Brendan Jamal Thornton

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Brendan Jamal Thornton

Assistant Professor


Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, 2011 (Anthropology)

Research Interests

  • Caribbean and Latin America
  • Anthropology of Christianity
  • Religions of the African Diaspora / Black Atlantic
  • Comparative Caribbean Ethnology
  • Gender and Masculinity

Professional Biography

My ongoing ethnographic research in the Caribbean explores the intersections of religion, culture, and identity.  Guided by theoretical concerns from gender and power to race and religious difference and grounded in a firm commitment to ethnographic methodology and anthropological inquiry, my work addresses contemporary issues related to gender performance and identity, spiritual authority and legitimacy, and religious heterodoxy and pluralism.  Though trained as an anthropologist, my research and publishing are interdisciplinary in scope crosscutting anthropology, religious studies, women and gender studies, and Latin American and Caribbean studies.

The primary focus of my research to date has been the ethnographic study of Pentecostal Christianity and the intersecting themes of gender, cultural change, and religious authority in the Caribbean and Latin America.  My first book Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic (University Press of Florida 2016), which was awarded the 2017 Barbara T. Christian Literary Award for the Best Book in the humanities by the Caribbean Studies Association, is an ethnographic investigation of Pentecostal Christianity—the Caribbean’s fastest growing religious movement—in the context of urban poverty in the Dominican Republic.  Based on extensive fieldwork in a barrio 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 context of religious pluralism and Catholic cultural supremacy.  Probing the interconnections of gender, faith, and identity from an anthropological perspective, I consider in detail the lives of young male churchgoers and their struggles with conversion and life in the streets.  I show that conversion offers both spiritual and practical social value because it provides a strategic avenue for prestige and an acceptable way to transcend personal history. By demonstrating how this particular theology shapes gender roles and identities, I highlight one of the primary contributions of Pentecostal Christianity to processes of social and cultural change today. An exploration of the church and its relationship to barrio institutions like youth gangs and Dominican vodú, further draws out the meaningful nuances of lived religion and provides new insights into the social organization of spiritual authority locally and the cultural 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 practice and offers a fresh perspective on religious pluralism and contemporary religious and cultural change in the Caribbean.

My current book project, Heterogeneity and Power: Spiritual Baptist Religious Culture in the Southern Caribbean, trains an analytic lens on Spiritual Baptists—an important but understudied Afro-Christian religious tradition in Trinidad and Tobago—and tackles an enduring problem in Caribbean ethnology: the puzzling relationship between heterogeneity and power. In addition to engaging important and enduring disciplinary concerns about religious and cultural difference, this project situates itself within existing scholarship on creolization, religion in the African Diaspora, identity politics, and the anthropology of Christianity.

Courses Recently Taught

  • RELI 140        Religion in America
  • RELI 141        African American Religions
  • RELI 246        Supernatural Encounters: Zombies, Vampires,
    ….._……………….Demons and the Occult in the Americas
  • RELI 322        Theories of Religion
  • RELI 352        Anthropology of Christianity
  • RELI 427        Spirit Possession
  • RELI 526        Dimensions of Evil
  • RELI 721        Christianity and Cultural Change

Publication Highlights

Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic. Gainesville: University Press of Florida (2016).

“New Directions in the Anthropology of Religion and Gender: Faith and Emergent Masculinities,” with William Dawley, Anthropological Quarterly 91(1): 5-24, 2018.

“Victims of Illicit Desire: Pentecostal Men of God and the Specter of Sexual Temptation,” Anthropological Quarterly 91(1): 133-172, 2018.

“Ties that bind: Pentecostal churches, youth gangs, and the management of everyday life in the urban barrio,” Religion 48(4): 616-641, 2018.

“Residual Masculinity and the Cultivation of Negative-Charisma in a Caribbean Pentecostal Community,” in The Anthropology of Religious Charisma: Ecstasies and Institutions, edited by Charles Lindholm, pp. 117-143. New York: Palgrave Macmillan (2013).