Behind the scenes at a creationist theme park with a mission to convert visitors through entertainment
Opened to the public in July 2016, Ark Encounter is a creationist theme park in Kentucky. The park features an all-timber re-creation of Noah's ark, built full scale to creationist specifications drawn from the text of Genesis, as well as exhibits that imagine the Bible’s account of life before the flood. More than merely religious spectacle, Ark Encounter offers important insights about the relationship between religion and entertainment, religious publicity and creativity, and fundamentalist Christian claims to the public sphere.
James S. Bielo examines these themes, drawing on his unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the Ark Encounter creative team during the initial design of the park. This unique anthropological perspective shows creationists outside church contexts, and reveals their extraordinary effort to materialize a controversial worldview for the general public. Taking readers from inside the park’s planning rooms to other fundamentalist projects and diverse Christian tourist attractions, Bielo illuminates how creationist cultural producers seek to reach both their constituents and the larger culture.
The “making of” this creationist theme park, Bielo argues, allows us to understand how fundamentalist culture is produced, and how entertainment and creative labor are used to legitimize creationism. Through intriguing and surprising observations, Ark Encounter challenges readers to engage with the power of entertainment and to seriously grapple with creationist ambitions for authority. For believers and non-believers alike, this book is an invaluable glimpse into the complicated web of religious entertainment and cultural production.
"Essentially this book is about the three-way relationship of the Ark, the designers, and the visitors. Within this triangle, acceptance of creationism is formed. This is such a valuable book partly because it focuses first on the corner of the triangle too often neglected in discussions of museums and visitor attractions: the designers … he describes four other promised creationist theme parks that will “teach creationists to be proud of creationism, and . . . demand that noncreationist audiences take notice." ~Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"This book will interest researchers of contemporary religious culture, politics of science, and cultural production and circulation. In addition, it provides thought-provoking reading for anyone interested in the social and cultural context of Ark Encounter and biblical attractions like it." ~Sociology of Religion
"The book may have appeal in many fields, including anthropology, religion, and tourism." ~Choice
"Ark Encounter is a wonderful book. Written in a straightforward and lively manner accessible to undergraduates, it is also theoretically rich enough to make it compelling reading for scholars of religion, public culture, museums, and American studies. Because each chapter deals with a discrete aspect of Ark Encounter’s project and engages different bodies of literature, it is ideal for classroom use." ~American Ethnologist
"Through his ethnographic work, Bielo makes a convincing case that the aesthetics, technologies, and professional standards of the modern entertainment industry play a big part in producing material that creationists hope to be seen as legitimate in the public sphere... a pleasure to read." ~Jonathan P. Hill, Review of Religious Research
"A much needed contribution to studies of American fundamentalist Christianity, and to the anthropology of fundamentalism. At the same time, [the book] gives a good insight into the place of Christianity in our contemporary Western society, its relation to popular culture and commerce, and the power of 'religious entertainment.'" ~Reading Religion
"Ark Encounter is a useful contribution to the literature in anthropology, religious studies, and material religion, and situates itself within a deep literature in Fundamentalist studies. Bielo’s clear and concise writing style and structure, combined with his thoughtful analysis and discussion, produced a strong text that would be useful for scholars studying the anthropology of religion and is particularly useful for students because of his radical transparency in his research processes." ~Material Religions
"Here, as in his study of Bible study culture in Words Upon the Word, Bielo demonstrates a remarkable ability to invite his readers into a communitys processes of religious negotiation and navigation. In his hands, we discover the Ark Encounter as a story of many fascinating encounters between fundamentalism, creationism, biblical consumerism, and religious entertainment." ~Timothy Beal ,Case Western Reserve University and author of The Book of Revelation: A Biography
"Ark Encounter represents a further development of Bielo’s work of exploring the social life of scriptures, that is—how scriptures are made to perform actively in the world. Bielo has been on the forefront of this exciting development within the larger field of the anthropology of Christianity. In this latest addition to the field, Ark Encounter expands the social life of scripture to include materialization." ~American Studies
"This thorough study of a creationist theme park explores the ramifications of intertwining religion and entertainment and provides an analysis that has fascinating implications for understanding not only conservative Christianity but also the entertainment-saturated society around it. This compelling and readable ethnography shows that creationism must stake its bid for cultural authority in terms of the largely unquestioned values and techniques of our culture of entertainment." ~Peter Stromberg,University of Tulsa