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
  • Afro-Creole Religions
  • Comparative Caribbean Ethnology
  • Gender and Masculinity

Professional Biography

My 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, my work addresses contemporary issues related to religious identity, spiritual authority and legitimacy, and religious heterodoxy and pluralism. Though trained as an anthropologist, I consider my research and teaching to be interdisciplinary in scope drawing from history, sociology, folklore and religious studies.

My recently published 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 ethnographically rich 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. 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 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.

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, identity politics, and the anthropology of Christianity.

Courses Recently Taught

  • RELI 141H      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).

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

Thornton, Brendan Jamal 2018 “Ties that Bind: Pentecostal Churches, Youth Gangs, and the Management of Everyday Life in the Urban Barrio,” Religion DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2018.1466003, pp. 1-26.

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

“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.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan (2013).