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.
"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.'"
"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
"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 community’s 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
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
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