Scholarly Story Telling

I once had a professor tell me that every good piece takes into account three things: race, class, and gender. As always, Dr. Frederick weaves these themes into engaging stories and thought-provoking analyses so smoothly it seems effortless. She describes her methods and how she collects said stories. She says that she abides by George Marcus’ proclamation “follow the thing” (p. 8), which she certainly does. Dr. Frederick takes us on a journey around the world, most notably Jamaica, where she helps us to get to know the challenges and needs of communities and how people look toward televangelists to fulfill those needs. Dr. Frederick does not just discuss the actual televangelists, but she also studies and shares knowledge about their congregations and production studios. She truly follows the thing, not just the outward-facing parts but the thing as a whole and multifaceted entity.

            Dr. Frederick’s energy about the topic is contagious. I watch a few televangelists, and the book made me excited to watch them some more and helped me to appreciate them, their global impact, and their shared tropes. I am also impressed by how up-to-date the book is. For the time, the pop-culture references are spot on. And to be living in the post-2016 world now and watching the mentees of these personalities follow in their footsteps makes reading the book so engaging and intriguing.

            One observation about televangelists that Dr. Frederick makes is that while she studies Black televangelists, those personalities do not necessarily preach Black religion. She describes Black religion as having an element of protestation, but the egregiously famous televangelists that she discusses preach what she calls “American religion.” Which she notes is already global and is not dependent upon Black televangelists to make it so (p.5). This was very interesting to me and prompted me to think about the role of White supremacy in the globalization of American religion and how Black televangelists, their congregations, and their producers participate in this.

6 Replies to “Scholarly Story Telling”

  1. Brittany Lynn Fiscus-van Rossum

    Thanks for your great post and observations, Yaa!

    I too was interested in how Frederick’s “Colored Television,” “follows the thing” by looking at religious broadcasting in a different context than the one for which it was initially created. Instead of looking more broadly at a particular community’s practices, this honing in on “the thing” allows Frederick to present a clearer image of the movement of this particular kind of media as well as how it is uniquely adapted and re-distributed in a different context. I think this method can offer unique insights for thinking about how a religious practice (or religious media in this case) not only spreads but also how it adapts as it is shared, consumed, and re-created.

    In many ways Frederick is following the material “thing” that is the media, but she is also tracking how the theology itself is re-shaped by its consumers. I was fascinated by her chapter on “relative prosperity.” In my own experience as a pastor, I have wondered why prosperity theologies appeal to people who experience extreme forms of poverty. When I look at some of the paradoxes of this teaching, I have questioned how it remains a viable theology to people who do not see the “rewards” that prosperity teaching purports to offer. Frederick’s assessment that even narratives of “prosperity” are constitutionally, temporally, and spatially relative reminds me not to over-simplify the unique and contextually different ways that people engage with these theologies (71-72).

    As I was reading, another question that came to mind was whether or not other authors we have read this semester are using a method similar to Frederick’s. In some ways, I think T.M. Luhrmann “follows the thing,” with the “thing” being the presence of God in different contexts. However, while they are both looking at a common “thing” in different communities, I think the difference is that Frederick is clearly tracking the movement of a practice and not just its iteration in different contexts.

    I really enjoyed this reading and I look forward to talking with everyone in more depth tomorrow!

    -Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

  2. Evgeniia Muzychenko

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this great book, Yaa! I agree with the professor you mention in the beginning – the intersectionality of race, class, and gender does provide an insightful, nuanced narrative which is exactly what Frederick ended up with. Beginning to read the book, I expected it to be an account that mostly talks about televangelists as a force of social influence. But I was surprised to see how Fredericks, discussing the narratives of sinless sexuality in chapter 4, brings in “God’s gaze” as an alternative influence besides the pressure of social ideals of respectability. Frederick traces the history of the black church’s attitude toward sexuality in the 19th-century mainline Protestant notions of respectability that were picked up by black Protestants. Notwithstanding the clear social mediation of such norms, Frederick notes that some scholars see that many women adhered to norms of respectability not because of “white society’s gaze,” but because of “God’s gaze.” (92) Frederiks notes that the struggle to understand whether God or social norms made women adhere to norms can at least tell us that women were highly influenced by the ideas of sexual propriety in their self-formations. I was moved by this remark on the distinction between personal piety and public change. It makes me think of how personal experiences are formative for structural change and how social changes, in turn, also affect individual perceptions – Frederik’s book is good evidence of that.

  3. Mufdil Tuhri

    Thank you Yaa for this reflective note.

    I agree with you that Frederick offers an approach to ethnographic methodology called the “following thing” (8). For me, this approach is particularly relevant in Frederick’s case of tracking the globalization of religion in his study of television as a new media. As Frederick argued, the global reach of American religion is not a new phenomenon. This stems from the early American missionary work abroad. However, a critical examination of religion and the media requires a form of ethnographic approach concerned with exploring this new style of “proselytization.” But also, I see that in addition to this following “thing”, Frederick also invites us to explore religious broadcasting by emphasizing the following “people” which is how he examines the role of producers, consumers and distributors. What is interesting to me here is that this approach brings Frederick to invite us to look at this phenomenon from the ground and how this dynamic plays out in the lives of ordinary people (23). In connection with his study of religion and media, I am interested in Fredrick’s elaboration of the increasing broadcasting of religion as an alternative to apprehend religious ethics and freedom and beyond neoliberalism. This confirms the phenemona of the rise of prosperity theology for communities both within and outside the United States as she highlighted in chapter 3 of her book. For me, this reading also will lead to an understanding of ethical and economic concepts in a growing religious society.

  4. Taha Firdous Shah

    Thanks, Yaa for your insights. I concur with the viewpoints expressed by your professor. It is indeed imperative, especially in the time and age that we are living in, to address the interconnected issues of gender, race, and class within scholarly discourse.

    I started reading this book and was stopped by the title. The depth with which ‘color’ was used reflected many things. Midst the literality of this term, Frederick seems to convey this shift from the black-and-white when the civil rights movement was getting under way, and we saw a diversity in the field of televangelism. Although all these ‘Christo-religious’ terminologies intimidate me for my lack of knowledge in Christianity, I liked how the book was very easygoing in the way it was written.

    “God’s gaze” and “white society’s gaze” (92) caught my attention, as has been the case with my previous reflections on thinking about ‘why we do what we do’. Friederick’s contention is that these women were influenced by ideas of sexual propriety in their self-formation. This brings me to the following set of questions, which perhaps require our attention: How can we understand the relationship between personal experiences and structural change? What role do social changes play in shaping individual perceptions vis-à-vis their own piety? I would also like to extend our discussion to thinking about how men experience this dichotomy between personal and societal forms of piety.

  5. Peter Cariaga

    [Retroactive Post]

    Thank you for your thoughts, Yaa. Regarding the “egregious” televangelists, and especially the prosperity gospel that a number of them preach, it’s interesting how Frederick attributes their success to the “inherent flexibility of the theology of prosperity,” and how its “instability and malleability” is key to the success of what she calls “relative prosperity” (70-71). Brittany’s post gets more into the shapes that prosperity takes, but for me what comes to mind is Certeau’s idea of strategies and tactics. Strategies, of course, are the ways hegemonic forces (or even just marketers—or televangelists) deploy ideas, products, etc. to telegraph their intended use. Thus a strategy may be that a televangelist intends their sermon to encourage listeners to expect God’s favor to manifest as material abundance (74-75). Tactics, on the other hand, are the variegated ways that consumers actually use the idea, product, etc. For Frederick’s interlocutors, prosperity is not (only) abundance but God’s provision for day to day survival (75). Thus, “prosperity” can mean many, many things (within a delineated but broad set of constraints), and its difficulty to pin down is, in this view, actually one of its greatest strengths.

    I think her response to the questions about which party “benefits most from prosperity gospels” is worth noting well: It’s the wrong kind of question for this instance because it does “not begin with where the people are” (85). Frederick’s point, as I understand her, is that ordinary listeners of prosperity gospel preachers can take the televangelists’ sermons and still use them for their own benefit, regardless of whether that involves remittance to the televangelists’ ministries.

  6. Prakash Raju

    The book that we read and discussed was Marla Frederick’s Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global. The book follows televangelists, especially focusing on African American televangelists’ popularity outside the United States of America, and how they have influenced scores of people in Africa, the author focuses on Jamaican Christians and how they express their faith.
    I was trying to relate the Marla Fredrick’s understanding Black religion in contrast to Dalit religion (among Christians) and the role of European missionaries and contemporary American televangelists. Though the label Black religion limits and homogenizes universal understanding of religion followed by people colour, however, Black politics are more often is part of the sermons. Whereas in India, though the majority of Indian Christians are Dalits, caste politics and caste based violence are not often part of the sermons. The notion of Dalit Jesus and Dalit theology exists only among academicians and theologians. American televangelists are very popular in India; however, their common trope is about healing, prophecy, and prosperity. This trope was imitated by charismatic Christians in India. What changes when televangelist visits a place? When Benny Hinn a Charismatic Christian came to India in 2005, his effigies was burnt because the Hindu fundamentalists suspected that the congress political party had allied with Benny Hinn, and the feared the nation will be converted. What are the political tensions between Charismatic preachers and state/society?


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