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How the Other Half Worships Hardcover – September 22, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this accessible, lively account of poor, inner-city churches in America, Vergara offers well-placed snippets of his own analysis and then lets his photographs and the church members do the rest of the talking. Vergara, who has been photographing "ghetto" and "storefront" churches in several major U.S. cities for the past 30 years, avoids any overarching academic thesis about the religiosity of the urban poor, in large part because their religious institutions are, more often than not, fascinatingly eclectic, idiosyncratic and not easily traced to one specific Christian tradition. Truths about these churches and their members reveal themselves without Vergara trumpeting them. In chapters that range in focus from architecture to theology, Vergara's photographs document the strange beauty of spiritual oases in tough neighborhoods. Rather than holding forth about their unusual names, such as America Come Back to God Evangelistic Church, he lets clergy explain the origins and import of these names; creative aesthetic practices, such as using contact paper to achieve an effect similar to unaffordable stained glass windows, are similarly commented upon by church leaders. By allowing members of these churches to define themselves, often in widely divergent ways, Vergara makes it impossible to draw tidy conclusions, but leaves readers with much greater awareness of the religious poor. (Nov.)
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About the Author

Camilo Jose Vergara, a 2002 John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow, is the author and coauthor of numerous books including The New American Ghetto, American Ruins, Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery, and Subway Memories. His photography has been exhibited widely and acquired by institutions including the New York Public Library, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, and the Getty Center in Los Angeles. He lives in Manhattan.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press; First Edition edition (September 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813536820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813536828
  • Product Dimensions: 12.2 x 9.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,501,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Marco Antonio Abarca VINE VOICE on October 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Chilean-American sociologist, Camilo Jose Vergara has spent the past 30 years visiting the poorest urban areas of his adopted country. His passion is to go back year after year and photograph the same buildings. At first glance, his photographs are unremarkable. However, Vergara's eye for detail and beauty come out when looking at entire book of photographs. Through the years, he has shown the decline, death, decomposition and then re-birth of many of the country's poorest neighborhoods. This life cycle is shown with Vergara's special brand of compassion and insite.

Vergara's original intention when preparing this book was to write about the evolving architecture of religious buildings in America's poorest ghettos. But as he spent more time with African Americans and Latinos he became fascinated with the form of Christianity that they had brought with them from the rural South and Latin America. His interest was "aroused by the sheer number and variety of churches, the vitality of their services, and the poignancy of formally dressed church members emerging from decayed buildings and walking through empty lots".

Although written by a trained sociologist, this book was written for the general reading public. In my opinion, Vergara's genius is in making the reader more aware of his or her surroundings. Having finished this book, I now stop and pay more attention to the many storefront churches that dot the streetscape of my city. This book is highly recommended. Purchase it and you will see why Camilo Jose Vergara was a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant.
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful By faithful reader on June 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard about this book on NPR. I love varied religious imagery, and this is certainly an interesting mix. However, you wonder what it is about the author that led him to avoid the Southeast, considered the Bible Belt of our continent. When I think of the prevalence of artists influenced by their faith in Appalachia, and the "praise anywhere" strategies employed by all classes in the Southeast, a piece is missing of what would have been an amazing patchwork of fill-in-the blank-here American faith.
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