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God's Agents

God's Agents: Biblical Publicity in Contemporary England

Matthew Engelke
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    God's Agents
    Book Description:

    The British and Foreign Bible Society is one of the most illustrious Christian charities in the United Kingdom. Founded by evangelicals in the early nineteenth century and inspired by developments in printing technology, its goal has always been to make Bibles universally available. Over the past several decades, though, Bible Society has faced a radically different world, especially in its work in England. Where the Society once had a grateful and engaged reading public, it now faces apathy-even antipathy-for its cause. These days, it seems, no one in England wants a Bible, and no one wants other people telling them they should: religion is supposed to be a private matter. Undeterred, these Christians attempt to spark a renewed interest in the Word of God. They've turned away from publishing and toward publicity to "make the Bible heard." God's Agents is a study of how religion goes public in today's world. Based on over three years of anthropological research, Matthew Engelke traces how a small group of socially committed Christians tackle the challenge of publicity within what they understand to be a largely secular culture. In the process of telling their story, he offers an insightful new way to think about the relationships between secular and religious formations: our current understanding of religion needs to be complemented by greater attention to the process of generating publicity. Engelke argues that we are witnessing the dynamics of religious publicity, which allows us to see the ways in which conceptual divides such as public/private, religious/secular, and faith/knowledge are challenged and redefined by social actors on the ground.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95710-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A Note to the Reader
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)

    The British and Foreign Bible Society, which is also known as the Bible Society of England and Wales, is a Christian charity. It has been based in Swindon, a town in Wiltshire about an hour’s train ride from London, since 1983. Until that point it had been based in London, in a majestic Bible House on Queen Victoria Street in the City of London. When I began my research in July 2006, the Society employed seventy-five staff and had annual incoming resources of close to £12.3 million; by the time I finished my research in December 2009, the Society had...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Angels in Swindon On the Production of Ambient Faith
    (pp. 37-63)

    One day in January 2006, Luke Walton went with a colleague to the Parade, an outdoor shopping center in the heart of Swindon. The Parade is a good example of the modernist architecture that dominated so much postwar building in Britain; that is to say, it’s pretty stark. It was cold that day, and windy, especially given the tunnel-like effect of the Parade’s buildings. Luke was looking for an idea. He had been hired not long before as the arts officer for Bible Society, and one of his first projects was to coordinate the 2006 Christmas decorations for the Parade....

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Semiotics of Relevance Campaigning to Culture
    (pp. 64-97)

    Some sociologists still argue that “God is dead” (Bruce 2002), even if doing so is “in defense of an unfashionable theory” (Bruce 2011). Secularization theory certainly isn’t what it used to be. The way it was conceived a generation or two ago, as a theory that religion declines as societies become more modern, is almost everywhere démodé. Steve Bruce is one of the few sociologists of religion working on Britain who maintains a commitment to this decline thesis, notwithstanding the arguments of colleagues—some of long standing (Martin 1978)—that neither “secularization” nor “modernity” have stable meanings and necessary connections...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Kingdom and Christendom
    (pp. 98-130)

    Since 2005 Bible Society has had a parliamentary officer whose job is to “equip and encourage” members of Parliament, peers, and others involved in and around the Palace of Westminster to make the Bible heard in their work. As in the earlier examples we’ve considered, one of the key questions here is how explicit the Christian message should be and what form it should take. Here we get that much closer to the arena in which Alastair Campbell was operating when he made the pronouncement of such concern to publicly minded Christians. Exactly how should Christians in politics “do God”?...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Doing God Theos and Public Theology
    (pp. 131-161)

    In May 2009 Theos, the public theology think tank, hosted a debate on the motion “Did Darwin Kill God?” at Westminster Abbey. Over eight hundred people attended, and afterward there was a small reception in Cheyneygates, one of the Abbey’s many beautiful rooms, for invited guests. At one point, as I was talking to Theos’s director, Paul Woolley, and sipping on a pinot noir from New Zealand, we were approached by a member of Bible Society’s Board of Trustees. The trustee was pleased, saying, “Sitting around a table three years ago, we would have been very happy to have reached...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Good Trouble and Good Timing The Theology of Publicity
    (pp. 162-187)

    During the period of my research, Theos rented a second-story office on Buckingham Palace Road, just a two-minute walk from London Victoria train station. Like many office spaces in central London, it was not fit for purpose; it used to be residential and retained traces of an Edwardian home. There were some beautiful fireplace mantles, for instance, but it was not spacious and had been done over in a generic workplace aesthetic: fire doors to each room, square-paneled carpeting, fluorescent lights. The office comprised four rooms off a central hallway, with a staircase running up one side. Theos had to...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Reasonable Religion
    (pp. 188-224)

    The main issue we’ve explored in relation to doing God has concerned the secularist argument about the need for religion to be private. The point of this argument is not to deride religion per se but rather to insist that one keep one’s faith to oneself. This is part of ensuring that no religion has a privileged position in the public square. To be sure, some secularist voices in the public sphere have articulated something stronger and more explicitly antireligious or anticlerical: think of A. C. Grayling’s comment that faith is “the negation of thought” or the CiF Belief posting...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 225-238)

    In October 2006 James Catford and Paul Woolley took Andy Reed and Gary Streeter on a Bible Society trip to Ethiopia. As CEO, James routinely made an effort to take key supporters and friends of the Society along for international business. Certainly in terms of the Half G-6, it was seen as important to develop personal relationships outside the context of Westminster, to give some of the MPs with whom Dave Landrum had been working a better sense of where James was coming from and what else the Society was up to. In Parliament or London such relating was always...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 239-256)
  15. References
    (pp. 257-266)
  16. Index
    (pp. 267-294)