Words upon the Word: An Ethnography of Evangelical Group Bible Study

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Evangelical Bible study groups are the most prolific type of small group in American society, with more than 30 million Protestants gathering every week for this distinct purpose, meeting in homes, churches, coffee shops, restaurants, and other public and private venues across the country. What happens in these groups? How do they help shape the contours of American Evangelical life? While more public forms of political activism have captured popular and scholarly imaginations, it is in group Bible study that Evangelicals reflect on the details of their faith. Here they become self-conscious religious subjects, sharing the intimate details of life, interrogating beliefs and practices, and articulating their version of Christian identity and culture.

In Words upon the Word, James S. Bielo draws on over nineteen months of ethnographic work with five congregations to better understand why group Bible study matters so much to Evangelicals and for Evangelical culture. Through a close analysis of participants' discourse, Bielo examines the defining themes of group life—from textual interpretation to spiritual intimacy and the rehearsal of witnessing. Bielo's approach allows these Evangelical groups to speak for themselves, illustrating Bible study's uniqueness in Evangelical life as a site of open and critical dialogue. Ultimately, Bielo's ethnography sheds much needed light on the power of group Bible study for the ever-evolving shape of American Evangelicalism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Bielo examines the importance of bible study for evangelical belief, institutional life, and interaction with nonbelievers. In analyzing the vitality of these groups, Bielo also adds complexity to our understanding of the intellectual processes of biblical literalists... Bielo has created a useful analysis of an underrecognized (sic) civic activity and has illuminated the complexity of evangelical intellectual processes.”-American Ethnologist

“The book advances scholarly understanding of an important practice that shapes the community, piety, and politics of many Americans each week. The book is also a model for sophisticated ethnographic work on religious practices.”


Words Upon the Word is a model of ethnographic reflexivity and methodological transparency. . .ethnographies like this one will remind everyone else that, to some extent, they may still be right.”

-Omri Elisha,CUNY Queens College

“Bielo’s use of discourse theory is among the best I have seen in terms of its clarity and coherence. Simply put, at every point in the book the reader knows exactly what Bielo is talking about, what its implications are, and how it relates to empirical evidence. The book is a pleasure to read... Overall, Bielo’s study offers important claims about evangelical Christian culture and biblicist practices supported by a first-rate ethnography and clear analysis. It is recommended for all students of U.S. religiosity, Christianity, and reading.”-American Anthropologist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814791226
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

James S. Bielo is Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Miami University and editor of The Social Life of Scriptures: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Biblicism.

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Table of Contents

Figures and Tables
Introduction: Conceptualizing Emerging Evangelicalism
1 Stories of Deconversion
2 Ironies of Faith
3 Ancient-Future I: Experiencing God
4 Ancient-Future II: Everyday Monastics
5 Missional I: Everyday Missionaries
6 Missional II: Kingdom Theologies
7 Church Planting I: A New Work
8 Church Planting II: Sense of Place
Conclusion: Dialogic Evangelicalism
About the Author

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