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Chidester, David 1952-

Chidester, David 1952-

PERSONAL:

Born October 31, 1952.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Religious Studies, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Academic. University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa, professor and head of religious studies department.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Two-time award winner, American Academy of Religion, for excellence in religious studies; Alan J. Pifer Award, 2005, for social research; Award for Excellence in Religious Studies, American Academy of Religion, for Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa.

WRITINGS:

Patterns of Action: Religion and Ethics in a Comparative Perspective, Wadsworth (Belmont, CA), 1987.

Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1988, revised edition, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 2003.

Patterns of Power: Religion and Politics in American Culture, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1988.

Patterns of Transcendence: Religion, Death, and Dying, Wadsworth (Belmont, CA), 1990, 2nd edition, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning (Belmont, CA), 2002.

Shots in the Streets: Violence and Religion in South Africa, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1991.

Religions of South Africa, Routledge (New York, NY), 1992.

Word and Light: Seeing, Hearing, and Religious Discourse, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1992.

(With others) Religion in Public Education: Options for a New South Africa, revised and expanded 2nd edition, UCT Press (Rondebosch, South Africa), 1994.

(Editor, with Edward T. Linenthal) American Sacred Space, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IL), 1995.

Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1996.

(With others) African Traditional Religion in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.

Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.

(With Judy Tobler and Darrel Wratten) Christianity in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.

(Editor, with Janet Stonier and Judy Tobler) Diversity as Ethos: Challenges for Interreligious and Intercultural Education, ICRSA (Rondebosch, South Africa), 1999.

Christianity: A Global History, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 2000.

(With Kader Asmal and Wilmot James) In His Own Words, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with Kader Asmal and Wilmot James) Nelson Mandela: From Freedom to the Future: Tributes and Speeches, Jonathan Ball (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2003.

(Editor, with Kader Asmal and Wilmot James) South Africa's Nobel Laureates: Peace, Literature and Science, Jonathan Ball (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2004.

(Editor, with Abdulkader Tayob and Wolfram Weisse) Religion, Politics, and Identity in a Changing South Africa, Waxmann Munster (New York, NY), 2004.

(Editor, with Phillip Dexter and Wilmot James) What Holds Us Together: Social Cohesion in South Africa, Human Sciences Research Council (Pretoria, South Africa), 2004.

(Editor, with Kader Asmal and Cassius Lubisi) Legacy of Freedom: The ANC's Human Rights Tradition: Africans' Claims in South Africa, the Freedom Charter, the Women's Charter, and Other Human Rights Landmarks of the African National Congress, Jonathan Ball (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2005.

Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS:

David Chidester is an academic. He serves as a professor and head of the religious studies department at the University of Cape Town in Rondebosch, South Africa. Chidester has written a number of books on South Africa, the United States, and religion, two of which have won awards from the American Academy of Religion for excellence in religious studies.

Chidester published Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown in 1988, and later released a revised edition in 2003. The account chronicles the utopian ideals of Jim Jones and his People's Temple; Jones founded a cult-like group that promoted equality and socialism in the jungles of Guyana before nearly 1,000 of them died in a mass suicide-murder. The primary updates to the second edition connect the Jonestown events to a post September-11 landscape. Bill Metcalf, reviewing the book in Utopian Studies, commented that "this book, while offering an insightful analysis of the Jonestown tragedy, will not put an end to speculation about those events, nor will it stop so-called ‘cult busters’ from using the events of Jonestown to argue that all utopian communes are really cults, doomed to exploitation and disaster." Metcalf concluded that "Salvation and Suicide is well worth reading."

Roger G. Robins, writing on H-AmRel (History of American Religion online), commented that "Chidester's monograph is at once poignant, disturbing, and revealing. As previous reviewers have noted, it has the vices as well as the virtues of structuralist analysis and intellectual history: too much weight is given to symbolic constructions in explaining behavior; inadequate attention is given to disjunctions between ideals and actual practices; social, economic, and political dimensions of the story go undeveloped; it gives the impression of a rather static and uniform worldview. But this is largely to criticize Chidester for failing to achieve what he never set out to accomplish, and his method compensates for its weaknesses by delivering a wealth of comparative and interpretive insights." Robins remarked that "because he reconstructs the internal coherence of this movement in a non-normative manner, Chidester has also been admonished for glossing over what was by any reasonable measure a ghastly atrocity." Robins conceded that "those complaints, however, also ring hollow. There is no shortage of books and articles decrying the horror of Jonestown and exposing the fractured mental health of its founder. What was lacking was a careful, sensitive, and theoretically astute reconstruction of the world in which Jonestown made sense. The precondition to any sound use of normative judgment, after all, is an honest appraisal of the values or behavior to be judged. By giving us that reconstruction, Chidester has performed a lasting and laudable service."

In 1991, Chidester published Shots in the Streets: Violence and Religion in South Africa. The book outlines the ways in which South Africa's apartheid system acted like a religion that was supported by a series of myths, symbols, and rituals. It also focuses on the religious aspects of the South African Defense Force's aggressive ideology. A contributor to Publishers Weekly described the book as a "powerful and unsettling study," adding that it "illuminates the dynamics of reaction and rebellion in South Africa."

Chidester edited American Sacred Space in 1995 with Edward T. Linenthal. The book examines how sacred space in the American landscape is contested, including such topics as claims on specific lands by Native Americans, monuments such as Mount Graham and Mount Rushmore, and even private Christian homes. A contributor to Whole Earth described Chidester and Linenthal as "dedicated rational minds." Jon Pahl, writing in the Christian Century, opined: "Perhaps the greatest weakness of this valuable collection is that the authors are, by and large, unsympathetic to theological symbol and devotional practice," adding that "in a single-minded quest to find conflict and power at work in the creation of sacred space, they distort the process." John W. Martin, writing in the Journal of Church and State, labeled the final essay in the book as "the best" of the group. Martin observed that "what these excellent essays reveal collectively is a decline of the mythos of America as ‘blessed and exceptional’ and the rise of new forms of democratic contestation over the meaning of America."

Chidester published two books in 1997: Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography, and Christianity in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography, with Judy Tobler and Darrel Wratten. The latter book collects accounts from scholarly studies on Christianity's history and its diversity in South Africa. The former book looks at the top three minority religions in South Africa—Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism—and puts them into historical perspective as well as providing an annotated bibliography on each religion.

In a Journal of Asian and African Studies review, I. Peter Ukpokodu commented that "Islam, Hinduism,and Judaism in South Africa covers the ground in literature that has for a long time remained fallow." Ukpokodu noted that "though this book does not cover the whole world and does not pretend to do so, it allows us a window into representative minds of global religions as they operate in South Africa. The section on Muslim-Christian relations aspires humbly to this. Together with Christianity in South Africa … one is able to peruse the religious world encapsulated in South Africa." As for Christianity in South Africa, Ukpokodu mentioned that "the book ends with a good index," adding that "the annotations are insightful and engaging, and the historical and political treatment of Christian denominations is as informative as it is provocative." Ukpokodu also related that the book "is a well researched, meticulously annotated, comprehensive work on the many faces of Christianity in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Its historical, sociological and anthropological approaches to the study of literature on South African Christianity give it a wide angle on ‘religious’ studies—a study of religion whose methodology makes it readily accessible to many academic disciplines as well as the lay reader." Ukpokodu concluded that both books "open the door and set the standard for future scholarships on religious plurality in Africa," adding that "in design and execution, the two books weave a rich and colorful tapestry on religious literature outside scriptural exegesis, canon law and homiletics."

In 2000, Chidester published Christianity: A Global History. The book tells the history of the religion and its central figures as a story, rather than a history book, starting with an unknown figure in a distant Roman colony and showing how the message of this figure eventually became what is now called Christianity and which spread across the Roman Empire, and later, the world. Booklist contributor Steven Schroeder mentioned that the book "will be of long-lasting value to students of religion and society in and out of the academy." Sandra Collins, writing in Library Journal, "highly recommended" the book, stating: "Well written and researched, this is smart stuff." A contributor to Publishers Weekly remarked that "specialists will find omissions and oversimplifications, but Chidester has braved their scorn," adding that those "seeking a broad understanding of Christianity's evolution will be grateful." Jeremy Black, writing in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, mentioned that "there is much discussion of Protestant activity, but not of Catholic counterparts" in the book. Nevertheless, Black called the book "clearly-written" as well as "fairly undemanding," adding that "there is much here of interest."

Chidester published Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture in 2005. The study examines how popular culture and religion mix to form certain views and perceptions of the United States, as well as views of other cultures formed by Americans. Chidester also claims that a religious culture, and not religious worship, is what propels this. Diana Trimble, writing in the Catholic Books Review, noted that "the breadth of Chidester's references is charming, but alarming as well: for it's a difficult task to be both comprehensive and have depth. I admire a book that draws connections between the Church of the Sub-Genius, Tupperware Parties, and Fidel Castro, but I also have to wonder how selectively the source material was chosen so as to always support the thesis." Trimble added: "I would also argue that Chidester makes a few missteps in his choice of illustrations." Trimble concluded: "But these quibbles are just that, minor complaints about a work of overall outstanding quality that has the added benefit of being great mental fun." A contributor to the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture described the book as "far from flighty or irrelevant," adding that the author "delivers a captivating series of dispatches from popular culture, each revealing how religion is at work in some unlikely places throughout the world. Both scholars of religion and popular culture and theorists of religion should read this book. At its core, this volume is a penetrating study of religion, its meanings, locations, practices, and importance." The same contributor concluded: "Indeed, Authentic Fakes both provokes interest in religion and popular culture, and provides a vocabulary for talking about it. In doing so, Chidester has made a significant contribution to this fascinating field."

Charles K. Piehl, reviewing the book in the Historian, was more critical, noting that "the book is difficult to read because the author seems addicted to jargon. Unfortunately, Chidester has not met the challenge of presenting a clear discussion of the relationship between religion and popular culture in late twentieth-century America within a historical context." David Morgan, writing in Church History, remarked that "Chidester's book offers several things that will be very useful for current studies of American popular culture and religion." Morgan found that one "virtue of the book is the effective way in which it calls attention to the subtle but powerful ways in which religion takes shape in popular culture." In conclusion, Morgan said that "Chidester's book is a call for integrative thinking. His clear prose, large scope, amusing anecdotes, theoretical sophistication, and broad reading will make this book a hit in the classroom as well as a singular contribution to the scholarly literature on popular religion and the religions of the United States."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

America, November 7, 1992, review of Word and Light: Seeing, Hearing, and Religious Discourse, p. 354.

Booklist, October 15, 2000, Steven Schroeder, review of Christianity: A Global History, p. 392.

Catholic Books Review, 2005, Doana Trimble, review of Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, September, 1992, J.A. Works, review of Shots in the Streets: Violence and Religion in South Africa, p. 188; October, 1992, B.M. du Toit, review of Religions of South Africa, p. 343; April, 1998, review of African Traditional Religion in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography, p. 1346; April, 1998, review of Christianity in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography, p. 1346; April, 1998, review of Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography, p. 1346; October, 2005, S. McCloud, review of Authentic Fakes, p. 307.

Christian Century, June 8, 1988, Stephen Ward Angell, review of Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown, p. 581; January 1, 1992, review of Shots in the Streets, p. 21; March 3, 1993, Patrick Green, review of Word and Light, p. 247; January 22, 1997, Jon Pahl, review of American Sacred Space, p. 84; August 28, 2002, review of Christianity, p. 34.

Christian Science Monitor, December 28, 2000, review of Christianity, p. 17; November 15, 2001, review of Christianity, p. 14.

Church History, December, 2005, David Morgan, review of Authentic Fakes, p. 897.

Historian, winter, 2006, Charles K. Piehl, review of Authentic Fakes, p. 831.

History of Religions, August, 1999, Russel T. McCutcheon, review of Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa, p. 73.

Journal of African History, January, 1994, Irving Hexham, review of Religions of South Africa, p. 162.

Journal of American Culture, December, 2005, Gregory J. Thompson, review of Authentic Fakes, p. 438.

Journal of Asian and African Studies, May, 1999, I. Peter Ukpokodu, review of Christianity in South Africa, p. 243; May, 1999, I. Peter Ukpokodu, review of Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism in South Africa, p. 242.

Journal of Church and State, winter, 1997, Joel W. Martin, review of American Sacred Space.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, January, 2002, Jeremy Black, review of Christianity, p. 110.

Journal of Religion, Volume 78, 1998, Ivan Strenski, review of Savage Systems, p. 314; April, 2006, Jeremy Biles, review of Authentic Fakes, p. 353.

Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, spring, 2007, review of Authentic Fakes.

Journal of Religion in Africa, Volume 29, number 4, 1999, Elizabeth Elbourne, review of Savage Systems, p. 507.

Journal of the American Academy of Religion, fall, 1989, John R. Hall, review of Salvation and Suicide; winter, 1998, Iain Maclean, review of Savage Systems.

Library Journal, February 1, 1992, Maidel Cason, review of Shots in the Streets, p. 114; October 15, 2000, Sandra Collins, review of Christianity, p. 76.

Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, Volume 11, number 2, 1999, Jeffrey C. Ruff, review of Savage Systems, p. 168.

Publishers Weekly, August 2, 1991, review of Salvation and Suicide, p. 70; November 1, 1991, review of Shots in the Streets, p. 66; November 13, 2000, review of Christianity, p. 101.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 1997, review of Savage Systems, p. 11; February, 1998, review of African Traditional Religion in South Africa, p. 8; February, 1998, review of Christianity in South Africa, p. 10; February, 1998, review of Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism in South Africa, p. 8; November, 2001, review of Patterns of Transcendence: Religion, Death, and Dying, p. 12.

Sociological Analysis, summer, 1989, William Sims Bainbridge, review of Salvation and Suicide.

Theology, May 1, 2001, Edward Norman, review of Christianity, p. 225.

Times Literary Supplement, November 17, 2000, Adrian Hastings, review of Christianity, p. 28; November 17, 2000, review of Christianity, p. 28.

Utopian Studies, spring, 2005, Bill Metcalf, review of Salvation and Suicide, p. 335.

Whole Earth, winter, 1997, review of American Sacred Space.

ONLINE

H-AmRel,http://www.h-net.org/~amrel/ (September, 2004), Roger G. Robins, review of Salvation and Suicide.

University of Cape Town, Department of Religious Studies Web site,http://www.uct.ac.za/ (March 17, 2008), author profile.

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