Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Short Term Missions: Book Review

November 12, 2013

Howell, Brian (2012) Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience. Downers Groves, Illinois: IVP Academic Press.

By: Joshua Brahinsky (University of California, Santa Cruz)

While anthropology and religion have a checkered and ambivalent dynamic, relations between anthropology and missiology – Christian mission theory – are far more enmeshed and, perhaps, grating. This animates a sharp division between the two.  Anthropologists can imagine religion as out there, a behavior to study, more or less connected to transcendent reality. By contrast, missions, as many have noted, cut much closer to the bone (Priest 2001). Not only was the core anthropological notion of culture likely first articulated among missionaries, but also, by most accounts, missionaries surpass even the most assiduous anthropologist when it comes to their defining practice: ethnography (Herbert 1991). Even an exceptionally long three-year anthropological field stay cannot touch the decades common to missions.  This makes discussions of missions uncomfortable for anthropologists.  Further, simply noticing mission’s effects ties awkward knots within anthropological tales of the noble savage or those that valorize postcolonial agency, especially when that agency involves appropriating previously Western religions (Sanneh 2003). Finally, Short Term Missions (STM), are especially ephemeral phenomena, and as such, easily escape the anthropological eye.  In other words, aside from the significance of a project that involves 1.6 million US youth traveling the world each year, simply talking STM and anthropology together makes Brian Howell’s study of Short Term Missions worthwhile.
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Faith Based: Book Review

October 17, 2013

Hackworth, Jason. 2012: Faith Based: Religious Neoliberalism and the Politics of Welfare in the United States. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

By: Amy E. Fisher (University of Toronto)

Jason Hackworth’s Faith Based: Religious Neoliberalism and the Politics of Welfare in the United States seeks to unravel the “synergies and tensions” (vii) between neoliberals and evangelical conservatives who are ostensibly different and yet mutually engaged in the project of minimizing and opposing the American welfare state. He claims to follow in the steps of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by exploring the ways in which a “secular” economic project is actualized and invigorated by certain Christian ideas. He charts the course of neoliberalism’s relationship to the Christian Right across a range of FBO’s, including Habitat for Humanity and Gospel Rescue Missions; in speeches and articles written by certain conservative Christian “ideologues” (7) and theologians; in official policy statements from the National Association of Evangelicals and articles in Christianity Today; and he looks for signs of its demise in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans. Read the rest of this entry »

Moral Minority: Book Review

September 3, 2013

Swartz, David R. 2012. Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in the Age of Conservatism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

By: Rebekka King (Middle Tennessee State University)

David R. Swartz has invited you to party. At first glance, the party appears to be a disparate group: the well-dressed Republican senator Mark Hatfield is engaged in a deep conversation with scraggly haired Jim Wallis. Indeed, the room is filled with politically progressive evangelical thinkers, authors and activists. It is a party that is captured in Swartz’s use of Richard Mouw’s phrase the “evangelical diaspora of the ‘60s,” a group which has been regathered with “renewed piety” and a “passion for social activism” (139). As Swartz wheels you around, he takes the time to provide you with the back-story of these important figures present. He tells you about their families, educational pedigree and the major turning points that lead to their lifetime involvement in social activism, theological discernment and political engagement. “This,” he begins, “is Carl Henry.” He goes on to tell you that “no figure embodied the vital shift to political engagement more than Carl Henry, a theologian, editor, and architect of neo-evangelicalism” (15). After Henry, Swartz moves on to other prominent figures who continue to animate neo-evangelical circles. In the corner of the room, Sharon Gallagher is speaking about authenticity in the context of Berkeley’s “Christian World Liberation Front” and Samuel Escobar is reminding the group of the importance of listening to Latin American theologies and politics in order to resist the infiltration of American imperialism. Read the rest of this entry »

Testing Prayer: Book Review

August 16, 2013

Brown, Candy Gunther. 2012. Testing Prayer: Science and Healing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

By: Anna I. Corwin (UCLA)

In 2010, Candy Gunther Brown and her research team published a compelling and controversial article in Southern Medical Journal arguing that proximate intercessory prayer, performed in their study by Pentecostals in Mozambique, significantly improved the hearing and vision of a number of prayer recipients.  This claim – that prayer can heal – has been a flash point, setting off debates and controversies about the nature of prayer for generations.  This article was no different.  Brown’s book Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, sets out to reconcile some of the interest as well as the controversy Brown faced following her team’s empirical study of intercessory prayer.  She grapples with questions of whether prayer should be studied, how, and by whom.  Drawing on her background as a historian and ethnographer, Testing Prayer uses an interdisciplinary approach to address the question of efficacy, focusing specifically on global practices of Pentecostal prayer, and ultimately leading to a proposal for a multi-pronged approach to the study of efficacy in healing prayer. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus and the Gang: Book Review

August 2, 2013

Wolseth, Jon. 2011.  Jesus and the Gang: Youth Violence and Christianity in Urban Honduras. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

By: Henri Gooren (Oakland University)

This fine ethnography begins with a murder. “They shot him, they shot El Títere. El Títere is dead” (1). Children are shouting and running; soon a crowd forms near the shirtless corpse of a young man who was “barely twenty” (2). Wolseth describes the confusion and the excitement of the local people and the laconic reaction of an older woman, a neighbor of the victim’s grandmother: “It’s too bad that they shot him, but he was a gang member. I have sympathy only for the family” (2). That same night Wolseth discovers the victim was the best friend of his key informant, Sergio. “His closest gang buddy had been gunned down by a rival gang in front of his buddy’s house.[..] Sergio said, “They shot him seven times.[..] I remember that the people there said that when they put the first [shot] in him he said, ‘No, grandma. I left it [the gang],’ he said, yelled that way, and he fell to the ground. They shot him once here,” Sergio points to his stomach, “another here,” he points to his cheek, “and he shot him more” (4). Read the rest of this entry »

An Anthropology of Ethics: Book Review

July 19, 2013

Faubion, James D. 2011. An Anthropology of Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

By: Anna Strhan (University of Kent)

How do people engage with questions about the good and how we ought to live in everyday social encounters? What role do particular moral logics play in the constitution of human subjects, and how, when and where does the formation of ethical subjectivities happen? Such questions might seem basic to any study of the nature of social and cultural life, and Michael Lambek notes in his introduction to Ordinary Ethics that ethnographers often find that the people they meet “are trying to do what they consider right or good, are being evaluated according to criteria of what is right or good, or are in some debate about what constitutes the human good” (2010: 1). Yet specific attention to ‘the ethical’ has arguably been historically something of a blind spot within anthropological and other social scientific theorizing. Read the rest of this entry »

When God Talks Back: Book Review

July 19, 2013

Luhrmann, T.M. 2012. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

By Nofit Itzhak (University of California, San Diego)

While conducting fieldwork for her dissertation project among contemporary witches in Britain, Tanya Luhrmann woke up one morning to the startling vision of six druids standing against the window of her London apartment. The vision, a kind of temporary blurring of the boundary between the perceptible and the imagined, was the fruit, Luhrmann surmised later on, of visualization exercises aimed at enhancing one’s imaginative capacities, exercises she engaged in alongside her interlocutors, as she tried to understand how modern, rational people came to experience magic as real. In Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (1989), the resulting ethnography, she suggested that it was specifically this kind of imaginative and sensory retraining that allowed her interlocutors to inhabit a world which was at once rational and magical. Luhrmann’s latest ethnography, When God Talks Back, picks up where Persuasions left off, or rather addresses a similar problematic in a different ethnographic context, that of the American Evangelical Vineyard.

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Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Book Review

May 30, 2013

Guadeloupe, Francio. 2009. Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Calypso, Christianity, and Capitalism in the Caribbean. Berkeley: University of California Press.

By: Brian Howell (Wheaton College)

Beautiful islands of beaches, colorful and fascinating cultures, and delicious tropical cuisine, it is no wonder the economies of the tiny island nations of the Caribbean have become dominated by tourism in their postcolonial history.  At the same time, reading about Caribbean history and politics may produce conflicted feelings about benefiting from the exploitation of the people and their land.  It’s hard to enjoy your Piña Colada if you’re too aware of the colonial history of exploitation behind the excellent service at Club Med.

But are the excellent service, the friendly smiles, and warm welcome just a cover for deep-seated resentment and cultural tension?  As Francio Guadeloupe notes in the conclusion of Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Calypso, Christianity and Capitalism in the Caribbean, the Caribbean generally is often portrayed in terms of these contrasts: the Caribbean downtrodden and their Western exploiters; neocolonial nationalists struggling against European empire; local religious movements against Christian hegemony; men versus women; Black against White; in short, a “Caribbean that has become paradigmatic for students of Caribbean studies” (206).

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The Color of Sound: Book Review

May 14, 2013

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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The Future as Cultural Fact: Book Review

April 18, 2013

Appadurai, Arjun.  2013.  The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition.  London, New York: Verso.

By Naomi Haynes (University of Edinburgh)

As part of the ongoing expansion of AnthroCyBib, we aim to engage work that is not self-consciously focused on the anthropology of Christianity.  It goes without saying that such work often has something to say to the sub-discipline, and in particular may challenge its paradigms in ways that might not be possible for those of us who swim in the center of its intellectual currents.  It is along these lines that I offer the following analysis of Arjun Appadurai’s recent collection of essays, The Future as Cultural Fact.  In it Appadurai expands on some of the key arguments he has made over the past twenty-five years, beginning with The Social Life of Things, and including Modernity at Large and Fear of Small Numbers.  While he rarely addresses religion, much less Christianity (although the latter does receive some nods throughout the text), this collection engages territory that connects to the anthropology of Christianity at a number of points, which I outline below.  First, though, a few quibbles.

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