersect in the regulation of bodily miracles. It explores Coptic Orthodox Church and Egyptian state efforts to contain the activity of images and transform the public nature of truthful witness and divine testimony. In doing so, it suggests how the material structure of saintly imagination introduces bodily and visual challenges to an authoritarian politics of public order.
This paper explores ethnography of municipal elections, promise-making and miracles to show how Christians problematise both friendship and politics on a settler frontier in Brazilian Amazonia. Bringing these themes together generates new anthropological perspectives on each, while complimenting Derrida’s critique of Schmitt’s friend–enemy distinction – his definition of the political. Yet the main ethnographic point complicates the argument that both Schmitt and Brazilianist anthropologists critiquing clientelism have made: that Christianity reflects and legitimises the political order. In contrast, I show how the problem of friendship, produced through Christian concerns with presence, legitimises and deligitimises politics at once. The overarching message is that politics, friendship (sociality) and Christianity – usually kept analytically separate – are uniquely clarified where they intersect, as they pass through persons, who foreground and background these domains themselves.
The relationship of faith and skepticism has rarely been discussed by anthropologists. Drawing on ethnographic work among Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt, this article explores this relationship, particularly through the lens of the miraculous. By focusing on what might be at stake in Coptic miraculous tales that address Coptic Church-State relations as well as Muslim-Christian sectarian tensions, this article pushes for an analysis of faith and skepticism that sees them as products of social relationships. An emphasis is placed on skepticism not as opposing faith, but as potentially cultivating it, especially when that skepticism is of the Muslim Other. I conclude by suggesting that if socio-political miracles often say something about the narrator’s piety, they are also stories that highlight a commitment to persecution as central to Christian faith while simultaneously offering joy and empowerment to the Copts that recount and listen to them
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.
Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt make up roughly 10% of the Egyptian population. This brief essay concerns the ways in which they publicly confess their Christianity, the potential hazards of such confessions, and what I think such confessions communicate, and to whom. I focus on the Maspero Massacre, of October 9, 2011, when mostly Coptic protestors in front of the Maspero state television building in Cairo were mowed down by army Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and bullets. Twenty-eight civilians were killed that day.