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How the Other Half Worships Hardcover – September 22, 2005
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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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"How the Other Half Worships is a remarkable, one-of-a kind study that bears close and repeated attention. In light of this body of work, Vergara must certainly be considered one of America's most important urban observers and social commentators."
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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.