“Fire in My Bones: Transcendence and the Holy Spirit in African American Gospel”


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Glenn Hinson
416 pages, $24.95 paper

The soul is the domain not of body or mind, but of spirit, according to the African American take on the gospel. And when the Holy Spirit touches spirit, the soul rejoices in an epiphany of truth and knowledge.

Ethnography has traditionally avoided encounter with the subjective realm of experience not just supernatural experience, but experience in general. But in his new book, Fire in My Bones, anthropologist Glenn Hinson (Gr89) offers a major contribution to our understanding of the nature of religious experience by focusing on a single gospel program.

According to Hinson, who is chair of the curriculum in folklore at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and who received his doctorate in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania, a key feature of African American performance is the layering of voices and the constant shifting of focus. To capture this layering, Hinson demonstrates how all the parts of the gospel program work together to shape a single whole, joining speech and song, performer and audience, testimony, prayer, preaching and singing into a seamless and multifaceted service of worship. Personal stories ground the discussion at every turn, while experiential testimony fuels the unfolding arguments.

Fire in My Bones is an original exploration of experience and belief in a community of African American Christians, as well as an exploration of African American aesthetics. The book also sheds new light on belief, thereby taking the ethnographic enterprise in a new direction.

University of Pennsylvania Press

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Originally published on April 6, 2000