Review Essay: Past Practices--Ethnography and American Religion

Bender, Courtney

The three books reviewed here--Henry Goldschmidt’s Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights, Paul C. Johnson’s Diaspora Conversions, and Pamela Klassen's Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity--begin with quite different questions about very different subjects (blacks and Jews in Brooklyn, diasporic Garifuna religious practitioners, and liberal Protestant missionaries and healers). Despite these differences in topic, and different approaches to and uses of ethnography, all three place considerable attention on how practices of the past form contemporary groups’ identities, particularly as they are shaped within and against American identities and narratives. These differences noted, each shares an interest in representing the living practices of contemporary people in ways that prompt readers to hear and consider how various pasts are believed, acted upon, and reproduced.



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Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation

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University of California Press
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July 6, 2015