Hittin'the Prayer Bones: Materiality of Spirit in the Pentecostal South. By Anderson Blanton. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pp. xii + 224 pages, acknowledgements, introduction, 8 black and white photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Blanton Anderson takes the reader on a journey through Southern Appalachian Pentecostal religious practice and media use from the 1940s to the present day. His study focuses on the "materialities of prayer" by seeking to describe the phenomenon of charismatic Holy Ghost power transmitted between subjects and objects in "the space of enthusiastic worship" (3). These subjects and objects include the preachers, radio stations, microphones, radio sets in the homes of listeners, prayer cloths, and, of course, the worshipers themselves. Blanton writes to a scholarly audience in fields such as religious studies, anthropology, folklore, media studies, and material culture.
Principally, he asks, "In what ways, if at all, did the microphone and associated technologies of radio broadcasting actively organize the charismatic worship environment and concomitant practices of devotion?" (5). Blanton explains, "this ethnography explores the specific ways efficacious prayer and other practices of divine communication are experienced and understood when the sound of prayer is 'heard' by the artificial ear of the microphone, amplified by the mechanical mouth of the loudspeaker, and communicated across vast expenses through 'wireless' apparati" (10). Through themes of technological bodily extension or prosthesis, vicarious theurgical practice, and displaced "presence and immediacy," Blanton captures the essence of the healing and transformative powers of the Holy Ghost tradition in the Pentecostal South (184).
Blanton places his analysis in the framework of folk religious practices with an "intimate link of oral-folk transmission with larger mass-mediated religious movements of the twentieth century," such as Oral Robert's "Healing Waters" revival radio programs beginning in the late 1940s (7). Blanton relies heavily on theories regarding hearing and sound and on material culture methods regarding the use of radio technology, healing objects, and the physical bones of knees during prayers and knuckles knocking on altars. He links the presence of the Holy Ghost with these material objects and faith practices to showcase what American cultural scholar Leigh Eric Schmidt (2002) calls the...