Upward, Not Sunwise: Resonant Rupture in Navajo Neo-Pentecostalism

Upward, Not Sunwise: Resonant Rupture in Navajo Neo-Pentecostalism

Upward, Not Sunwise: Resonant Rupture in Navajo Neo-Pentecostalism

Upward, Not Sunwise: Resonant Rupture in Navajo Neo-Pentecostalism


Upward, Not Sunwise explores an influential and growing neo-Pentecostal movement among Native Americans characterized by evangelical Christian theology, charismatic "spirit-filled" worship, and decentralized Native control. As in other global contexts, neo-Pentecostalism is spread by charismatic evangelists practicing faith healing at tent revivals.In North America, this movement has become especially popular among the Dine (Navajo), where the Oodlani ("Believers") movement now numbers nearly sixty thousand members. Participants in this movement value their Navajo cultural identity yet maintain a profound religious conviction that the beliefs of their ancestors are tools of the devil.

Kimberly Jenkins Marshall has been researching the Oodlani movement since 2006 and presents the first book-length study of Navajo neo-Pentecostalism. Key to the popularity of this movement is what the author calls "resonant rupture," or the way the apparent continuity of expressive forms holds appeal for Navajos, while believers simultaneously deny the continuity of these forms at the level of meaning. Although the music, dance, and poetic language at Oodlani tent revivals is identifiably Navajo, Oodlani carefully re-inscribe their country gospel music, dancing in the spirit, use of the Navajo language, and materials of faith healing as transformationally new and different. Marshall explores these and other nuances of Navajo neo-Pentecostal practices by examining how Oodlani perform their faith under the big white tents scattered across the Navajo Nation.


In the gathering dark of the small church kitchen, and while the raucous praise music of the tent revival thumps away outside, Ma Beverly tells me about the night that she was attacked by a skinwalker. “I was sleeping in my living room,” she says, “and I saw a figure come to our screen door. I saw all the makeup that he was wearing … painted all the way down to his toes. I saw what he had put on. and it was going to do away with me.”

Skinwalkers are terrifying apparitions, nefarious Navajo shapechangers who can curse and harm those who cross them. the stories tell about individuals who, through practicing unspeakable deeds on their loved ones and the dead, gain the power to take on animal form and travel at lightning speed across the dark desert. Even hearing stories about skinwalkers can invoke irrational fear, which we both felt. “What did you do?” I ask Ma Beverly breathlessly.

“Well, I got up,” she says. “I kind of yelled out, ‘Hey’ … I couldn’t even speak, you know. I was so shocked.” She pauses. “And then I called my son, Wallace. and then right there he said, ‘Let’s pray!’ He started praying for me … prayed over me with Psalms 91.

“And as he started saying the verse, I felt something just peeling off of me.” She motions pulling something like spider webs off her arms. “And I saw something coming off of me, and it was like a little bug … little bug like a beetle. It ran down from me and then it went down to the ground. I saw it. It had rough skin … like a horned toad. I saw that little bug that this person would have used to attack me. When Wallace prayed it just ran down, and into the ground.”

“Why did he attack you?” I ask.

Because I turned away from … the religion.”

The Traditional Way?


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