Smith, “Unreconciled”

Smith, Andrea. 2019. Unreconciled: From Racial Reconciliation to Racial Justice in Christian Evangelicalism. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Abstract: In the 1990s, many evangelical Christian organizations and church leaders began to acknowledge their long history of racism and launched efforts at becoming more inclusive of people of color. While much of this racial reconciliation movement has not directly confronted systemic racism’s structural causes, there exists a smaller countermovement within evangelicalism, primarily led by women of color who are actively engaged in antiracism and social justice struggles. In Unreconciled Andrea Smith examines these movements through a critical ethnic studies lens, evaluating the varying degrees to which evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have addressed racism. Drawing on evangelical publications, sermons, and organization statements, as well as ethnographic fieldwork and participation in evangelical events, Smith shows how evangelicalism is largely unable to effectively challenge white supremacy due to its reliance upon discourses of whiteness. At the same time, the work of progressive evangelical women of color not only demonstrates that evangelical Christianity can be an unexpected place in which to find theoretical critique and social justice organizing but also shows how critical ethnic studies’ interventions can be applied broadly across political and religious divides outside the academy.

Book Review: Millennial Missionaries

Dugan, Katherine. 2019. Millennial Missionaries: How a Group of Young Catholics is Trying to Make Catholicism Cool. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Reviewed by: Annie Blazer (College of William and Mary)

Katherine Dugan provides a window onto the lives of a small group of devout Catholic millennials. These young Catholics enthusiastically share their vision of a personally rewarding religious life that need not require isolation from popular culture. While much contemporary scholarship on young Catholics focuses on why young people are leaving the faith, Dugan asks: for those who stay, what does Catholicism mean to them? She ends up with an insightful picture of the vanguard of youth Catholicism that carries implications for the future of the tradition in the US. Continue reading

Kaell, “Catholic Globalism in the United States”

Kaell, Hillary. 2019. “Catholic Globalism in the United States: Notes on Conversion and Culture.” Exchange. https://doi.org/10.1163/1572543X-12341531.

Abstract: Inspired by Norget, Napolitano, and Mayblin’s suggestion that anthropologists attend more closely to the mechanisms of Catholicism’s worldwide spread, this article juxtaposes two organizations—the Holy Childhood Association and Unbound—to explore “paganism,” conversion, and its legacy among U.S. laypeople. In the process, it makes two major points. The first concerns the recourse to “culture” as a rhetorical and ideational hinge connecting the singularity of Christian universalism and new valuations of local multiplicity. The second focuses on the U.S. Catholic relationship to institutional structures of missionary work, which they both associate with positive attributes of a vibrant society, while also being much more critical than their Protestant counterparts of their own Church’s role abroad. It ends by noting how Unbound and its supporters contend with ongoing inequalities by cultivating an imagined global parity where Catholic people choose to send their “gifts” to each other.

Azzara, “Grappling with the Impermanence of Place”

Azzara, Monique. (2019). “Grappling with the Impermanence of Place: A Black Baptist Congregation in South Los Angeles.” City and Society 31(1): 77-93. 

Abstract: Based on over two years of fieldwork with Faith Family Missionary Baptist Church, I illustrate how this congregation grounds their sense of place when place itself is impermanent. In the midst of poverty, unemployment, and violence, the community views their Christian calling in their mission to reshape the younger, disenfranchised generation into godly individuals. Congregants build fellowship by pooling their resources in an attempt to follow the call of God to do good, and to recruit and save the disenfranchised. I argue that this congregation’s sense of place is shaped by and grounded in this fellowship, i.e., the concrete relationships they form through such practices. Despite having few resources to generate a large impact in the broader city, the congregation acts as a system of support crucial to individuals in these neighborhoods. While the congregation’s location in the city is invisible to many outsiders due to their mobility, further attention should be paid to such alternate forms of civic participation and practice.

 

Biblical Porn: Book Review

Johnson, Jessica. 2018. Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Reviewed by: Brendan Jamal Thornton (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Depending on what you are looking for, the title of Jessica Johnson’s 2018 volume from Duke University Press may be a bit misleading: you need not be home alone or draw the curtains closed in order to crack the spine of this thoughtful text which is based on a decade of comprehensive ethnographic research on Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and its shock jock pastor Mark Driscoll. From 1996 to 2014, Driscoll built an evangelical empire whose quick ascent to national prominence was matched only by its precipitous fall from grace following a series of scandals that would topple the church and sully its reputation. Distinguishing himself as a provocateur through controversial teachings on marriage and relationships, Driscoll’s relatively novel brand of mondo evangelical theology won him both celebrity and notoriety among white middle-class Americans who found his signature sermonizing on sex to be as compelling as it was titillating. According to Johnson, Driscoll’s appeal lay in his rhetorical talents and “gift” for hyperbole, skills that for over a decade routinely seduced audiences who were at once stirred and troubled by his unorthodox preaching on “biblical oral sex,” and other salacious topics. Continue reading

Bielo, “Particles-to-People…Molecules-to-Man”

Bielo, James S. 2019. “‘Particles-to-People…Molecules-to-Man,’ Creationist Poetics in Public Debates.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 29(1): 4-26.

This article examines religious language in a contested public sphere by analyzing performances of linguistic creativity among creationists in the United States. The public creation‐evolution debate has been a central speech event in the development of modern creationism, and functions as a key site for claiming cultural legitimacy. Focusing on three creation‐evolution debates spanning 33 years, I advance the concept of “creationist poetics” to capture how framing, stance taking, and speech play define the performance repertoire of creationists in the debate context. In particular, I illustrate how creationist speakers work to create a conspiracy‐populist frame and a revealer stance. Together, these strategies sketch a lifeworld that envisions elitist “secular” actors suppressing scriptural authority and creationists as humble, clear‐eyed people exposing the conspiracy through scriptural fidelity. I argue that this system of poetics is a key expressive resource in the ongoing struggle to wrest authority away from evolutionary science and claim it for biblical fundamentalism. Ultimately, this analysis of creationist poetics informs our understanding of how authority as a contingent social process is discursively mediated, a central theme in the study of both religious and political language.

Richlin, “The Affective Therapeutics of Migrant Faith”

Richlin, Johanna Bard. 2019. “The Affective Therapeutics of Migrant Faith: Evangelical Christianity among Brazilians in Greater Washington, DC.” Current Anthropology 69(3).

While increasing Evangelical religiosity among Latin Americans in the United States has been well documented, few studies have considered how this faith shapes and is shaped by migrant experience itself. Based on fieldwork among Brazilian migrants outside of Washington, DC, a new immigrant gateway, I suggest that attention to migrant affective experience sheds new light on the growth of Evangelical faith. In the first section, I show how migrant experience configured a common portrait of affective distress marked by loneliness and feeling stuck, which in turn stimulated novel religious longings among migrants. In the remainder of the article, I illustrate how Evangelical churches effectively addressed and reinterpreted migrant-related distress through what I call affective therapeutics—the strategic healing of migrants’ negative emotion states. I outline the five discursive and practice-based tactics of this strategy that I witnessed—happiness of believers, self as vessel, watchful community, open-scripted prayer, and testimony—and consider how they relieved migrant distress. Writing against a “hermeneutics of suspicion,” I instead offer this research as part of a broader effort in the anthropology of religion and Christianity to document the hopeful and creative strategies through which individuals pursue what they conceive of as the “good.”

Bielo, “Where Prayers May Be Whispered”

Bielo, James S. (2019) ‘”Where Prayers May Be Whispered”: Promises of Presence in Protestant Place-Making’. Ethnos. DOI:10.1080/00141844.2019.1604559

Abstract: This article examines themes of religion tourism, presence, devotional labour, and place-making from the vantage point of a ‘forgotten’ Christian attraction in the United States. I integrate archival, oral history, and ethnographic data to analyze the accumulations throughout the 60-year life course of the Garden of Hope, a site in northern Kentucky (USA): from distinctly Protestant and distinctly Catholic material features, more ambiguous theological features, stories of supernatural intervention and stories of human ingenuity, competing claims to authority and authenticity, choreographed rituals, and multiple forms of devotion. I argue for an interpretation of the Garden that accounts for the ways in which Christian engagements with the problem of presence accumulate promises of presence: the expectation, anticipation, and potentiality that a desired spiritual intimacy will be actualised. In particular, I highlight the devotional labour of custodians and visitors as integral for defining, narrating, and maintaining this promise.

Warner-Garcia, “Sex and Faith in Dialogue”

Warner-Garica, Shawn Rachel. 2018. “Sex and Faith in Dialogue: Interdiscursivity and Academic Activism in Baptist Communities.” PhD Dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara. 

What do we talk about when we talk about sex? …[S]exuality as a form of knowledge is made possible by the discursive processes that constitute it. Discourse is the field on which particular ideologies, structures, and desires surrounding sexuality get played out. In many ways, discourse holds a unique status in religious contexts: it can be constructed as a holy artifact or a means to salvation, and it is also vital for creating and disseminating religious tradition and identity…

Scholarly inquiry into these three veins – discourse, sexuality, and Christianity – has spanned a number of disciplines and has been marked by disparate methodologies and analytic frameworks. My dissertation seeks to bring many of these threads together to provide a meaningful account of the current discourses around sexual ethics among Christians in the United States. I focus in particular on the Baptist denomination of Christianity as a site of study, since its loose denominational structure gives rise to a wide variety of beliefs and practices around sexuality that are discursively negotiated in community spaces. Through a methodology I call event ethnography, I provide an in-depth examination of the 2012 [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant to capture the complexities of this singular event as situated within its larger cultural context. I analyze the constraints of the physical space of the event, how plenary speakers interdiscursively engage with many of the same Christian texts and traditions in radically different ways, and the emergent dialogicality of the audience’s engagement both in person and online through Twitter. My analysis of this event shows the ways in which social histories, institutional structures, and spatiotemporal realities both enable and constrain particular types of discourse. I also explore the ways in which my research has morphed from a traditional focus on discourse analysis to a more activist approach of community-engaged research. I discuss the various ways I am currently collaborating with Baptist leaders in the development of resources that promote healthier, more holistic conversations around sexuality. I argue that these forms of academic activism can help build more robust scholarship as well as bring about positive social change.

Bjork-James, “Training the Porous Body”

Bjork-James, Sophie. 2018. “Training the Porous Body: Evangelicals and the Ex-Gay Movement.” American Anthropologist. 120(4): 647-658

In this article, I examine how US evangelical opposition to LGBT rights stems from a unique understanding of sexuality and the person. As my respondents explained to me in over sixteen months of field research, evangelical rejection of LGBT individuals and practices is rooted not simply in prejudice but also in a culturally specific notion of personhood that requires Christian bodies to orient themselves to the divine. In evangelical Christianity, the body, along with its capacity to feel and communicate, is understood as a porous vessel receptive to communication with God. In contrast to a dominant idea that sexual orientations shape individual identities, sexuality within this religious world instead facilitates the movement of moral forces across individual bodies and geographic scales. Sexual desires and sexual acts are broadly understood in evangelical cosmology as communicative mediums for supernatural forces. This understanding of sexuality as a central component of moral agency shapes widespread practices of ostracism of people who identify as LGBT within evangelicalism and often leads to anti‐LGBT political positions. Claiming an LGBT identity is seen as making one a distinct kind of person incommensurate with evangelical porosity.