Arrington “Hymns of the Everlasting Hills”

Arrington, Aminta.  2014. Hymns of the everlasting hills: The written word in an oral culture in southwest China.  PhD Dissertation, Biola University.

Abstract:The Lisu of southwest China were evangelized 100 years ago by missionaries from the China Inland Mission, and adopted Christianity in a people movement that permeated nearly their entire society. But despite the missionaries’ creation of a Lisu written language, translation of the Bible into Lisu, and elevation of Scripture as the focal point of Christian devotion, Lisu culture remained heavily oriented toward oral thought patterns. While the Lisu viewed their Bible as the authoritative Word of God, they read it only in ritualistic contexts, and not for personal Bible study or in devotional settings.

This led to the question: how can Christianity, with its long literate tradition and its focus on the written Scriptures, be sustained among a people who have the Bible, but do not read it? A people whose thought patterns and behaviors are primarily oral? How are the more abstract theological concepts—such as grace, sanctification, and forgiveness—of such a religion as Christianity that highly values the written word, translated into the oral context of the Lisu?

For the Lisu, such biblical abstractions are mediated through song. The hymnbook was the bridge between the written Word as sacred object, and the lived, spoken, and sung words of the people. If the Lisu Bible was an icon, sacred and revered, the hymnbook, the second item in this two-book set, was the religious handbook. Singing the written words of the hymns brought the two realms—oral and literate—together.

The various functions the hymns provide for Lisu Christians overlap and intersect at various levels of meaning and experience, which can be encapsulated into one central understanding: The Lisu hymns serve as a theological mediator for Lisu Christians, bridging the gap between the text-intensive religion that is Christianity, and the oral world of Lisu culture.

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).

Bandak, “Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus”

Bandak, Andreas. 2014. Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus: Urban Space and Christian-Muslim Coexistence. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678409

Abstract: Christians in the Middle East have traditionally clustered around cities. As minorities in a Muslim majority context, difference manifests itself in many ways. In recent decades, the sounds of the city, in the form of calls to prayer from minarets and church bells, have increased, while green and blue lighting likewise crafts a plural setting that is not only audible but visible to all. In this article, I explore Christian ways of inhabiting the city in Damascus, Syria. The orchestration of space is intensifying as the region appears to be becoming an ever more vulnerable place to live for a Christian minority. I argue that an anthropological engagement with Christianity may do well to listen to the particular refrains that are formed in and of the city. Such an engagement attests to the ways in which Christianity is lived in particular locations but also how Christianity is continuously made to matter.

Jennings, “Imagining Jesus doing a Whole Lotta Shakin'”

Jennings, Mark.  2014. Imagining Jesus doing a Whole Lotta Shakin’: Pentecostal worship, popular music and the politics of experience.  Culture and Religion 15(2): 211-226.

Abstract: This paper commences with a brief outline of the history of the symbiotic relationship between popular music and Pentecostalism in the USA. While early rockers learned many of the techniques of ecstasy from Pentecostal worship, in recent times Pentecostal/charismatic songwriters and worship leaders have completed the circle, re-appropriating popular music forms for use in church. This is particularly the case in Australia, where Hillsong and Planetshakers have led the way in composing worship music using rock, pop and hip-hop forms. Drawing from ethnographic data from my own participant observation at an Australian Pentecostal church, I attempt to address the question ‘Can the ecstatic encounter with God which is central to Pentecostalism be accessed in other, “unbaptized” (i.e. non-Christian) musical contexts?’ The ambivalence of responses from the members of ‘Breakfree’ Christian church point to the fact that this is a political issue: at stake is the authority to determine which experiences are ‘Christian’, and which not.

Jennings, “Imagining Jesus doing a Whole Lotta Shakin'”

Jennings, Mark.  2014. Imagining Jesus doing a Whole Lotta Shakin’: Pentecostal worship, popular music and the politics of experience.  Culture and Religion 15(2): 211-226.

Abstract: This paper commences with a brief outline of the history of the symbiotic relationship between popular music and Pentecostalism in the USA. While early rockers learned many of the techniques of ecstasy from Pentecostal worship, in recent times Pentecostal/charismatic songwriters and worship leaders have completed the circle, re-appropriating popular music forms for use in church. This is particularly the case in Australia, where Hillsong and Planetshakers have led the way in composing worship music using rock, pop and hip-hop forms. Drawing from ethnographic data from my own participant observation at an Australian Pentecostal church, I attempt to address the question ‘Can the ecstatic encounter with God which is central to Pentecostalism be accessed in other, “unbaptized” (i.e. non-Christian) musical contexts?’ The ambivalence of responses from the members of ‘Breakfree’ Christian church point to the fact that this is a political issue: at stake is the authority to determine which experiences are ‘Christian’, and which not.

Harkness, “Songs of Seoul”

Harkness, Nicholas. 2013. Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Release Date: December 13, 2013

Publisher’s Description: Songs of Seoul is an ethnographic study of voice in South Korea, where the performance of Western opera, art songs, and choral music is an overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian enterprise. Drawing on fieldwork in churches, concert halls, and schools of music, Harkness argues that the European-style classical voice has become a specifically Christian emblem of South Korean prosperity. By cultivating certain qualities of voice and suppressing others, Korean Christians strive to personally embody the social transformations promised by their religion: from superstition to enlightenment; from dictatorship to democracy; from sickness to health; from poverty to wealth; from dirtiness to cleanliness; from sadness to joy; from suffering to grace. Tackling the problematic of voice in anthropology and across a number of disciplines, Songs of Seoul develops an innovative semiotic approach to connecting the materiality of body and sound, the social life of speech and song, and the cultural voicing of perspective and personhood.

Kidula, “Music in Kenyan Christianity”

Kidula, Jean Ngoya. 2013. Music in Kenyan Christianity: Logooli Religious Song. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Publisher’s Description: This sensitive study is a historical, cultural, and musical exploration of Christian religious music among the Logooli of Western Kenya. It describes how new musical styles developed through contact with popular radio and other media from abroad and became markers of the Logooli identity and culture. Jean Ngoya Kidula narrates this history of a community through music and religious expression in local, national, and global settings. The book is generously enhanced by audiovisual material on the Ethnomusicology Multimedia website.

Eskridge, “God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America”

Eskridge, Larry. 2013. God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America. New York : Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: The Jesus People movement was a unique combination of the hippie counterculture and evangelical Christianity. It first appeared in the famed “Summer of Love” of 1967, in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, and spread like wildfire in Southern California and beyond, to cities like Seattle, Atlanta, and Milwaukee. In 1971 the growing movement found its way into the national media spotlight and gained momentum, attracting a huge new following among evangelical church youth, who enthusiastically adopted the Jesus People persona as their own. Within a few years, however, the movement disappeared and was largely forgotten by everyone but those who had filled its ranks.

God’s Forever Family argues that the Jesus People movement was one of the most important American religious movements of the second half of the 20th-century. Not only do such new and burgeoning evangelical groups as Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard trace back to the Jesus People, but the movement paved the way for the huge Contemporary Christian Music industry and the rise of “Praise Music” in the nation’s churches. More significantly, it revolutionized evangelicals’ relationship with youth and popular culture. Larry Eskridge makes the case that the Jesus People movement not only helped create a resurgent evangelicalism but must be considered one of the formative powers that shaped American youth in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The Color of Sound: Book Review

Burdick, John. 2013. The Color of Sound: Race, Religion, and Music in Brazil. New York: NYU Press.

By: James S. Bielo (Miami University)

 

Eight young men gather on a Sao Paulo rooftop – surveying the city’s sprawling jumble of ramshackle houses, the periferia – writing rhymes and composing gospel raps. A congregation is divided as they hear and see a samba band perform: some uncomfortable with this being worship, others dance joyously yet careful not to sway too much. Hips don’t lie. Gospel singers view videos of U.S. gospel choirs performing in church, and talk excitedly about which techniques to emulate. Scenes like this form the ethnographic backbone of John Burdick’s The Color of Sound: a comparative study of how blackness, musical artistry, and evangelical Christianity intersect.

Burdick’s ethnography traverses ten poor and working-class neighborhoods in Sao Paulo: Brazil’s largest city and the world’s eighth largest. The book derives from nine months of fieldwork (2003-2005), and focuses on a particular racial-religious identity. Negros and negras: Afro-descendent Brazilians who are historically and structurally marginalized throughout the nation. Evangelicos: Protestant Christians from a variety of denominations, including millenialists (Seventh-Day Adventists), “classic Pentecostals” (8), and neo-Pentecostal prosperity churches. The core question that moves the analysis is this:

“To what extent may evangelicos develop black pride from within the ideological matrix of evangelical Christianity” (11)?

To answer this, Burdick concentrates on a certain kind of religious actor: music artists. It is in the musical lives of evangelicos, he argues, where a marked potential to develop racial consciousness exists. Burdick compares musicians in three genres: gospel rappers, gospel sambistas, and gospel singers. The striking differences among these three provide the book’s biggest yield. Ethnographically, Burdick does not limit himself to polished performances; instead, he tracks “rehearsals, backstage gatherings, and everyday transits…workshops, classes, seminars, and trainings” (16). The behind-the-scenes feel that results is one of the book’s shining qualities. Theoretically, the core argument is this: “in order to understand the role of music in the formation of collective identities, we must attend to how musical practices and discourses articulate and generate ideas and feelings about history, place, and the body” (19).

The central finding of Burdick’s ethnography is that the three genres – rap, samba, gospel – offer evangelicos very different sets of possibilities. To begin, as genres they carry different social meanings and histories. Rap in Sao Paulo bears much the same weight that rap bears in Tokyo (Condry 2006) or Nairobi (Ntarangwi 2009): urban hipness, youth agency, cultural critique, and a sense of locality. Samba, on the other hand, is dangerous for evangelicos. The genre is intimately associated with sexuality and party culture; it is the most difficult to redeem. In this way, gospel is samba’s ideological opposite: thoroughly and definitively spiritual, primed and ready for Christian ends.

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Burdick, “The Color of Sound”

Burdick, John. 2013. The Color of Sound: Race, Religion, and Music in Brazil. New York: NYU Press.

Publisher’s Description: Throughout Brazil, Afro-Brazilians face widespread racial prejudice. Many turn to religion, with Afro-Brazilians disproportionately represented among Protestants, the fastest-growing religious group in the country. Officially, Brazilian Protestants do not involve themselves in racial politics. Behind the scenes, however, the community is deeply involved in the formation of different kinds of blackness—and its engagement in racial politics is rooted in the major new cultural movement of black music.

In this highly original account, anthropologist John Burdick explores the complex ideas about race, racism, and racial identity that have grown up among Afro-Brazilians in the black music scene. By immersing himself for nearly a year in the vibrant worlds of black gospel, gospel rap, and gospel samba, Burdick pushes our understanding of racial identity and the social effects of music in new directions. Delving into the everyday music-making practices of these scenes, Burdick shows how the creative process itself shapes how Afro-Brazilian artists experience and understand their racial identities. This deeply detailed, engaging portrait challenges much of what we thought we knew about Brazil’s Protestants,provoking us to think in new ways about their role in their country’s struggle to combat racism.