The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem are often dismissed as a fringe cult for their beliefs that African Americans are descendants of the ancient Israelites and that veganism leads to immortality. But John L. Jackson questions what “fringe” means in a world where cultural practices of every stripe circulate freely on the Internet. In this poignant and sophisticated examination of the limits of ethnography, the reader is invited into the visionary, sometimes vexing world of the AHIJ. Jackson challenges what Clifford Geertz called the “thick description” of anthropological research through a multidisciplinary investigation of how the AHIJ use media and technology to define their public image in the twenty-first century.
Moving far beyond the “modest witness” of nineteenth-century scientific discourse or the “thick descriptions” of twentieth-century anthropology, Jackson insists that Geertzian thickness is an impossibility, especially in a world where the anthropologist’s subject is a self-aware subject—one who crafts his own autoethnography while critically consuming the ethnographer’s offerings. Thin Description takes as its topic a group situated along the fault lines of several diasporas—African, American, Jewish—and provides an anthropological account of how race, religion, and ethnographic representation must be understood anew in the twenty-first century lest we reenact old mistakes in the study of black humanity.
A dazzling, brilliant book, with astonishing things to say about immortality, race, and ethnography.
Thin Description stands in a tradition of powerfully critical research and scholarship that questions the problematics by which race, religion, and disciplinary limits converge and collapse into crises in the context of Western Civilization’s ‘Holy Land’ and the tensions of multiple Zions with regard to Africa and West Asia.
In engaging and novelistic style, John Jackson has written the first definitive history of the fascinating African Hebrew Israelite emigrant community residing in Israel. He’s exposed their dreams and their demons with the appropriate blend of criticism and respect due their journey. This is an empathetic, deeply human, and impeccably researched work of cultural anthropology sure to draw many readers.
- 404 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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