Preaching Prevention: Book Review

Boyd, Lydia. 2015. Preaching prevention: born-again Christianity and the moral politics of AIDS in Uganda. Athens: University of Ohio Press.

By: Anna Eisenstein (University of Virginia)

Lydia Boyd’s Preaching Prevention charts two moments in Uganda’s recent history: the roll-out of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Asking what these two cases have in common, Boyd explores Ugandan born again Christians’ engagement with discourses on sexuality and health in the midst of rapid urbanization, neoliberal global health policies, and the international sexual rights movement. In classic anthropological fashion, she finds that “indigenous moral logics” animate and valorize specific sexual practices in this particular historical and cultural context. Far from a unidirectional “export” of American approaches to care and treatment, Ugandan born-again Christians re-oriented and re-purposed US-directed messages about sexuality and personal agency in light of longstanding, locally relevant models of hierarchal interdependence. By documenting the distinctive motivations of Ugandan Christians, the book forms an important corrective to assumptions that Ugandan Christian attitudes and activisms merely parrot American Christianity, or that the beliefs and interests of American and Ugandan Christians are interchangeable.

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Brison, “Teaching Neoliberal Emotions”

Brison, Karen J.  2016. Teaching Neoliberal Emotions through Christian Pedagogies in Fijian Kindergartens.  Ethos 44(2): 133-149.

Abstract: This article examines a Fijian kindergarten using Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), a curriculum produced by an American corporation for Christian homeschoolers, which combines academic and emotion pedagogies. Pedagogies prompting children to label, reflect on, and control their emotions are popular in American schools and said to develop skills necessary to be self-directed, risk-taking entrepreneurs under neoliberalism. In contrast, in Fiji, children educated with the ACE curriculum are told that feeling the correct emotions is a “commitment” and that submitting to authority will benefit everyone. The ACE curriculum appears to turn working-class American children and children in peripheral countries like Fiji into submissive workers in corporations while middle-class Euro-American children are socialized to become innovative entrepreneurs. But further examination shows that Fijian parents and teachers see the curriculum as giving their children the proper skills to succeed in a world outside of Fiji.

Webster, “Objects of Transcendence”

Abstract: How are objects used differently within different types of Protestantism? Proceeding from this question, this short anthropological essay takes as its ethnographic point of departure two apparently contrasting deployments of the Bible within contemporary Scotland, one as observed among Brethren and Presbyterian fisher-families in Gamrie, coastal Aberdeenshire, and the other as observed among the Orange Order, a Protestant marching fraternity, in Airdrie and Glasgow. By examining how and with what effects the Bible (as text and object) enters into and extends beyond the everyday practices of fishermen and Orangemen, I sketch some aspects of the material life of Scottish Protestantism that have hitherto been overlooked. The tendency to downplay the role of objects within Protestantism seems, in part, to be the result of an ideal-typical insistence that this religion—especially in Scotland and the Global North—remains transfixed by a thoroughly anti-material asceticism.1 This tacit assumption, which emerged within anthropology as the result of an overly hasty reading of Max Weber, continues to haunt ethnographic and theoretical framings of both Protestantism and modernity, either through their relative silence on the subject, or by treating (modern, Protestant) objects as somehow exceptional and novel.

Gross, “Religion and Respeto”

Gross, Toomas.  2015. Religion and Respeto: The Role and Value of Respect in Social Relations in Rural Oaxaca.  Studies in World Christianity 21(2): 119-139.

Abstract: This paper discusses the relationship between religious affiliation and the ways that the notion of ‘respect’ (respeto) is used in common discourse in rural Oaxaca. Drawing on the ethnographic example of indigenous Zapotec villages in the Sierra Juárez, I examine how Protestants and Catholics employ the term to justify their attitudes towards each other and towards the norms of communal life. Both consider ‘respect’ an important value in social relations, but in significantly different ways. Catholics conceptualise ‘respect’ mainly as a hierarchical value central to which is the villagers’ subordination to the authority of customs and communal leaders. For most Protestants, however, respect is a horizontal notion that is associated with freedom of religion and the right of individuals to distance themselves from local traditions without being socially excluded or marginalised. The differences between these two perspectives are reconciled by a mutual acknowledgement of the need to ‘reciprocate’ respect.

 

Maggi, “Christian Demonology in Contemporary American Popular Culture”

Maggi, Armando.  2014.  Christian Demonology in Contemporary American Popular Culture.  Social Research 81(4): 769-793.

Abstract: This essay investigates the pervasive presence of Christian demonology in contemporary American culture. After discussing the concept of demonic possession according to Catholic and Protestant theology, Maggi explores the crucial role played by the ritual of exorcism in modern popular culture, especially cinema. After the collapse of traditional historical categories due to the 9/11 tragedy, popular culture has interpreted the early-modern ritual of exorcism as the locus of a nostalgic return to a hypothetical past. However, the ritual meant to bring order to the chaos created by evil is now a performance leading to troublesome and even pernicious consequences.

Vogel, “Predestined Migrations”

Vogel, Erica.  2014. Predestined Migrations: Undocumented Peruvians in South Korean Churches.  City and Society 26(3): 331-351.

Abstract: This article explores how undocumented Peruvian laborers have established a significant presence within some of Korea’s powerful evangelical churches through their identification of respuestas (answers or signs) from God. Many Peruvians arrived in Korea in the early 1990s on their way to more profitable labor destinations, such as Japan or Europe, but stayed after finding factory work. Through their conversions to Protestantism in Korea, they have begun to identify events such as unplanned pregnancies or their ability to evade deportation as signs that their migration to Korea was predestined. Through promoting their respuestas to various audiences, Peruvians not only recast their unlikely migration as predestined but change their own status from being economic laborers to recognized leaders within Korean churches. Korean church leaders embrace Peruvians and respuestas as a way to promote their church’s own cosmopolitan image and desires for launching global missions to locations such as Peru. As such, respuestas are a common framework through which migrants and church leaders co-create their global aspirations and experiences.

Louis, “My Soul is in Haiti”

Louis, Bertin.  2014.  My Soul is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas.  New York: NYU Press.

Publisher’s Description:

In the Haitian diaspora, as in Haiti itself, the majority of Haitians have long practiced Catholicism or Vodou. However, Protestant forms of Christianity now flourish both in Haiti and beyond. In the Bahamas, where approximately one in five people are now Haitian-born or Haitian-descended, Protestantism has become the majority religion for immigrant Haitians.
In My Soul Is in Haiti, Bertin M. Louis, Jr. has combined multi-sited ethnographic research in the United States, Haiti, and the Bahamas with a transnational framework to analyze why Protestantism has appealed to the Haitian diaspora community in the Bahamas. The volume illustrates how devout Haitian Protestant migrants use their religious identities to ground themselves in a place that is hostile to them as migrants, and it also uncovers how their religious faith ties in to their belief in the need to “save” their homeland, as they re-imagine Haiti politically and morally as a Protestant Christian nation.
This important look at transnational migration between second and third world countries shows how notions of nationalism among Haitian migrants in the Bahamas are filtered through their religious beliefs. By studying local transformations in the Haitian diaspora of the Bahamas, Louis offers a greater understanding of the spread of Protestant Christianity, both regionally and globally.

Potter et al, “The Growth of Protestantism in Brazil and Its Impact on Male Earnings”

Potter, Joseph E., Ernesto F. L. Amaral, Robert D. Woodberry.  2014. The Growth of Protestantism in Brazil and Its Impact on Male Earnings, 1970–2000.  Social Forces (Online Publication).

Abstract: Protestantism has expanded rapidly in Brazil in recent decades. The question we tackle in this paper is whether Protestantism has had a positive influence on male earnings in this setting, either through its influence on health and productivity, by way of social networks or employer favor and reduced discrimination, or through other mechanisms. We tackle the problem of the selectivity of religious conversion and affiliation using microdata from the Brazilian censuses of 1970, 1980, 1991, and 2000, and analyzing the association between Protestantism and earnings at the group rather than the individual level. Our results show a strong association between the proportion of Protestants in a region, and the earnings of men in one educational group: those with less than five years of education. Upon introducing race into our models, we found that the association between religion and the earnings of less educated men is concentrated in regions in which there is a substantial non-white population. The relationships we have uncovered contribute to the literature on racial inequality and discrimination in Brazil, which to date has given little space to the role of religion in moderating the pernicious effect of race on economic outcomes in Brazil. The substantial association we found between religion and earnings contrasts with much of the research that has been carried out on the influence of religion on earnings in the United States.

Strhan, “Christianity and the City”

Strhan, Anna. 2014 Christianity and the City: Simmel, Space, and Urban Subjectivities. Religion and Society: Advances in Research. 4(1): 125-149.

Abstract: This article examines the growing scholarly interest in urban religion, situating the topic in relation to the contemporary analytical significance of cities as sites where processes of social change, such as globalization, transnationalism, and the influence of new media technologies, materialize in interrelated ways. I argue that Georg Simmel’s writing on cities offers resources to draw out further the significance of “the urban” in this emerging field. I bring together Simmel’s urban analysis with his approach to religion, focusing on Christianities and individuals’ relations with sacred figures, and suggest this perspective opens up how forms of religious practice respond to experiences of cultural fragmentation in complex urban environments. Drawing on his analysis of individuals’ engagement with the coherence of God, I explore conservative evangelicals’ systems of religious intersubjectivity to show how attention to the social effects of relations with sacred figures can deepen understanding of the formation of urban religious subjectivities.

Hovland, “Mission Station Christianity”

Publisher’s Description: In Mission Station Christianity, Ingie Hovland presents an anthropological history of the ideas and practices that evolved among Norwegian missionaries in nineteenth-century colonial Natal and Zululand (Southern Africa). She examines how their mission station spaces influenced their daily Christianity, and vice versa, drawing on the anthropology of Christianity. Words and objects, missionary bodies, problematic converts, and the utopian imagination are discussed, as well as how the Zulus made use of (and ignored) the stations. The majority of the Norwegian missionaries had become theological cheerleaders of British colonialism by the 1880s, and Ingie Hovland argues that this was made possible by the everyday patterns of Christianity they had set up and become familiar with on the mission stations since the 1850s.