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Apocalypticism in U.S. History  

Matthew Avery Sutton

Apocalypticism has had a powerful impact on American life. It has fostered among adherents a strong sense of purpose and personal identity, it has helped them interpret the challenges they face all around them, and it has provided them with a triumphant vision of the future. Although there are many kinds of apocalypticism, in the United States, Christian forms have dominated. The Bible’s focus on a coming millennium has offered Americans the promise of transformation and redemption in a world that sometimes seems void of both. When Christians have emphasized the Bible’s apocalyptic and millennial visions, they have acted in new and important ways. Apocalyptic visions, rather than fostering a sense of indifference to the coming of the end of days, have served as a call to battle. God, millennialists insist, has given them much to do and very little time in which to do it. Positive that Jesus is coming soon, they have preached revival and engaged directly and aggressively with their culture. Sometimes their actions have served to reinforce the status quo, and at other times they have sparked revolutions. The uses of apocalypticism and millennialism are almost as diverse as their adherents.


Approaches to Ancient Religions  

István Czachesz

Ancient religions can be defined as the religions of Mediterranean antiquity, with important connections to the neighboring Ancient Near East. While different approaches to these religions formed throughout European intellectual history, proper academic theories and methods of their study started to emerge in the nineteenth century, with a proliferation of new approaches beginning with the 1990s. Historical approaches reconstruct the development of religions through time and discuss the problems of such reconstructions. Textual criticism studies manuscript traditions and attempts to reconstruct the original text. Various philological methods developed and used especially in biblical studies include the analysis of written and oral sources behind the text, the examination of editorial processes, and reasoning about the original context of the text. Archaeology studies built structures and artifacts from antiquity, employs a variety of dating methods, connects artifacts to social, economic, and environmental conditions, and explores the size, distribution and interconnectedness of archaeological sites. Texts and artifacts might tell different stories and interpretation is needed to gain information from both types of historical evidence. Literary theory approaches texts as finished artifacts instead of looking at the history behind the text. Text-centered approaches include rhetorical, narrative, and typological analysis. Reader-response criticism emphasizes the role of the reader in establishing the meaning of the text. Psychological approaches include traditional psychoanalysis and depth-psychology, as well as historical psychology that uses insights and models from contemporary personality psychology and social psychology. Among social scientific approaches, memory studies look at the formation of textual traditions, including oral composition, transmission, and performance. Models of cultural memory also gained currency. Sociology, social history, and economic history shed light on the socioeconomic background of ancient religions. Religious studies had an intimate connection with anthropology especially in its early period, while models borrowed from cultural and structural anthropology influenced the study of Mediterranean values and social interactions more recently. Gender studies and feminist approaches initially focused on the reinterpretation of women’s roles in ancient religions and especially since the 1990s they addressed gender as a socially constructed category. Work on voluntary associations in the Greco-Roman world sheds light on the social context of private cults. Among new developments, postcolonial criticism both examines the colonial history of ancient cultures and addresses the colonial origins and inclinations of scholarship on religious antiquity. The approach of lived religion focusses on how individuals experience religion in their everyday lives. Cognitive science approaches study the evolutionary and psychological foundations of ancient religious thought and behavior, drawing especially on insights from neuroscience, experimental psychology, and evolutionary theory. Ritual studies employ models of individual and collective ritual behavior to understand cultic practices in religious antiquity. New approaches to magic move beyond cultural constructivism and use the concept as an analytical tool to understand a set of behaviors and attitudes. Insights from cognitive neuroscience have been applied to the study of religious experience. Cultural evolutionary theory has been employed to explain the success of particular religious movements and the development of oral and written traditions. Digital humanities include the computer-assisted collection and analysis of historical evidence and computer modeling tools, such as agent-based models. Finally, network science sheds new light on geographical, social, and textual patterns and dynamics in ancient religions.


Archaeology of Ancient Religions  

Caitlín E. Barrett

Archaeology is essential to the cross-cultural study of religion. Archaeologists’ focus on material evidence enables them to investigate groups not represented or underrepresented in textual traditions, including non-literate societies and non-elite members of literate societies. Accordingly, archaeology provides a broad comparative lens and longue durée perspective, as well as a means to study the practices of individuals across the social spectrum. Additionally, a disciplinary emphasis on material culture and human-thing relationships enables archaeologists to investigate the materiality of ancient religious traditions—the entanglement of ancient beliefs and practices within the material world. Because every stage of the archaeological process involves interpretation and theorization, archaeologists’ theoretical stances and methodological choices shape the data they obtain. For example, any discussion of the “archaeology of religion” will be shaped by the author’s (explicit or implicit) operational definition of “religion” itself (see Part I, “Considering ‘Religion’ and ‘Ritual’”). Modern Western constructions of “religion” involve culturally specific concepts that developed within particular historical contexts, and ancient people’s understandings of their beliefs, rituals, and objects may often have employed quite different analytical categories. Additionally, archaeological approaches to ancient religions have undergone significant transformation over the 20th and early 21st centuries (see Part II, “History of the Field”). In contrast to the “New Archaeology” of the 1960s–1970s, which portrayed religion as epiphenomenal and downplayed its significance as a primary generator of social change, late-20th-century movements brought renewed attention to ancient symbolism, ideology, and religion and encouraged scholars to seek methodologically rigorous ways to study ancient religion and ritual. The third section of the article (“Current Perspectives and Developments”) examines contemporary research on the archaeology of religion and analyzes the field’s intersections with, and importance to, broader interdisciplinary debates. Today, a proliferation of new scholarship on the archaeology of ancient religions explores the complex interactions between people, objects, and ideas in antiquity. Within the resulting range of new and ongoing developments, this article emphasizes (1) a productive engagement with the broader “material turn” in the humanities and social sciences; (2) a renewed emphasis on religion as a causal force for social change; and (3) an increasing focus on religion’s embeddedness within daily life, entailing the reconsideration of analytical categories such as “domestic cult,” “personal religion,” and “magic.” The contemporary archaeological study of ancient religions is a deeply multidisciplinary endeavor, frequently requiring archaeologists to engage with theories, methods, and specialists from fields that may include anthropology, religious studies, archaeometry, art history, philology, and more. Archaeologists not only generate empirical data about specific sites or cultures, but also investigate broader intellectual questions concerning the role of religion in society, the importance of material culture to religious experience, and the forms of agency wielded by both humans and objects. The archaeology of religion thus has important contributions to make to numerous subjects and debates throughout the humanities and social sciences.


Architecture, the Built Environment, and Religion in America  

Peter W. Williams

The development of religious architecture in what is now the United States is tied closely to continuing immigration and the development both of de facto and de jure religious pluralism. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, seminomadic Native Americans built temporary structures, while those farther south erected more permanent temples, most notably those of the Aztecs in Mexico. Spanish settlers in what is now the U.S. Sunbelt built mission chapels, with those in California incorporating a mixture of styles and building techniques derived from Spanish, Moorish, and indigenous traditions. Puritans in New England and Quakers in Pennsylvania erected meeting houses, architecturally simple structures based on secular models and eschewing the notion of “sacred space.” Anglicans from Boston to Charleston imported English neo-classical models devised by Sir Christopher Wren and Sir James Gibbs in the mother country, devised to accommodate Anglican sacramental worship. Later classical styles, especially the Roman and Greek revivals, reflected the republican ethos of the New Republic and were adopted by a whole range of religious traditions including Catholics and Jews. Urbanization and enhanced immigration following the Civil War saw adaptations by Protestants, including auditoriums, institutional churches, and the Akron Plan; by Jews, who invented a new, eclectic style for synagogues and temples; by Anglicans, who revived English Gothic traditions for churches and cathedrals; and by Roman Catholics, who turned to Continental Gothic for their inspiration. Mormon temples, beginning in Salt Lake City, took on new forms after that faith spread across the nation. During the post-WWII era, the colonial revival style became popular, especially in the South, reflecting patriotic and regional values. Following the immigration reform of 1965, waves of newcomers from Asia and the Middle East brought their traditional mosques and temples, often considerably modified for worship in the diaspora. Religious architecture, like the nation at large, has reflected an ongoing process of change, adapting old forms and inventing new ones to accommodate changing demographics, settlement patterns, and the necessities of living in a pluralistic society where religion is protected but not supported by the government.


Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and Rome  

Robin Osborne and Caroline Vout

One of the challenges shared across cultures and faiths is the intangible, ineffable nature of the divine. One problematic, yet theologically productive, solution to this problem is to embody the divine in sculpture and painting; another is to seek divine aid and attest to divine presence by making votive offerings. In the absence of a sacred text, it was sculptural and graphic representation of the divine that made sanctuaries and temples in Greece and Rome theologically active places. But the need to experience god was not confined to these centers. Greek and Roman gods were everywhere—on coins, gems, drinking vessels, domestic wall paintings. Even when they were not there, their power could be felt in the representation of those who had felt their power. They were as pervasive as they were all seeing. This article examines how this material culture worked to bring gods and mortals into contact. It does so by tackling three major issues: first, it discusses how a wide range of artifacts, monumental and modest, shaped sanctuary space and guided and recorded the worshipper’s interaction with the divine; second, it looks at images of gods themselves and how these affected epiphany, while maintaining a critical gap and insisting on their strangeness; and third, it uses art to rethink the relationship of religion and myth. Although there are some continuities between cultures, the rise of Hellenistic and Roman ruler cults created a new subcategory of gods, creating additional representational challenges. Out of this came Christ, who was god incarnate. We briefly explore how early Christian artists used the problems of anthropomorphism to their spiritual advantage.


Art, Architecture, and National Memory-Making  

Maurizio Peleggi

Works of Buddhist art and architecture, in addition to having cultic use and artistic value, also enjoy prominence in the national heritage of several Asian countries regardless of the following Buddhism presently enjoys in each. While rooted in the millenary process of the formation of national cultures, this prominence is more immediately the outcome of archaeological investigations, architectural restorations, and museum collections that were initiated in the late 19th century by colonial officials, and royal commissioners in independent Siam and Japan, and continued by postcolonial governments, often with international support. The examination of Buddhist art and architecture as vehicles of national memory-making can be framed conceptually by the dialectical tension between their cult value as continuing foci of devotion and their exhibition value as evidence of cultural achievement. Four aspects of this productive tension are emphasized: the foundational tension in Buddhism between the doctrine of impermanence and the cult of relics; the tension between Buddhist monuments as elements of the diffuse sacred landscape and, conversely, of individual countries’ historical landscape; the tension between the place and reception of buddha images in the temple and, instead, in the museum; and finally, the tension between the traditional pious care for Buddhist monuments and their modern, scientific conservation. Owing to these productive tensions, works of Buddhist art and architecture continue to generate spiritual, cultural, and social meanings—in particular identitarian and mnemonic associations—even though in multiethnic and multireligious societies, these meanings are not uncontested.


Arts and Ethics: Questions  

David Fenner

The world of art, across the globe and especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, has presented a range of challenges to those who attend to that world. These challenges span various spectra, but one set is ethical in character. How one responds to these ethical challenges will depend on one’s general ethical commitments and perspectives, but it will also depend, first, on one’s view of the relationship between the arts and ethics and, second, on understanding the context in which the challenge is made and the ethical challenge itself. Censoring a work of art, which can itself take many forms, is the result of meeting a particular challenge with the judgment that the work violates in important ways some ethical precept or set of precepts.


‘Ashura and Azadari  

Vernon James Schubel

‘Ashura, the tenth day of the lunar month of Muharram, is among the most significant days in the Muslim devotional calendar, especially for Shi‘i Muslims. On this date, in 680 ce, the Prophet Muhammad’s sole surviving grandson, Imam Husayn, along with numerous members of family and close companions, was killed at Karbala by a military force loyal to the Caliph Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah. The martyrdom of Imam Husayn is commemorated annually, especially by Twelver Shi‘i Muslims, and has inspired the creation of diverse performative rituals and ceremonies (collectively known as azadari) that allow both for the discursive transmission of religious and ethical teachings and for affective displays of love, grief, and devotion that in many ways define the essence of the piety of Shi‘i Islam. Immigrant Shi‘i Muslims have carried these practices with them to North America from their countries of origins and adapted them to the new realities of life as minority communities within the United States and Canada. Like other North American Muslims, the Shi‘a exist as part of larger ethnic minority communities, largely from South Asia and the Arab world, surrounded by a majority population of primarily of European descent. They also exist as minority within a Muslim community that is mostly Sunni in terms of its religious identity. While North American Shi‘i Muslims share many ritual practices in common with their Sunni coreligionists, such as the daily prayers (salah), which are performed in Arabic and connect them with the larger ummah, they also maintain their own distinctive ritual practices of mourning for Imam Husayn, which are generally performed in vernacular languages and are specific to particular ethnic, geographic, or linguistic communities. These practices emphasize not only the distinctive qualities of Shi’i piety but also the vibrant ethnic and linguistic diversity of the immigrant Islamic community. While these rituals and narrative commemorating Karbala and Ashura set Shi’ism apart as a unique body of religious thought and practice, their emphasis on universal human values such as courage, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and compassion and a call for social justice provide them with an opportunity to reach out and find common ground with the larger American community.


Asian American Religions  

Tony Carnes

Asian American religions have dramatically increased their presence in the United States. Partly, this is a function of the increasing population of Asian Americans since 1965. Asian American is a name given to the United States residents who trace their ancestry back to the area of Asia from Pakistan in the west to the Pacific islands east of the Asian landmass. There are over 18 million Asian Americans in the United States (about 6 percent of the national population), and Asians are immigrating to the country at rates that far exceed those for any other group. Other names have been taken, given, or forced upon Asian Americans. Such terms as “Chinese or Japanese imperial subjects” heightened a unity of political and religious obedience to a divine emperor. “Oriental” started as a French idealization of the Confucian state before descending to the level of being an epithet for backwardness. Immigrants come with nationalities like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, and so forth that often intervene into religious discourses (see an example of this process in the Chinese American experience as described by Fenggang Yang (Chinese Christians in America. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999). In the 1970s the name Asian American was popularized by West Coast intellectuals in order to gather forces at the barricades of political and racial movements. Some scholars like Michael Omi and Howard Winant (Racial Formation in the United States. From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge, 1994) claimed “Asian American” as a racialized reality, which was the result of racial conflicts innate to American society. Others saw the identity as an ethnic claim to assimilation into American cultural reality. Asian immigrants and their progeny find ways to balance out the religious, national, ethnic, racial, and other identities from their homeland, new nation, and religion. “Asian American” has also become a common-sense meaning that was institutionalized by the U.S. census. But one should remember that many layers of names sit upon Asian American houses of worship as so many barnacles telling tales of ancestral honors, woes, and self-reflections. Over three-quarters of Asian Americans profess a religious faith. About a quarter say that they are “religious nones,” that is, either having no particular religious faith or identifying as agnostic or atheist. About half of the “nones” actually have religious beliefs and ethics and practice them as an intrinsic part of Asian American culture, not as something that is “religious.” Two-thirds of religious Asian Americans are Christians. This is not surprising when we take into account the rapid growth of Christianity in the non-European world. Asian Americans are contributing to the “de-Europeanization” of American Christianity and signal the increasingly religious direction of the 21st century. Other Asian American religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroasterism, new Japanese religions, and many more. The history of Asian American religions involves a dynamic interplay of the United States and Asia, global politics, democratic revolutions, persecution in Asia, racism in the United States, Supreme Court cases, and religious innovation. The largest Asian American groups, those with 1–4 million people each, trace their ancestry back to Japan, China, Philippines, Vietnam, India, and Korea. Seven smaller groups have over 100,000 people each: Bangladeshis, Burmese, Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians, Pakistanis, and Thais. And there are many more smaller groups. The diverse ethnic and national origins of Asian Americans means that their religions have a kaleidoscope of religious styles and cultures.


Assault Sorcery and Religion  

Pamela Stewart and Andrew Strathern

Assault sorcery is a type of aggressive magical action against victims, distinguished from other types of sorcery by its imputed use of physical aggression and associated with intergroup hostility and ritual practices involving cosmological ideas of magical power and performance. Secrecy is the hallmark of the sorcerer’s activity and the means by which the sorcerer attacks a victim. In leavings sorcery, the sorcerer observes victims’ moves and stealthily harvests food leavings, or bits of them, on which spells can be made to kill the victim. Leavings sorcery is a variety of a wider class of magical actions that are based on the idea that people’s vital force exists in anything that has been in close contact with them. The actions must be done in secret, and the sorcerers must take care not to handle the bespelled items themselves so as to avoid being harmed by their own magical actions. In both assault sorcery and leavings sorcery, internal body parts of the victim are targeted. In leavings sorcery, the bespelled item enters the victim’s body, disrupting its normal processes. In assault sorcery, the sorcerer is said to open up the body of the victim directly and replace its vital organs with pieces of rubbish. The body and its internal functioning parts are the locus of action in both cases. These practices may involve the secret invocation of spirits and the performance of actions that imply supernatural powers generated by the sorcerer’s manipulative actions, such as by confronting the victim and reducing the victim to terrified submission in the face of the confrontation by the sorcerer. Reports make it clear that the sorcerer intimidates the victim away from sight of the community and is accompanied by a set of accomplices. The sorcerer’s power is thus to be seen as based in magic rather than as founded simply on physical strength. The same can be said of other categories of sorcery, such as sorcery based on the contamination of food leavings and the magical treatment of such leavings so as to kill a victim. Sorcery beliefs all ultimately depend on the creation of fear; in extreme cases, fear itself can cause a victim’s death. This psychosocial syndrome opens up the possibility of comparing classic assault sorcery with methods of intimidation that appear in the running of academic institutions in which those in power confront enemies with accusations and character assassination that can lead to expulsion or to harassment, which taxes the endurance of the victims and dangerously weakens them. The psychosocial context is also important in all circumstances in which sorcery is feared and its practice is kept secret. The basic cosmology is found in many regions of the world.



Ted Peters

Astrotheology is that branch of theology that provides a critical analysis of the contemporary space sciences combined with an explication of classic doctrines such as creation and Christology for the purpose of constructing a comprehensive and meaningful understanding of our human situation within an astonishingly immense cosmos. Within the growing field of Religion and Science, astrotheology and its sister subject, astroethics, represent critical responses to the excitement permeating the space sciences, especially astrobiology. The excitement arises because of new searches for microbial life within the solar system and the discovery of exoplanets elsewhere in the Milky Way, some of which may be homes for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations.


Atheism in America  

Eric Chalfant

Atheism refers to the conviction of the nonexistence of God. In the United States, atheism is diffuse, individualistic, and heavily reliant on the media for the cultivation of a sense of community. Intellectually and socially, American Atheism has its roots in a number of prior movements, including in particular the Deism of Thomas Paine and other American Revolutionaries and the broad free-thought movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These disparate strands of religious criticism coalesced into an atheist political movement predominantly during the course of the 20th century, through the deliberate efforts of individuals like Charles Lee Smith and Madalyn Murray O’Hair to capitalize on the exposure afforded by new media formats. Following the popularity of the Intelligent Design movement toward the end of the 1990s and the September 11th attacks, New Atheism emerged in the mid-2000s as a form of atheism reliant on new media, especially critical of fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity and Islam, and particularly devoted to scientific empiricism and rationality. In the early 21st century, atheism in the United States continues to be organized largely through the media, with official organizations operating primarily through annual conventions and local chapters. Atheism has constituted and continues to constitute an important form of identification for many Americans dissatisfied with a dominant religious culture.


Autobiography, Biography, and Theological Questioning  

John D. Barbour

Autobiography and biography (which together will be called “life writing”) raise theological questions in ways different from systematic or constructive theology. These forms of life writing tell a story that may or may not be correlated with traditional doctrines. They integrate the first order discourse of symbol and narrative with secondary hermeneutical reflections that interpret and analyze the meaning and truth of religious language. The probing and disturbing questioning in a profound autobiography such as Augustine’s contrasts with the assurances and settled answers expected of theology by religious institutions and communities. Particular religious questions shape specific genres of life writing such as Puritan discourses, nature writing, or African American autobiographies. The theology in autobiography may be either explicit or implicit and involves both questioning and affirmation, as may be seen in works as different as Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua and Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. Conversion has been a central theme and shaping influence on Christian texts, even when authors challenge this focus and create alternative forms. A central theological question posed by autobiography concerns the authority of individual experience when it contrasts or conflicts with traditional norms asserted by orthodox believers and ecclesiastical hierarchy. In spiritual autobiographies by contemporary writers, we see serious attention given to communal norms for life stories and a search for a distinctive personal apprehension of what is sacred. Autobiographical writing has been stronger in the history of some religious traditions than in others. Yet in the modern world, almost every culture has produced life writing that questions or challenges established patterns of thought and practice. In contrast with autobiography, sacred biography has been an important part of every religious tradition, usually describing an exemplar to be revered and imitated. Its strong didactic interests often curb theological questioning of established norms. While modern scholarly biographies often mute theological questions, some writers raise normative issues and argue for why the subject’s life should be valued. As well as the theology explored within life writing, many works reveal a theology of life writing, that is, beliefs about how this kind of writing may bring the author or readers better understanding of God or deeper faith.


Avalokiteśvara: The Bodhisattva of Compassion  

Chün-fang Yü

Avalokiteśvara is one of the most famous bodhisattvas in Buddhism. The worship of bodhisattvas (beings of enlightenment) is one of the most distinctive features of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Whereas early or mainstream Buddhism recognizes only two bodhisattvas—the Buddha in his previous lives and Maitreya, the future Buddha—there are a number of bodhisattvas in Mahāyāna to whom one can appeal for help and guidance. Of the many bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara is identified specifically as the embodiment of compassion and as such has been worshipped throughout Buddhist Asia.


Baptism in Martin Luther’s Theology  

Kirsi Stjerna

Baptism opens a window to the heart of Martin Luther’s 16th-century theology. It offers a perspective for how Luther understands the impact of grace and its channels, as well as the nature of justification in an individual’s life. In his teaching about baptism, Luther demonstrates the vital working of the Word and lays a foundation for a Word-centered and faith-oriented spirituality. With baptism, Luther articulates his vision for the purpose of the Church and the rationale for sacraments. Baptism reveals different sides of the theologian: one who argues with a zeal on the “necessity” of baptism and its meaningful God-mandated practice in Christian communities and another who imagines God’s saving grace too expansive to be limited to any ritual. The apparent tensions in Luther’s articulation can be understood from his overlapping agendas and different audiences: in his baptismal talk, Luther is both processing his own Angst about salvation and negotiating his developing position in relation to the medieval sacramental theology and other emerging reform solutions. While feistily refuting his opponents, he is also speaking from his personal religious experience of being as if reborn with the encounter of the Word of grace and passionately extrapolating his most foundational conviction: God’s unconditional promise of grace as the ground of being for human life, given to humanity in the Word. The matter of baptism leads to the roots of different Christian “confessional” traditions. The format of the ritual has generated less anxiety than differing theological opinions on (1) the role of faith in the validity of baptism, and (2) the effects of baptism in one’s life. Whether infant or adult baptism is favored depends on whether baptism is primarily understood as a sign of faith, a cause of forgiveness and transformation, or an initiation into the Christian community—or all of the above. Baptism is at the center of Luther’s theological nervous system; it connects with every other vital thread in the theological map. Baptism is a mystery and a matter of faith; it calls for a philosophical imagination and mystical willingness to grasp the questions of reality beyond what meets the eye. “I study it daily,” Luther admits in his “Large Catechism.” “In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. Christians always have enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings.”


Baptist Worship in Britain  

Christopher J. Ellis

Baptists stand within the Free Church and Evangelical traditions. They baptize only those who profess personal faith, and they also give a high priority to evangelism. Although there is some variety around the world in this the fifth-largest Christian denomination, the main features of Baptist worship developed in Britain, where the Baptist story began. Emerging from the Radical Reformation at the beginning of the 17th century, British Baptists formed two main groups, each holding Calvinistic or Arminian theology, respectively. Both emphasized an ecclesiology in which the church was perceived to be a fellowship of believers and each rejected the baptism of infants. By the 19th century, most British Baptists held a common, though varied, evangelical theology, and this continues to characterize this denomination. The importance of scriptural preaching, extempore prayer, and the emergence of congregational hymn singing are all continuing features of Baptist worship. The core aspects of Baptist spirituality can be seen in their worship, including giving due attention to scripture and its relevant application for the life and witness of the church; the importance of the devotional life and an openness to the Holy Spirit, as seen in extempore prayer; emphasis on the church as a fellowship of believers, as expressed in the communal nature of the Eucharist celebrated as the Lord’s Supper; and the importance of personal faith and the mission of the church, embodied in the baptism of believers and evangelistic preaching.


Bible and Film  

Richard Walsh

For most, the designation “Bible and film” refers to the studio epics of the 1950s, as well as Mel Gibson’s financially successful The Passion of the Christ. This designation, however, also includes silents, travelogues, documentaries, musicals, comedies, parodies, television miniseries and serials, shorts, and avant-garde art films. Other than Jesus, who starred in numerous passion plays, the most popular biblical film subjects are those characters or stories already successful in 19th-century theater, operas, or novels. Since at least the 1990s, “Bible and film” has also referred to the work of biblical critics. Such scholars deal in semiotics, ideology, and reception criticism rather than the theology and apologetics of their precursors. These scholars have vastly expanded work under the “Bible and film” umbrella to include the Bible’s cinematic use as artifact, quotation, and so forth; the Bible and film (films that seem biblical, like so-called Christ figure or messianic films, only after convincing arguments); and film as Bible (where film functions as some biblical texts do). The most important recent developments in Bible and film, however, are technological advances in delivery systems and niche marketing. These developments, not Gibson’s success alone, appear to be driving the recently renewed interest in biblical films. Now, old films, including silents, and films from more diverse cultural perspectives (e.g., Indian and Islamic biblical films) are available to more people than ever before. While Christian Bibles may still dominate film, one can find other cultural perspectives as well as films or interpretations that challenge “the dominant.”


Bibles and Tracts in Print Culture in America  

Lincoln A. Mullen

Since the first printing presses were established in Britain’s North American colonies, print was a ubiquitous feature of American religion. Print was a powerful means of communicating religious ideas, both to the faithful and to people whom religious groups wished to persuade. One common form of religious communication was the pamphlet or, by the 19th century, the tract. These tracts were a way of catechizing people who were already a member of different denominational groups, and tracts provided them with inexpensive collections of religious reading material, such as hymns or psalms. Tracts become a primary feature of evangelism in the United States, as did Bible distribution. In the 19th century the American Tract Society and the American Bible Society managed to exert a long reach into the interior of the United States, with distribution channels that were more far flung than those of any other institution except perhaps the postal service. Print also functioned as a means of creating institutional loyalties. The American Tract Society created a network of tract distribution and funding which linked together large numbers of affiliate societies. While the American Bible Society preferred a different organizational structure, it brought together a wide array of denominations to make common cause for Bible distribution. In the 20th century, trans-denominational periodical publishers managed to unite various wings of Protestantism, as periodicals staked out positions in debates between fundamentalists and modernists, or later between evangelicals and liberal or mainline denominations. Yet smaller publications also functioned to establish denominational loyalties. The Bible was by far the most important printed text in American Christianity. One of the earliest imprints in North America was a translation of the Bible into the Algonquian language, and later missionary groups sometimes made it a priority to translate the Bible into Indian languages. Printing of the English Bible proliferated for a number of reasons. One was the repeated efforts of the American Bible Society to supply the United States with a Bible for every household. Another was the development of various editions of the Bible, containing different qualities of paper and typography, or distinguishing themselves by the purpose of the text, such as study Bibles rich in notes, maps, and other explanatory features. A third reason was the proliferation of Bible translations, beginning with the late-19th-century Revised Version. These Bible versions were aimed at improving the scholarly reliability of the text, but they were matters of intense interest and debate among Christians more generally. Bible translations came to be a key marker of group identity and a contested source of religious authority, even as they were sponsored by trans-denominational groups like the National Association of Evangelicals or the National Council of Churches. In short, print culture was a primary means of establishing group loyalty, for various Protestant groups as well as for Jews and Catholics, yet it also represented a key attempt at Christian unity and ecumenism. Print culture was both a proxy for many other ways of being religious and a powerful religious force in its own right.


Biology and Theology: Contemporary Issues  

Celia Deane-Drummond

Contemporary issues in biology and Christian theology are still dominated by the legacy of 19th-century biologist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Debates in evolutionary biology in relation to religious belief have been reinforced by historical myths that stress conflict over integration. More conservative branches of Christianity, often allied to particular Protestant traditions, argue for a form of popular theology that attempts to compete with science, namely, creationism. More sophisticated versions of this position may appear under the guise of intelligent design, though creationism and intelligent design are not synonymous. The mirror image of this position has developed among biologists who identify themselves as new atheists, adding further fuel to the fire of an existing controversy. Methodologically speaking, the engagement of biology and theology will depend on different philosophical presuppositions according to basic models of (a) conflict, (b) independence, (c) dialogue, and (d) integration. The biological sciences also have broader relevance to allied subject domains including, for example: (a) ecological, agricultural, animal, and environmental sciences; (b) anthropological, social, and political sciences; (c) medical sciences, including genetic science and embryo development; and (d) new technologies that include bioengineering. Theological engagement with the biological component of each of these domains is particularly intense where there are controversial ethical issues at stake that seem to challenge specific Christian beliefs about human nature or divine purpose. A more positive approach to the biological sciences that draws on research in the constructive systematic theological task, while avoiding historically naïve forms of natural theology, is starting to emerge in the literature. Within Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christian traditions, there is a spectrum of possible positions, such that the field of science and theology as a whole tends to be ecumenical in orientation rather than divided along denominational boundaries. The Catholic and Orthodox churches, however, give greater precedence to official statements by their respective churches that then influence public reception of controversial issues in biology and theology in particular ways.


The Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora  

Walter C. Rucker

The Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora refer to overlapping geographic and historical concepts each representing a complex series of dispersals, connections and reconnections, interactions, engagements and disengagements, and conflicts. As a geographic, spatial, and historical subset of the African Diaspora, the Black Atlantic refers to the sustained contacts and connections among the peoples of Atlantic Africa, Europe, and the Americas beginning with the “Age of Reconnaissance” (1306–1484) and the “Age of Contact” (1482–1621) and extending into the present. One of the first acts in the creation of the Black Atlantic can be located within the story of Mansa Qu, Islamic emperor and explorer from the western Sudanic empire of Mali, who commissioned two oceanic voyages to discover the western extent of the Atlantic between 1307 and 1311. Reconnaissance expeditions of this sort, launched by both Atlantic Africans and later by Iberians in the 14th and 15th centuries, helped create knowledge networks and webs of interconnections that would become critical to the later formation of the Black Atlantic. At the core of many of these earlier efforts to explore the world around them were the religious pursuits and goals—both Christian and Islamic—on the part of Atlantic Africans and Iberians. Delegations of Christian monks and pilgrims from Ethiopia visited the Italian peninsula, Iberia, and other parts of Europe beginning in 1306 seeking pan-Christian alliances against common Muslim foes. These early delegations fueled later Iberian imaginations about the existence of Prester John—an eastern defender of Christendom believed by the early 15th century to preside over an East African kingdom. In part, the protracted search for the mythical Prester John in Africa by the Portuguese after 1415 set in motion sustained contacts between Iberia and Atlantic Africa highlighted by the creation of Iberian-African settlements along the Atlantic African coast and in the Atlantic Islands, the transfer of enslaved labor to the Americas via the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the beginnings of sugar plantations and slave societies in the Caribbean and Brazil by the mid-16th century. Centuries of sustained contact of this nature spawned a range of cultural formations, the processes of ethnogenesis, and the creation of new transnational identities in the littoral regions and beyond of the four continents that frame the Atlantic Ocean. Creolization, the unique confluence of Atlantic cultures, served as the foundation for reinvented peoples across the Western Hemisphere who remembered, activated, and re-created “Africa” while attending to New World realities of racial slavery and hierarchy. This process of creolization created a range of ethnocultural permutations, from Atlantic Creoles to a wide array of neo-African ethnic groups in the Americas (e.g., Eboes, Coromantees, Congos, Nâgos, and Lucumís). Within this diverse cultural matrix and the processes of cultural mixing, religious and spiritual worldviews were among the most significant articulations of Black Atlantic and creole cultures. Indeed, there is no other way to decode the intricacies of Cuban Santería, Brazilian Candomblé, Haitian Voudou, New Orleans Hoodoo, Jamaican Myalism, or Obeah without framing them in the context of the cultural negotiations among many Atlantic African peoples made necessary by the suffocating confines of racial slavery and more recent socio-racial hierarchies embedded within Western Hemisphere colonialism, Jim Crow in the United States, and other manifestations of white supremacy