I am a sociocultural anthropologist who specializes in the anthropology of religion, health and healing, and expressive culture. My research primarily focuses on the shifting religious ontologies of Native North America in the face of the aggressive spread of Global Pentecostalism, specifically as it manifests in expressive form at Navajo-led tent revivals. I have developed a particular interest in how Native conceptions of health and healing influence the appeal and spread of this dramatic religious change.
My ethnographic work examines a particular localization of the Global Pentecostal movement within a Navajo-speaking, Navajo-led, independent Neo-Pentecostal church located in northwestern New Mexico. Navajos are the second largest tribe in the united states by population, with over 300,000 members, and they have the largest reservation of any tribe- an area bigger than West Virginia. Navajos call themselves Diné. Over the past 50 years, Navajo life has changed dramatically, and one of the major changes has been the rise of new charismatic Christian churches led by Navajos. In my work, I ask: why has this movement grown? How does it appeal to Navajos over and above more historical Christian denominations that tend to be more accepting of traditional spiritual practice? And finally, how do participants reconcile being both Navajo and Christian, when those things are sometimes specifically set against eachother within neo-Pentecostalism?
In order to research this movement, I conducted participant-observation and field-based research, living in New Mexico and participating in Navajo neo-Pentecostal church life for over 19 months. I took Navajo language classes. I attended hundreds of hours of Navajo tent meetings and revivals. I got to know members of a Navajo-led congregation, where I attended weekly church services, each lasting 3 hours or more. I helped the church ladies with cooking, cleaning, and serving food to the congregation. I jammed with church musicians. I attended birthday parties, church lady craft nights, and holiday services. I took audio and video recordings of hundreds of hours of church activities. And I had thoughtful informal conversations with scores of church members, many of which led to formal recorded interviews.
All of this research has culminated in my book Upward, Not Sunwise: Resonant Rupture in Navajo Neo-Pentecostalism. In this book I focus on the ways expressive culture (ritual, music, verbal art, dance, and faith healing) are used by Navajo neo-Pentecostals to negotiate their multiple and competing subjectivities.
As an outgrowth of this project, I have begun research on the pan-tribal nature of contemporary religious change in Native North America by investigating the networks through which Global Pentecostal ideas are spread. This work collaborates with other scholars (anthropologists and historians) working with neo-Pentecostal tribal communites throughout Native North America, and aims to demonstrate the importance of traveling native evangelists in spreading this movement broadly across Indian Country.
I am also developing research on the politics of Native American expressive culture in the Great Basin north of Navajo and looking at different forms of verbal and visual art, as well as sonic spaces, as venues for political and economic projects of erasure of Native People. I am also, however, interested in the ways that Native Artists have the potential to re-assert Native presence, and am actively involved in finding ways to help them do so.