Heaven’s Kitchen: Living Religion at God’s Love We Deliver.

Bender, Courtney. Heaven’s Kitchen: Living Religion at God’s Love We Deliver. University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Courtney Bender describes the myriad ways in which religion found expression through volunteer activities at God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD), a nonreligious, nonprofit organization which cooked and delivered hot meals every day to people suffering with AIDS in New York. Between September 1994 and December 1995 Bender spent time volunteering at GLWD where she helped in the kitchen and ethnographically observed other volunteers in their interaction with each other. Although religious language and religious talk was conspicuous by its absence, Bender asserts that religion itself was far from absent in what the volunteers did. The book focuses on the presence of religion in every day activities most of which occur in non-religious settings. Volunteers at GLWD did not share the same religious background or outlook; nevertheless, a few practiced religion there in the course of their voluntary work without explicitly doing so. Bender’s study shows how religious identities are negotiated and sustained in religiously plural world.
Bender situates her study in the broader context of GLWD’s history; she also describes in significant details the cooking practices at GLWD and the care with which meals were prepared to reflect God’s love – despite GLWD being a nonreligious entity. The author interviewed four of the volunteers who attached spiritual and religious meaning to their work; she notes a pattern in occasions when religious talks occurred and the manner in which these were broached.
Through her observations at GLWD, Bender brings to the fore the manner in which religious practice occur in daily life, and how meaning and symbols interact in speech genres in relation to religion.