The Social Life of Scriptures

The Social Life of Scriptures: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Biblicism

EDITED BY JAMES S. BIELO
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj94x
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    The Social Life of Scriptures
    Book Description:

    What do Christians do with the Bible? How do theyùindividually and collectivelyùinteract with the sacred texts? Why does this engagement shift so drastically among and between social, historical, religious, and institutional contexts? Such questions are addressed in a most enlightening, engaging, and original way inThe Social Life of Scriptures.

    Contributors offer a collection of closely analyzed and carefully conducted ethnographic and historical case studies, covering a range of geographic, theological, and cultural territory, including: American evangelicals and charismatics; Jamaican Rastafarians; evangelical and Catholic Mayans; Northern Irish charismatics; Nigerian Anglicans; and Chinese evangelicals in the United States.

    The Social Life of Scripturesis the first book to present an eclectic, cross-cultural, and comparative investigation of Bible use. Moreover, it models an important movement to outline a framework for how scriptures are implicated in organizing social structures and meanings, with specific foci on gender, ethnicity, agency, and power.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4841-8
    Subjects: Religion, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: ENCOUNTERING BIBLICISM
    (pp. 1-9)
    JAMES S. BIELO

    Northrup Frye, the eminent literary critic, once described the Bible as:

    a mosaic: a pattern of commandments, aphorisms, epigrams, proverbs, parables, riddles, pericopes, parallel couplets, formulaic phrases, folktales, oracles, epiphanies,Gattungen, Logia, bits of occasional verse, marginal glosses, legends, snippets from historical documents, laws, letters, sermons, hymns, ecstatic visions, rituals, fables, genealogical lists, and so on almost indefinitely. (1981: 206)

    Frye’s description inspires because it begins to capture the complexity of the Christian scriptures. To borrow some language from Bakhtin (1934): a more heteroglossic, polyphonic, or dialogical work is hard to imagine. When we consider the Bible’s global presence, we...

  5. 1 The Trouble with Good News: SCRIPTURE AND CHARISMA IN NORTHERN IRELAND
    (pp. 10-29)
    LIAM D. MURPHY

    Though religious leaders might well demur, the most significant threat facing Christian churches in twenty-first-century Northern Ireland is not waning church attendance, and still less a weakened faith.¹ Transcending these is the question of religion’s cultural relevance and public status in a dramatically transformed sociopolitical context. In a society where social division has long been inflected by socioreligious identity, the past generation has cast religiosity into an altogether negative light, giving rise to such clichés as “what we need here is more Christianity and less religion.” From the tortured political machinations of the mid-to-late 1990s (culminating in 1998’s Belfast Agreement),...

  6. 2 “In the Beginning”: A CHAPTER FROM THE LIVING TESTAMENT OF RASTAFARI
    (pp. 30-43)
    JOHN W. PULIS

    Few texts have precipitated more contention than the books and chapters that constitute the Holy Bible. Whether they are read as the Word of God, literary texts, or as a glimpse into a world long past, issues concerning voice, exegesis, and interpretation have led to schisms great and small. This chapter discusses the importance of scripture to practitioners of an Afro-Jamaican folk religion known as Rastafari. The Rastafarian Brethren are one of several folk religions practiced in contemporary Jamaica (Barrett, ed. 1982; Chevannes 1995; Simpson 1978).¹ They coalesced during the interwar decades when a number of Afro-Jamaicans proclaimed the Ethiopian...

  7. 3 “The Man Is the Head”: EVANGELICAL DISCOURSE AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF MASCULINITIES IN A TZOTZIL VILLAGE
    (pp. 44-63)
    AKESHA BARON

    In the Tzotzil-speaking Mayan village of San Miguel in Chiapas, Mexico, people often discuss the teachings of evangelical Protestantism, to which many are first-generation converts, and present their own take on how these ideas should be applied in daily life. Such spontaneous discourse on biblical teachings is a common and highly valued form of talk. In fact,sk’op dios(“God’s word, the word of God”)—the term used for the Bible, formal religious sermons, and Protestant Christianity in general—is also used to characterize the informal discussion of Protestant teachings in families and peer groups.

    That the name “God’s word”...

  8. 4 The Word of God and “Our Words”: THE BIBLE AND TRANSLATION IN A MAM MAYA CONTEXT
    (pp. 64-79)
    C. MATHEWS SAMSON

    While keeping the larger horizon of Protestantism’s rise in Latin America in focus, I argue in this chapter that Biblicism can be conceived of as an aspect of the evangelical imaginary.² Latin Americans might call this animaginario: a general conceptualization of social reality rooted in a particular place or culture, and projected into a larger field of action in both space and time. Theimaginariodiscussed here is grounded in practices of translation and the use of scripture within the context of Mesoamerican Maya culture. My emphasis is on the importance of the Bible, or “word of God,” in...

  9. 5 How Q’eqchi’-Maya Catholics Become Legitimate Interpreters of the Bible: TWO MODELS OF RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY IN SERMONS
    (pp. 80-99)
    ERIC HOENES DEL PINAL

    An important research focus in the ethnography of Christianity has been the role that discursive practices play in constituting Christians’ worldviews (Harding 2000), particularly how Christians’ metalinguistic discourses or language ideologies (their ideas about what language is and does) shape their religious practices (e.g., Keane 2002; Robbins 2001), and how these further influence their actions in the world (Bauman 1983). Because of the centrality of sacred text in most varieties of Christian practice, it is reasonable to suggest that in order to understand how these discursive practices and the ideologies that undergird them engender particular worldviews (and vice versa), we...

  10. 6 “We Are Anglicans, They Are the Church of England”: USES OF SCRIPTURE IN THE ANGLICAN CRISIS
    (pp. 100-113)
    ROSAMOND C. RODMAN

    At the conclusion of the most recent once-a-decade meeting of Anglican bishops (the 2008 Lambeth Conference) the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, reported that “person after person” had said to him, “There is nodesireto separate.”¹ The sentiments expressed to the archbishop referred to the current Anglican crisis over the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire and blessings by clergy of same-sex unions. In 2008 upwards of two-hundred bishops boycotted Lambeth, signaling if not a desire to separate, then a refusal to participate in the status quo.²

    During the last five years in the United...

  11. 7 Chinese American Christian Women of New England: TRANSFORMATION AND CONTINUITY IN INTER-GENERATIONAL NARRATIVES OF LIVING IN CHRIST
    (pp. 114-135)
    ERIKA A. MUSE

    Chinese Christians in the United States are a culturally diverse group of people, with many adherents to a variety of denominations and nondenominational, independent churches. Chinese women’s approaches to biblical interpretation are shaped by their theological and social contexts. Studies demonstrate that Chinese Christian America is overwhelmingly conservative, evangelical, and nondenominational (Yang 1999). In this community, emergent Chinese women’s theologies focus on balancing biblical interpretation with socioeconomic realities and embody the conflicts and paradoxes of the historical process of poststructuralism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism as well as the social and religious reactions to these “posts” that we see in global society...

  12. 8 The Bones Restored to Life: DIALOGUE AND DISSEMINATION IN THE VINEYARD’S DIALECTIC OF TEXT AND PRESENCE
    (pp. 136-156)
    JON BIALECKI

    In this chapter I wish to complement this volume’s ongoing discussion of how the Bible is understood cross-culturally as a textual object by focusing on the interaction between beliefs regarding the nature of the Bible itself, and beliefs regarding the charismatic gifts; that is, the set of phenomena that are read as indexing the presence of the divine. My claim here will be that in at least one setting—young, middle-class Vineyard church members in southern California—the Bible and the gifts do substantial work, both with and against each other, in a way that addresses a core antinomy of...

  13. 9 Textual Ideology, Textual Practice: EVANGELICAL BIBLE READING IN GROUP STUDY
    (pp. 157-175)
    JAMES S. BIELO

    Every Thursday at seven a.m. a group of men gather at a local restaurant outside Lansing, Michigan, to eat, socialize, pray, and study the Bible. The group is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Despite this denomination’s national trend of declining memberships, this local congregation has increased steadily over the past three years.

    The LCMS Men have been meeting since 1994 when Eric, a lifelong LCMS member, began inviting men to join him for breakfast and Bible reading. Eric organized their meetings for nearly a decade, building a loyal attendance of eight to ten men. In 2003, after accepting...

  14. 10 Revolve, the Biblezine: A TRANSEVANGELICAL TEXT
    (pp. 176-193)
    SUSAN HARDING

    Many young evangelicals do not want to be associated with anything resembling old-fashioned fundamentalism or what some of them now call “the Christian bubble.” When asked why she had become disaffected from mainstream evangelical culture, Amelia Hendrix, the daughter of a minister of the Presbyterian Church of America, toldChristianity Todaythat her “Christian bubble” dissipated as she studied modern American religion at the University of Tennessee; as “friends from church got married, and she found herself befriending people with different values: non-Christians, gay students, and pot smokers” (quoted in Worthen 2008). She did not lose her faith but rejected...

  15. 11 Understanding the Bible’s Influence
    (pp. 194-204)
    BRIAN MALLEY

    The Bible is often said to be the most influential book in history, and that may be so. Certainly some important institutions have promoted it, some weighty ideas have been attributed to it, and many historic figures have been moved by it. How and why the Bible has had such influence is as yet rather poorly understood. Although much attention has been paid to the formation and meaning of biblical texts, the social and psychological processes affecting the way these texts are perceived, understood, and deployed have not been much investigated. Historically, reflections on the Bible’s influence have focused on...

  16. 12 The Social Life of the Bible
    (pp. 205-212)
    SIMON COLEMAN

    As an anthropologist who works on Christianity I spend a lot of time watching other people read the Bible. At the Protestant charismatic ministry in Sweden that I have been visiting since the 1980s, virtually everybody takes a Bible to services.¹ Believers’ copies are often ostentatiously well-thumbed. If the owner is young there is a good chance the cover will be decorated with garish but pious stickers—“God is a Good God!” or “God has a plan for your life!”—encapsulating the basic message of the sixty-six books of the Bible. During sermons, some of the keener participants write studiously...

  17. References
    (pp. 213-230)
  18. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 231-234)
  19. Index
    (pp. 235-238)