Author Archives: James Ault

“Tracking Christianity’s Transformation: An Interview with James Ault” by Theo Anderson, in The Political Eye, Spring 2013

The following interview with me appeared recently in The Political Eye, the magazine of Political Research Associates, an organization dedicated, in its words, to “Challenging the Right, Advancing Social Justice.”

James Ault is a writer and documentary filmmaker based in Northampton, MA. His first
film, Born Again (1987), focused on the life of a fundamentalist Baptist church in Worcester,
MA. He later wrote a book about the same church, Spirit and Flesh (2004), which The
Washington Post called “the best single-volume explanation of why American fundamentalist
Christianity thrives among certain people.”

Ault wanted to explore the social bases of “family-value” politics among grassroots supporters
of the New Right, which was becoming a powerful political force when he began
his research in the early 1980s. He settled on the small, blue-collar “Shawmut River Baptist
Church” (a fictitious name Ault uses to protect the privacy of the subjects), whose pastor was
vice president of the Massachusetts chapter of Jerry Falwell’s political organization, the Moral
Majority. “As soon as I walked through its doors,” Ault said about his first visit to Shawmut
River, “I felt you could see the social world in which New Right enthusiasms made sense to its supporters. Families are gathered. You get to know things about their personal life. There’s no separation between private and public. It’s all there.”

Ault’s latest project is a two-part film series, African Christianity Rising, which focuses on Ghana and Zimbabwe. It documents Christianity’s “explosive growth” on the continent, showing the ways that it’s expanding and being adapted within African cultures. Information on Ault’s projects is available at www.jamesault.com.

Read the article here.

 

“African Christianity Rising” materials for short classes & study groups in churches, etc.

It occurred to me, as the producer/director, that for shorter classes or discussion groups there are certain materials that might be especially useful for those wishing to better understand the sources and directions of Christian growth in Africa in our age. They are included as Educational Extras in the films’ Complete Educational Edition.

For example, in United Methodist, or other mainline, congregations, one can use our original portrait of United Methodists in Zimbabwe running just 23 minutes. After a brief discussion of what viewers think might happen to these characters and their church over time, including now in the wake of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse and political crises, the class can then view our follow-up filming with these same characters ten years later. It runs under 8 minutes, which means, for an hour-long class there would still be a half hour left for discussion. (One Methodist pastor, who had lived in Africa, wrote the following about using that 23-minute segment with her local congregation: “It was as if the disjointed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle suddenly coalesced into a coherent picture. the video helped us to understand Africa and its people as we never had before.”)

One can do this also with our portrait of a Pentecostal church in Zimbabwe, Victory Tabernacle (20:48). From our Ghana work, we also have shorter portraits of Presbyterian, Catholic and Pentecostal/charismatic congregations, though our follow-ups with them appear only in the full-length film, Stories from Ghana. (But, those short passages in that film can be cued up for viewing on their own.)

There are many other combinations of short pieces in our Educational Extras to view and discuss in classes or study groups running for shorter periods of time.  For further ideas of what those combinations might look like, have a look at the table of contexts of our Educational Extras.

For local churches we will make our Complete Educational Edition including such “extras” available at a more affordable price. If you’re interested, get in touch or check back here for details.  

All the best,  Jim Ault

NB:  We encourage educators to share their own experiences using these documentary film materials here, on this blog, in order to help others make best use of them.