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Fertile Disorder

Spirit Possession and Its Provocation of the Modern

Kalpana Ram

In her innovative new book, Kalpana Ram reflects on the way spirit possession unsettles some of the foundational assumptions of modernity. What is a human subject under the varied conditions commonly associated with possession? What kind of subjectivity must already be in place to allow such a transformation to occur? How does it alter our understanding of memory and emotion if these assail us in the form of ghosts rather than as attributes of subjective experience? What does it mean to worship deities who are afflictive and capricious, yet bear an intimate relationship to justice? What is a "human" body if it can be taken over by a whole array of entities? What is agency if people can be "claimed" in this manner? What is gender if, while possessed, a woman is a woman no longer?

Drawing on spirit possession among women and the rich traditions of subaltern religion in Tamil Nadu, South India, Ram concludes that the basis for constructing an alternative understanding of human agency need not rest on the usual requirements of a fully present consciousness or on the exercise of choice and planning. Instead of relegating possession, ghosts, and demons to the domain of the exotic, Ram uses spirit possession to illuminate ordinary experiences and relationships. In doing so, she uncovers fundamental instabilities that continue to haunt modern formulations of gender, human agency, and political emancipation. Fertile Disorder interrogates the modern assumptions about gender, agency, and subjectivity that underlie the social improvement projects circulating in Tamil Nadu, assumptions that directly shape people’s lives. The book pays particular attention to projects of family planning, development, reform, and emancipation.

Combining ethnography with philosophical argument, Ram fashions alternatives to standard post-modernist and post-structuralist formulations. Grounded in decades of fieldwork, ambitious and wide ranging, her work is conceived as a journey that makes incursions into the unfamiliar, then returns us to the familiar. She argues that magic is not a monopoly of any one culture, historical period, or social formation but inhabits modernity—not only in the places, such as cinema and sound recording, where it is commonly looked for, but in "habit" and in aspects of everyday life that have been largely overlooked and shunned.

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Finding Faith

The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation

Richard Flory and Donald E. Miller

Despite the masses still lining up to enter mega-churches with warehouse-like architecture, casually dressed clergy, and pop Christian music, the "Post-Boomer" generation-those ranging in age from twenty to forty-is having second thoughts. In this perceptive look at the evolving face of Christianity in contemporary culture, sociologists Richard Flory and Donald E. Miller argue that we are on the verge of another potential revolution in how Christians worship and associate with one another. Just as the formative experiences of Baby Boomers were colored by such things as the war in Vietnam, the 1960s, and a dramatic increase in their opportunities for individual expression, so Post-Boomers have grown up in less structured households with working (often divorced) parents. These childhood experiences leave them craving authentic spiritual experience, rather than entertainment, and also cause them to question institutions. Flory and Miller develop a typology that captures four current approaches to the Christian faith and argue that this generation represents a new religious orientation of "expressive communalism," in which they seek spiritual experience and fulfillment in community and through various expressive forms of spirituality, both private and public.

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Flashes of a Southern Spirit

Meanings of the Spirit in the U.S. South

Charles Reagan Wilson

Flashes of a Southern Spirit explores meanings of the spirit in the American South, including religious ecstasy and celebrations of regional character and distinctiveness.

Charles Reagan Wilson sees ideas of the spirit as central to understanding southern identity. The South nurtured a patriotic spirit expressed in the high emotions of Confederates going off to war, but the region also was the setting for a spiritual outpouring of prayer and song during the civil rights movement. Arguing for a spiritual grounding to southern identity, Wilson shows how identifications of the spirit are crucial to understanding what makes southerners invest so much meaning in their regional identity.

From the late nineteenth-century invention of southern tradition to early twenty-first-century folk artistic creativity, Wilson examines a wide range of cultural expression, including music, literature, folk art, media representations, and religious imagery. He finds new meanings in the works of such creative giants as William Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Elvis Presley, while at the same time closely examining little-studied figures such as the artist/revivalist McKendree Long. Wilson proposes that southern spirituality is a neglected category of analysis in the recent flourishing of interdisciplinary studies on the South—one that opens up the cultural interaction of blacks and whites in the region.

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Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century

Afterword by Peter L. Berger. Edited by Robert W. Hefner

This state-of-the-field overview of Pentecostalism around the world focuses on cultural developments among second- and third-generation adherents in regions with large Pentecostal communities, considering the impact of these developments on political participation, citizenship, gender relations, and economic morality. Leading scholars from anthropology, sociology, religious studies, and history present useful introductions to global issues and country-specific studies drawn from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the former USSR.

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God and Country

America in Red and Blue

Sheila Kennedy

Americans increasingly think in terms of red and blue. God and Country examines the religious roots of these cultural divisions in American political life. But instead of pitting a people of faith against a secular humanist elite, God and Country helps Americans understand the religious differences that divide, appreciate the public agreements that allow us to live with religious differences, evaluate how existing democratic processes alleviate divisions, and identify ways Americans can agree to disagree.

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God's New Whiz Kids?

Korean American Evangelicals on Campus

Rebecca Kim

In the past twenty years, many traditionally white campus religious groups have become Asian American. Today there are more than fifty evangelical Christian groups at UC Berkeley and UCLA alone, and 80% of their members are Asian American. At Harvard, Asian Americans constitute 70% of the Harvard Radcliffe Christian Fellowship, while at Yale, Campus Crusade for Christ is now 90% Asian. Stanford's Intervarsity Christian Fellowship has become almost entirely Asian.

There has been little research, or even acknowledgment, of this striking development.

God’s New Whiz Kids? focuses on second-generation Korean Americans, who make up the majority of Asian American evangelicals, and explores the factors that lead college-bound Korean American evangelicals—from integrated, mixed race neighborhoods—to create racially segregated religious communities on campus. Kim illuminates an emergent “made in the U.S.A.” ethnicity to help explain this trend, and to shed light on a group that may be changing the face of American evangelicalism.

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Gods Behaving Badly

Media, Religion, and Celebrity Culture

By Pete Ward

From Britney and Brangelina to Tiger Woods and Michael Jackson, Western society is obsessed with its American idols and gods of the red carpet. We worship their triumphs, judge their sins, and maintain vigil at their deaths. Can our fixation on and devotion to celebrity culture itself be considered a religion? If not, why do we use religious terminology to describe these stars and our actions towards them? 

Gods Behaving Badly examines the blurred boundary between popular culture and religion—one that has given way to an often confounding fusion of the sacred and the profane. Flipping through pages of tabloid media and looking underneath the veil of Hollywood’s glamour, Pete Ward exposes how, in its consumer life, Western society elevates celebrity to the theological and, in so doing, creates a new para-religion. Inevitably, whether despised or extolled, individual celebrities evoke public moral judgment, creating fertile ground for theological innovation. 

Plucked straight from the headlines, the narratives in Gods Behaving Badly give concrete evidence of how the religious themes of incarnation, revelation, sin, judgment, and redemption are all woven into narratives we construct about our most cherished—and most villainized—personalities.

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The Gospel of the Working Class

Labor's Southern Prophets in New Deal America

Erik S. Gellman

In this exceptional dual biography and cultural history, Erik S. Gellman and Jarod Roll trace the influence of two southern activist preachers, one black and one white, who used their ministry to organize the working class in the 1930s and 1940s across lines of gender, race, and geography. Owen Whitfield and Claude Williams, along with their wives, Zella Whitfield and Joyce Williams, drew on their bedrock religious beliefs to stir ordinary men and women to demand social and economic justice in the eras of the Great Depression, New Deal, and Second World War._x000B__x000B_In chronicling the shifting contexts of the actions of Whitfield and Williams, The Gospel of the Working Class situates Christian theology within the struggles of some of America's most downtrodden workers, transforming the dominant narratives of the era and offering a fresh view of the promise and instability of religion and civil rights unionism.

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Guru English

South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language

Srinivas Aravamudan

Guru English is a bold reconceptualization of the scope and meaning of cosmopolitanism, examining the language of South Asian religiosity as it has flourished both inside and outside of its original context for the past two hundred years. The book surveys a specific set of religious vocabularies from South Asia that, Aravamudan argues, launches a different kind of cosmopolitanism into global use.

Using "Guru English" as a tagline for the globalizing idiom that has grown up around these religions, Aravamudan traces the diffusion and transformation of South Asian religious discourses as they shuttled between East and West through English-language use. The book demonstrates that cosmopolitanism is not just a secular Western "discourse that results from a disenchantment with religion, but something that can also be refashioned from South Asian religion when these materials are put into dialogue with contemporary social move-ments and literary texts. Aravamudan looks at "religious forms of neoclassicism, nationalism, Romanticism, postmodernism, and nuclear millenarianism, bringing together figures such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, and Deepak Chopra with Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, Robert Oppenheimer, and Salman Rushdie.

Guru English analyzes writers and gurus, literary texts and religious movements, and the political uses of religion alongside the literary expressions of religious teachers, showing the cosmopolitan interconnections between the Indian subcontinent, the British Empire, and the American New Age.

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Heaven in Conflict

Franciscans and the Boxer Uprising in Shanxi

by Anthony E. Clark

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