Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Brendan Jamal Thornton is an anthropologist and assistant professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His ongoing ethnographic research in the Caribbean is concerned with the social and cultural politics of belief and the role religious identity plays in impoverished urban communities.  Guided by theoretical concerns about culture, gender, and power, and grounded in a firm commitment to ethnographic methodology and anthropological inquiry, his work addresses contemporary issues related to religious identity, spiritual authority and legitimacy, and religious heterodoxy and pluralism. Though trained as an anthropologist, his research and teaching is interdisciplinary in scope drawing from history, sociology, folklore and religious studies.

His forthcoming book, Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic (February 2016, University Press of Florida), is a comprehensive ethnographic account of Pentecostal Christianity in the context of urban poverty in the Dominican Republic. Based on extensive fieldwork in the town of Villa Altagracia, Negotiating Respect examines the everyday practices of Pentecostal community members and the complex ways in which they negotiate legitimacy, recognition, and spiritual authority within the constraints of religious pluralism and Catholic cultural supremacy. Engaging questions about gender, faith, and identity from an anthropological perspective, he considers in detail the lives of young male churchgoers and their struggles with conversion and life in the streets. An exploration of the church and its relationship to barrio institutions like youth gangs and so-called Dominican vodú, further draws out the meaningful nuances of lived religion and provides new insights into the social organization of belief locally and the significance of Pentecostal growth and popularity globally. By focusing on the cultural politics of belief and the role religious identity plays in poor urban communities, Negotiating Respect illuminates the social dynamics of Pentecostal culture in context and offers a fresh perspective on religious pluralism and contemporary religious and cultural change.

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