In his new book, Ark Encounter: The Making of a Creationist Theme Park (NYU Press, 2018), James Bielo, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Miami University, goes behind the scenes at Grant County, Kentucky’s creationist theme park, which opened in July 2016. Entertainment has long been understood as important aspect of Christianity in the US, but the theme park, which includes a re-creation of Noah’s ark, provides a striking setting through which to ask questions such as how creationists present their beliefs to the broader public. Ark Encounter is, in part, a workplace ethnography, which describes the entwined conceptual and aesthetic work through which the park’s design team imagine how to most effectively and playfully communicate a controversial religious perspective.
Bielo’s findings are situated in discussion with other groundbreaking anthropological work on how categories such as ‘fundamentalist’ have been constructed over time, perhaps most notably Susan Harding’s scholarship. While the whole book is ethnographically rich and reflexive, an appendix describes in useful detail (for both readers and for those planning or currently engaged in their own research projects) the processes through which Bielo entered – and left – his fieldsite.