Pryce, “The Monk’s Cell: Ritual and Knowledge in American Contemplative Christianity

Pryce, Paula. 2018. The Monk’s Cell: Ritual and Knowledge in American Contemplative Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Description: The call to contemplative Christianity is not an easy one. Those who answer it set themselves to the arduous task of self-reformation through rigorous study and practice, learned through the teachings of monks and nuns and the writings of ancient Christian mystics, often in isolation from family and friends. Those who are dedicated can spend hours every day in meditation, prayer, liturgy, and study. Why do they come? Indeed, how do they find their way to the door at all?

Based on nearly four years of research among semi-cloistered Christian monastics and a dispersed network of non-monastic Christian contemplatives across the United States and around the globe, The Monk’s Cell shows how religious practitioners in both settings combined social action and intentional living with intellectual study and intensive contemplative practices in an effort to modify their ways of knowing, sensing, and experiencing the world. Organized by the metaphor of a seeker journeying towards the inner chambers of a monastic chapel, The Monk’s Cell uses innovative “intersubjective fieldwork” methods to study these opaque, interiorized, often silent communities, in order to show how practices like solitude, chant, contemplation, attention, and a paradoxical capacity to combine ritual with intentional “unknowing” develop and hone a powerful sense of communion with the world.

Peña, “Time to Pray”

Peña, Elaine. 2017. Time to Pray: Devotional Rhythms and Space Sacralization Processes at the Mexico-US Border. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief 13(4): 461-481. 

Abstract: This essay uses the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge at the Port of Laredo to examine Catholic parish life at la Parroquia Santo Niño in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Considering how infrastructure works, how it literally keeps people and objects moving, nuances our understanding of the devotional rhythms and space sacralization processes of actors who move and wait in a border environment. Contributing to debates about rhythm and mobility in border studies, it highlights religion’s temporal particularities—specifically the role that an international bridge plays in influencing where, when, and how often border-based actors manage worship and spaces of reflection. Thinking with scholars of material religion, this essay maintains that accounting for border infrastructure is worthwhile. Using infrastructure as a primary reference point can productively challenge still influential distinctions between American and Latin American religion. It will also show that infrastructure not only animates religious practice and dictates devotional rhythms within the walls of la Parroquia, but also facilitates or at times deters movement to and from that site of worship. Mapping out routes and relationships among objects, places, and people, it traces how parish life and international bridge usage are inextricably linked across several planes—geographic, temporal, cultural, and economic; it is impossible to understand the significance of one without attending to the other.

Lofton, “Religion and Authority in American Parenting”

Kathryn Lofton; Religion and the Authority in American Parenting, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 84, Issue 3, 1 September 2016, Pages 806–841, 

Abstract: This article reimagines the history of parenting as a subject for the study of religion. Through a schematic description of parenting in the United States, I observe the expanded responsibilities and increased social expectations for parents in the formation of child identity. Focusing on the concept of parental authority, I argue that the relationship of authority between parent and child is an important document of religious history in a secular age, and encourage future scholars to explore parenting habits, prescriptions, and admonitions as an archive for religious studies.

Klaits, “Catch the Word”

Klaits, Frederick. 2017. “Catch the Word”: Violated contracts and prophetic confirmation in African American Pentecostalism. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7(3): 237-260.

Abstract: The image of a violated social contract has long held a distinctive place in African American Christian thought about injustice. This essay discusses the efforts made by members of Pentecostal churches in Buffalo, New York, to enter into forms of contract with God that supersede the broken social contracts they see as devaluing their lives. These believers listen to God’s words as expressed in prophetic utterances for “confirmation” of the significance of events. In their view, “catching the word” through faithful listening enables them to create social commitments on their own terms, whereas their creative capacities are liable to be alienated from them if they listen improperly. Applying David Graeber’s revisionist treatment of “fetishism” as a form of social creativity, this essay explores how believers create their blessings within a dialogic space involving themselves, God, the devil, and pastor- prophets with exceptional abilities to listen to and convey the terms of the divine contract.

Bielo, “Biblical Gardens and the Sensuality of Religious Pedagogy”

Bielo, James. 2017. Biblical Gardens and the Sensuality of Religious Pedagogy. Material ReligionDOI: 10.1080/17432200.2017.1345099

Abstract: This article explores how the phenomenon of biblical gardens joins three bodies of scholarship: the social life of scriptures, the study of religion’s media turn, and religious pedagogy. As a kind of religious attraction, the biblical garden is both devotional and pedagogical, with historic roots in nineteenth-century projects to connect botanical science with biblical literacy. I argue that the pedagogy of biblical gardens is anchored by an ideology of sensual indexicality and a strategy of metonymic immersion, which is differentiated from themed immersion. Analyses are drawn from observational and textual data, as well as comparative data from other forms of Holy Land replication, primarily in the USA. Ultimately, I argue that biblical gardens resist a modern ideology that elevates visual experience atop a sensory hierarchy.

Zanfagna, “Holy Hip Hop”

Zanfagna, Christina. 2017. Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Publisher’s Description: In the 1990s, Los Angeles was home to numerous radical social and environmental eruptions. In the face of several major earthquakes and floods, riots and economic insecurity, police brutality and mass incarceration, some young black Angelenos turned to holy hip hop—a movement merging Christianity and hip hop culture—to “save” themselves and the city. Converting street corners to open-air churches and gangsta rap beats into anthems of praise, holy hip hoppers used gospel rap to navigate complicated social and spiritual realities and to transform the Southland’s fractured terrains into musical Zions. Armed with beats, rhymes, and bibles, they journeyed through black Lutheran congregations, prison ministries, African churches, reggae dancehalls, hip hop clubs, Nation of Islam meetings, and Black Lives Matter marches. Zanfagna’s fascinating ethnography provides a contemporary and unique view of black LA, offering a much-needed perspective on how music and religion intertwine in people’s everyday experiences.

A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program for monographs.

Hennigan and Purser, “Jobless and Godless”

Hennigan, Brian and Gretchen Purser. 2017. Jobless and Godless: Religious neoliberalism and the project of evangelizing employability in the US. Ethnography Online First.

Abstract: In the wake of welfare reform, there has been growing scholarly attention to ‘religious neoliberalism’ and, specifically, to the practices and politics of faith-based organizations in neoliberalized landscapes of social service provision. While much of this scholarship has suggested a seamless ‘fusion’ between conservative evangelicalism and neoliberal ideology, ethnographic research has tended to reveal the far more complicated, and contradictory, reality of evangelical social projects as they play out on the ground. Presenting the first in-depth ethnography of a faith-based job-readiness program, this article examines the contradictory logics operative within the project of what we call ‘evangelizing employability.’ Targeting joblessness, the program urges entrepreneurial independence. Targeting godlessness, the program urges righteous dependence on God. The project of evangelizing employability reveals the extraordinary utility of religion for the enactment of neoliberal priorities and policies of work enforcement and contributes to our understanding of religious neoliberalism and its class-based contradictions.

Casselberry, “The Labor of Faith”

Casselberry, Judith.  2017.  The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism.  Durham: Duke University Press.

Publisher’s Description: In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., which is based in Harlem and one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal denominations in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Casselberry shows how the women negotiate this contradiction by using their work to produce and claim a spiritual authority that provides them with a particular form of power. She also emphasizes how their work in the church is as significant, labor intensive, and critical to their personhood, family, and community as their careers, home and family work, and community service are. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.

Montemaggi, “The making of the relational Christian self”

Montemaggi, Francesca. 2017. “The making of the relational Christian self of New Monastics in the UK, US, and Canada.” In Monasticism in Modern Times, Isabelle Jonveaux and Stefania Palmisano, eds. 209-227.  London: Routledge.

Abstract: The chapter presents an overview of Anglo-American new monasticism based on ethnographic research in the UK, US, and Canada. New monastics are lay members of grass-roots communities, who do not belong to an established Monastic order; rather each community is autonomous and agrees a ‘rule’, a set of moral values and aspirations on how to live one’s life. The cross-national sample of communities points to the inclusivity as the overarching value for new monastics. This refers to inclusivity inside the group of fellow monastics and people attending monastic activities, but also to inclusivity of people at the margin of society, in particular in urban areas. This is expressed through the notion of hospitality. Taking as inspiration old monastic practices of the monastery as a safe haven, New monastic communities seek to ‘welcome the stranger’ in their midst. However, in contrast with old monastic communities, they choose to be located in inner-city areas to have a transformative impact on neighbourhoods facing socio-economic inequality. The chapter argues that inclusivity directs the formation of a Christian self that is relational and in dialectical opposition to – what they feel to be – the individualism of mainstream society.

Interview, Fred Klaits and Pastor John

In an effort to engage with new and innovative research in the anthropology of Christianity, AnthroCyBib has invited Fred Klaits to explore a series of conversations he has had with a key research participant, a pastor of an African American Pentecostal church in Buffalo, New York, USA.

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I am currently engaged in a comparative project on Pentecostal insight, focusing on how believers in majority White and African American congregations in Buffalo, New York understand knowledge derived from God as essential to their well-being.  By comparing how Pentecostal believers in largely segregated faith communities attempt to foster well-being, I explore how specific sets of anxieties associated with Whiteness and Blackness lead believers to adopt distinctive methods for obtaining insights from God — what they call “discernment” — into their own and others’ life circumstances.

In November 2016, I invited Pastor John (a pseudonym), the leader of one of the African American congregations I am working with in inner-city Buffalo, to attend a roundtable at the American Anthropological Association meetings in Minneapolis entitled “Towards an Ethnography of God,” where I served as a presenter. Pastor John is a former drug dealer who was saved in 1999, at the age of 19. While serving as a minister under a series of bishops of African American Pentecostal churches, Pastor John developed a gift of prophecy whereby he receives words and visions from God about particular people in attendance at church services or revivals, or about others connected to them who may not be present. In 2011, he founded the nondenominational church I call Victory Gospel, most of whose members are from disadvantaged backgrounds. The church encourages enthusiastic worship and prophetic utterances in keeping with African American Holiness and Pentecostal styles.

Early in 2016, Pastor John called out in church that he was receiving a message from God about me that, he said, “I can’t even articulate. I see you speaking in front of a large group of people, making connections between academic work and God’s word.” Shortly afterwards, I received the invitation to participate in the panel and told Pastor John, whereupon he volunteered to attend the event with me. I felt that his presence and participation at the event would contribute positively to the politics of representation surrounding my ethnographic enterprise.

At the kind invitation of the AnthroCyBib curators, I subsequently recorded conversations with Pastor John about the panel, as well as about experiences of divine “confirmation” of the significance of events that I discussed in my paper. Below are partial transcripts of the conversations, interspersed with my own commentary.

Fred Klaits (SUNY, Buffalo) Continue reading