Jon Bialecki

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 25 other followers

A new article, and the AES Sharon Stephans Prize!

There are two bits of news. First of all, I want to humbly (*cough*) mention that my UC Press book, A Diagram For Fire, is one of two joint winners of the American Ethnological Society’s Sharon Stephens Prize. The prize committee was kind enough to give me an excerpt from their assessment of the book, where they stated

“This was a masterful analytical contribution to the anthropology of Christianity by bringing North American Christianity into dialogue with the vibrant field of global Christianity at a time in which understanding why so many evangelicals see Trump’s election as evidence of a miracle is a central question for many of us.  Your analysis of how the Vineyard churches are each local and distinct instantiations of a set of practices that can still be seen by participants as part and parcel of an overarching movement is an analytically productive set of insights that travels well beyond the confines of anthropology of Christianity. Yours was a beautifully written ethnography in which you managed to achieve what so many of us struggle to do — bring complex and unruly ideas into linear sentences with a compelling clarity.   We especially appreciated that on almost every page, you have an original take on either an ethnographic encounter or long-standing theoretical concern.”

In addition to those very generous words from the committee, this is an honor for several other reasons. One is that my fellow co-winner has written an amazing book, and so just to share the dais with her is a bit of a head-trip. But on top of that, a lot of the books that won this prize in earlier years were incredibly influential to me, were important touchstones in developing my arguments,  were written by trusted colleagues, or radically expanded what it was that I thought that ethnography was capable of doing.

The second bit of news is that I have an article out in Religion and Society: Advances in Research. This article builds on one that came out last year, where I discussed what I might call the ethno-anthropology of American Charismatic Evangelicals. In the more recent article, I expand on the idea of a Christian ēthnos to think through how a certain kind of ethical process, coupled with Nietzschean ressentiment, doubled eschatologies, and demographic crisis, can crystalize the otherwise ephemeral idea of Christian Nationalism. This is an issue that’s not going to go away, so I think that producing theoretical accounts of this phenomenon is more important than ever.

Advertisements

Stuff I read today

So, since there is nothing more cold, gray, and in the ground than Tumblr as far as social media type things go these days, it seemed like an excellent time to open up a Tumblr page. It’s basically a list of stuff I read that day (excluding stuff for review, student papers, newspapers & journalism, social media, the back of cereal boxes, etc.).  If I read all, or even a substantial amount (ie., more than a few pages) I post it; books I’m working through I just post the first time. If I reread something, it gets posted twice. Also, audiobooks (which are great if you have to drive in Southern California) make it, too.

I have no idea who the audience is for this, or whether there is one. And I image I will more than likely get bored, or gradually forget to update the thing. But at least for now, the Tumblr page is there, in all its mundane glory.

Public Books! Ontology! Blog navel-gazing!

Just wanted to mention that Public Books just released my review of Holbraad and Pedersen’s The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition; it was a hard review to write, as Public Books (rightly) prizes writing that is at once accessible to people outside of the discipline, but also ask for real contributions to the discussion on the topic. I have a lot of respect for ontological discussion in anthropology, even if I’m not exactly a fellow traveler, but at the same time I understand what is grounding a lot of the critical arguments, and well as private grumbling, that was directed against the turn when things were at their hight. I hope I found the right balance.

I also have some other stuff out – like a book chapter in this fine volume – but I want to talk about it later, since another essay in this volume has a critique of me, based off of something I wrote in this very blog! Which is some kind of coming around full circle, or perhaps merely a circular death spiral, but either way involves a greater discussion than what I can spare now.

Anthropos Tomorrow

There is not a lot of “value added” in this post, but I wanted to let people know about a project that I’m working on with Ian Lowrie, an anthropology/STI graduate student at Rice. We are co-editing a series for Platypus, the blog for the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology & Computing (or CASTAC), a committee of the American Anthropological Association. The series is called Anthropos Tomorrow: Transhumanism and Anthropology, and it’s more or less about what the title would suggest. In addition to our introductory essay, it has a wonderful piece by Grant Jun Otsuki on “human like” technology in Japan – human like meaning not resembling human (though some of it does, to an almost uncanny degree) but also meaning equipment such as LCD goggles or joysticks that are “human like” because they feel human.

It also includes an essay of mine on the Mormon Transhumanist Society, which I’ve mentioned before in this blog, and which gets plenty of press on its own; this piece is on how, for this group of religious transhumanists, speculation regarding human futures are also accounts of possible human pasts. It also addresses the Simulation Hypothesis, and how (when viewed through a certain metaphysics) this secular hypothesis can become something else entirely.

We’re expecting more posts in this series later on – we seem to be doing about one or two a month – so you should keep an eye on the CASTAC blog; but then again, I think that the CASTAC blog is always worth some attention.

“A pseudo-scientific Jewish assault on White European racial consciousness and identity…

As of the time I post this, if you search Google for “Boasian Anthropology,” at the top of the page you get this:

 

img_1488

 

For those who know about the history of Boasian anthropology, the irony – and the insult – that is contained in both the website, and in Google’s decision to feature that as their “snippet,” is almost beyond bearing. While the utility of Boasian thought today might be questioned by a few, Boas had a historic role in combatting “respectable” racism in the United States that is undeniable.

Now, I don’t think that Google is a hub of white supremacy. But I’m sure that the people at the corporation that had “don’t be evil” as a motto will try to hide behind an algorithm, hoping that this launders their moral responsibility. It doesn’t. An algorithm is just another agent or factor (in the old sense of the term), and what this algorithm does they have to own. And best way to take ownership is to remove this as a snippet view, and sit down and discover what went wrong.

I’m hoping that by the time you see this, the snippet offered by the search term will have been corrected. But then, I remember that Google long ago left their motto by the wayside…

 

UPDATE: The search now yields something quite different – a wikipedia page for Franz Boas. The Verge put out a piece on this, which included the following statement from Google:

Google does not endorse or select responses manually. This content comes from the third-party sites that we do not control. The feature is an automatic and algorithmic match to the search query. We welcome feedback, as we’re always working to improve our algorithms. Users and content owners can give feedback on incorrect information through the “Feedback” button at the bottom right of the WebAnswer.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is a case of Google taking moral responsibility, or sloughing it off. I’ve certainly made my mind up on the issue. All I have to say on the topic right now is, to quote a friend of mine, algorithms are social, too.

Donald Trump, the Pacific Standard, and me

This is just a quick note that the Pacific Standard has published an article that draws heavily on my work, and particularly on my soon to be released book. As always, there is a considerable gap between academic writing and journalism (temporality, audience, funding structure, etc.), so I wouldn’t want to say that the author’s argument is my argument, or rather, if this was an academic piece that I wrote, it would come wrapped in a protective blanket of qualifiers and counter examples. But I can say that he is fair to the book’s arguments, and I also believe that for many conservative Evangelicals, the unlikeliness of Donald Trump as the “Christian Candidate” makes his surprising election seem all the more like a work of God.

New Book (and New Book Excerpt): A Diagram For Fire

9780520294219

As I think I may have mentioned earlier, I have a book coming out this spring as part of the University of California Press’s Anthropology of Christianity book series. The book is called A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement, and it is primarily about the Association of Vineyard Churches, a Charismatic Evangelical church-planting movement effectively founded by John Wimber. The Vineyard is a movement that has been given some significant anthropological and sociological attention before and is also starting to receive attention as a place for serious theological reflection. But without taking away anything from these other works, I still think that I have something new to contribute.

The book takes up as linked questions miracles and variation. Miracles are a problem because this is a movement that is centered on the miraculous – in fact, John Wimber taught a very controversial “applied” class on miracles at Fuller Seminary, which is arguably the premier Evangelical Seminary in the United States. Variation is a problem because individual Vineyard churches and individual Vineyard believers differ so much, and not just from each other, but they also self-differ over the course of time. They differ in politics, they differ in the level of commitment they have to the miraculous, they differ in how they self-govern, and they differ in class composition and in their levels of formality and ecstasy. I argue that the Vineyard is held together not despite all these differences, but because of them, through the miracle. The miracle can do this because it is an open and transformative way of re-organizing the world, the church, and the individual will.  I also argue that the miracle is used at times as a way of both organizing and acting in what is normally understood as economic and political spheres. I do all this through a detailed discussion and ethnographic account of various Pentecostal-style miracles that are common in the Vineyard and in Charismatic Christianity: prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, and battling demons are just some of the miraculous instantiations I address.  This work makes much use of the French theorists Gilles Deleuze’s concept of the diagram, but it also takes up issues from linguistic anthropology, the anthropology of ethics and morality, and even from some of the discussions of ontology that have been occurring in anthropology as of late. And I close the book by expanding on and concretizing an argument about the category or religion that I have discussed before in this blog and in print.

While the book has a few pages of ethnographic passages that have appeared in other works, the vast majority is ethnography that I’ve never shared before, and the analytic passages are all new as well. It’s available for pre-order, but if you can’t wait (or if you are on the fence!) I have excerpts from the book’s forward and the introduction free to download here as a PDF.

Follow me on Twitter