In Walking on the Pages of the Word of God Aron Engberg explores the religious language and identities of evangelical volunteer workers in contemporary Jerusalem. The volunteers are connected to Christian organizations which consider their work a natural consequence of the biblical promises to Israel and their responsibility to “bless the Jewish people”.
Relying on ethnographic data of the discursive practices of the volunteers, the book explores a central puzzle of Zionist Christianity: the narrative production of Israel’s religious significance and its relationship to broader Christian language traditions. By focusing on the volunteers’ stories about themselves, the land and the Bible, Aron Engberg offers a convincing account about how the State of Israel is finding its way into evangelical identities.
Abstract: Anthropologists have begun to challenge the consensus that sainthood is not an operative factor in Charismatic Christianity, opening up space to re-examine how ritual and narrative shape habitual religious sensibilities. Through an ethnographic study of Transylvanian Catholic Charismatics’ search for miracles to aid a deceased Bishop’s canonization, I argue that canonization is driven by a form of adaptive ritualization and storytelling, which I call ‘transcendentally oriented improvisation’. In this mode, ritualization and storytelling are existential strategies by which subjects extrapolate styles of action and discourse into new situations to transcend disordered being-in-the-world. By engaging in improvisation, my acquaintances renewed a sense of existential potentiality put at risk. Studying transcendentally oriented improvisation draws attention to risk and indeterminacy as central aspects of the lived experience of canonization and other divine mediations. Transylvanian Charismatic Catholics’ involvement in canonization is also evidence that the global Charismatic movement is now integrating into mainstream Catholicism. Movement, memorialization, authority, and religious experience are the central points of contention shaping the outcome of this process.
Abstract: In this article I analyse the narratives of conversion to Evangelical churches in St Petersburg by inquiring how Russians engage with the Evangelical churches and how they construct a meaningful conversion identity. My analysis shows how the social and political changes of post-Soviet Russia are experienced in religious terms and whether they have social implications that are reflected in identity-building as both Russian and Evangelical. Individual identity always reflects time and place, and the social and societal context in which an individual lives. Through this route I also broaden the understanding of Russian societal attitudes towards present-day ‘religious dissidents’. My research is based on 19 thematic interviews and participant observations in church meetings in St Petersburg between 2006 and 2009. Most of the interviewees belonged to communities that could be categorised as neo-Pentecostal. The study revealed that both a personal religious quest, especially during the societal turmoil that existed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the influence of friends or relatives were significant impulses for conversion. The resources sustaining the conversion as an ongoing process are communal, but also involve an individual self-improvement project within the construction of a new Evangelical self.
Abstract: The article analyses the American ‘Christian’ television talk show, the 700 Club, created by Pat Robertson. It suggests that Robertson has developed a sophisticated form of programming based on the creation of a participatory identity between the viewer, programme hosts and interviewees. This is based on the skilful combination of rhetoric and myths, understood in terms of narrative paradigms, supported by the active involvement of worldwide church-based support networks.
Abstract: The biblical narratives are inspired texts to the Pentecostals, as they are to many other Christians. Most Pentecostals accept that these biblical narratives offer the guiding templates through which a religious worldview is constructed. This paper is informed by how ‘narratives’ are positioned within Pentecostalism, and similarly adopts ‘narrative’ as a methodological heuristic mechanism. To this end the narratives of a small group of individuals are used as a heuristic device to understand the ‘call’ to ministry, as received and understood by them as they go on to assume pastoral duties within the Church that they belong to. It is felt that such calls to ministry offer a rare window into a decidedly understudied phenomenon within black ministry.
Excerpt: “Christian identity is inextricable from gender identity. Throughout Christian history, determining how individuals incarnate divine authority has been critical to the communication and legitimation of Christian testimonies. What can the words emanating from a particular physical body signify for the broader social movements that have fuelled Christianity? Evaluating such testimony might even b3e understood as the original practice of Christianity, insofar as the witness of a single male, Jewish body provided its genesis as a sectarian movement, and insofar as disagreements over subsequent witnesses and their ecclesiastical legitimacy became the grounds for nearly every denominational discord, theological innovation and mystical experimentation with that diverse tradition. Whether it was Peter appraising Mary Magdalene, Hilarianus adjudicating Perpetua, or John Winthrop assessing Anne Hutchinson, refereeing a witness’s testimony has been a primary task of (male) ecclesial authorities. Knowing whether (and how) you, as a particular embodied witness, have the right to speak about God (and what it means when you do) has encouraged the grand diversity of Christian expression . . . In this chapter, we consider how women have utilized various media to channel and articulate their testimonies in twentieth- and twenty-first-century North American contexts, paying specific attention to the connection between mediation and materiality. We argue that there seems to be a particularly comfortable connection between the material witness of women and the intimate commodification of their living scripts.”
Publisher’s Description: Over the past few decades, short-term mission trips have exploded in popularity. With easy access to affordable air travel, millions of American Christians have journeyed internationally for ministry, service and evangelism. Short-term trips are praised for involving many in global mission but also critiqued for their limitations.
Despite the diversity of destinations, certain universal commonalities emerge in how mission trip participants describe their experiences: “My eyes were opened to the world’s needs.” “They ministered to us more than we ministered to them.” “It changed my life.”
Anthropologist Brian Howell explores the narrative shape of short-term mission (STM). Drawing on the anthropology of tourism and pilgrimage, he shows how STM combines these elements with Christian purposes of mission to create its own distinct narrative. He provides a careful historical survey of the development of STM and then offers an in-depth ethnographic study of a particular mission trip to the Dominican Republic. He explores how participants remember and interpret their experiences, and he unpacks the implications for how North American churches understand mission, grapple with poverty and relate to the larger global church.
A groundbreaking book for all who want to understand how and why American Christians undertake short-term mission.
Publisher’s Description: How religion, gender, and urban sociality are expressed in and mediated via television drama in Kinshasa is the focus of this ethnographic study. Influenced by Nigerian films and intimately related to the emergence of a charismatic Christian scene, these teleserials integrate melodrama, conversion narratives, Christian songs, sermons, testimonies, and deliverance rituals to produce commentaries on what it means to be an inhabitant of Kinshasa.
Abstract: This paper examines the deployment of semiotic devices in several mass-mediated public apologies by US politicians and the reflexive awareness of apology as commodity in national political contexts. Beyond acts of contrition and deliverance from the clutches of sin, apology events are extremely dialogical, salient modes of sociality that reach across, arbitrate, and bond multiple publics. The paper examines how speakers toggle between particular chronotopes—of time, place, and personhood—to both shape and reflect particular presentation and participation frameworks. Of certain interest is how the Protestant testimonial informs the apology, makes way for, even necessitates future transgression as it shifts proximity between the sin of the Lost and the testimony of the Found, reinstating membership in and reinforcing a moral public.