The Labor of Faith

Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: Published: May 2017

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Religious Studies

In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., which is based in Harlem and one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal denominations in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church's women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Casselberry shows how the women negotiate this contradiction by using their work to produce and claim a spiritual authority that provides them with a particular form of power. She also emphasizes how their work in the church is as significant, labor intensive, and critical to their personhood, family, and community as their careers, home and family work, and community service are. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women's spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.


"Casselberry has written an excellent study of the work of African American women in the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc. in Harlem. . . . By focusing on developing a holy, black, female personhood, the author shows how 21st-century women’s spiritual power operates in Pentecostal churches that are male led but female dominated. Recommended." — L. H. Mamiya, Choice

"An excellent source for educators and students looking to deepen their understanding of black women’s religious power and expression." — WATER

"[Casselberry] points the way forward with a compelling argument that by centering on these women in a small, urban parish in a less well-known segment of Pentecostalism—Apostolic Pentecostalism, she is able to offer an innovative interpretation of these women’s lives. Her labor has produced an important intervention in a neglected area of scholarship for women’s studies, black and diaspora studies, religious studies, and anthropology." — Marlon Millner, Pneuma

"Casselberry’s work is sure to shift the field of Black Pentecostalism studies, as she encourages the field to take seriously the spiritual labor of 20th and 21st century holiness women." — Ahmad Greene-Hayes, Reading Religion

"The Labor of Faith sheds light on the paradoxical construction of gender that is characteristic for the broader Pentecostal movement. . . . I am confident that reading Judith Casselberry’s book will inspire researchers engaged in empirical research on gender across religious and secular contexts, in particular those researchers that wish to move beyond the religious secular binary will find inspiration in her conceptualization of women’s labor." — Brenda Bartelink, Religion and Gender

"The Labor of Faith is a beautiful ethnography of women’s religious labor in the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc. . . .  Through luminously evocative and accessible prose, Casselberry conveys the deeply felt significance that women in COOLJC attach to their work in its manifold forms and contexts. In so doing, she makes a key contribution to the literature on Pentecostalism that sheds new light on aspects of US labor history as well." — Frederick Klaits, Anthropological Quarterly

"This sympathetic and insightful ethnography is a tribute to her empathic and careful observation of a Black Church from a very different tradition. . . . The Labor of Faith is an important addition to the growing literature that corrects easy condemnation of Pentecostal ‘patriarchy.'" — Bernice Martin, Journal of Contemporary Religion

"Rich descriptions, which nearly take the reader to the scene of the events, are one of the book’s key strengths and help the reader understand the multi-sensory and multi-layered labour in Pentecostal church life. . . . The Labor of Faith can claim masterful organization and readability, making for it ideal for use in undergraduate courses and graduate seminars." — Lloyd Barba, PentecoStudies

"The Labor of Faith joins a vivid ethnography to an intriguing provocation around the relationship between labor, religiosity, and gender." — Josh Brahinsky, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Anthropologist and Africana Studies scholar Judith Casselberry’s The Labor of Faith is a rich interdisciplinary and ethnographic study that integrates spiritual, material, social, and structural spheres of twenty-first-century metropolitan New York Black Apostolic women’s work. Casselberry highlights the role of Black women’s religious labor in defining and sustaining personal faith, building churches and faith communities, and navigating intraracial and intergender power relations. An engaging study that expands the field of Pentecostal studies and a must-read." — Emilie M. Townes, author of Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil

"Judith Casselberry's masterful The Labor of Faith is an important contribution to the study of American religion and African American religious culture in particular. Casselberry's attention to the concept of 'labor' helps reshape our well-worn attention to agency in the study of faith-filled women. The beauty of her narrative voice brings alive in striking detail the lives of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ." — Marla F. Frederick, author of Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Judith Casselberry is Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Bowdoin College. A vocalist and guitarist, Casselberry was a member of the award-winning reggae duo Casselberry-DuPreé and currently performs internationally with Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Prologue  ix
Acknowledgments  xv
Introduction  1
1. The Instruments of Faith  17
2. Church Building  45
3. Church Sustaining  79
4. Women's Work  104
5. Harvesting Souls for Christ  125
6. The Beauty of Holiness  152
Conclusion  170
Notes  173
Bibliography  197
Notes  207
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2019 Pneuma Book Award from the Society for Pentecostal Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6903-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6383-5
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