Our project to curate a portal that bolsters research and teaching in the anthropology of Christianity continues to thrive. For this post, we offer an update on the resources we maintain and a transition within our team.
First and foremost, we want to thank Dr. Tom Boylston (University of Edinburgh) for his more than three years of work on the project. Tom is stepping down as an AnthroCyBib co-curator; of course, we can look forward to continue reading his tremendous work on Ethiopian Orthodoxy, materiality, and other comparative issues in the study of global Christianity and religion. A million thanks to Tom for his contributions!
Second, we are excited to welcome Dr. Hillary Kaell (Concordia University, Montreal) to the curator team. Hillary maintains a robust research agenda, with ongoing interests in pilgrimage, messianic Judaism, public religion, and the historical and religious dimensions of child sponsorship programs.
Along with our regular bibliographic postings of new publications in the field, explore AnthroCyBib’s other features and contact us if you are interested in contributing:
Abstract:This article examines how religious beliefs and practices influence the reception of international relief and development aid in impoverished communities. Specifically, I explain how Nicaraguan recipients’ prayers both enhance and constrain their ability to assert themselves as “empowered” actors during aid interactions. Data come from observations and interviews over a two-year period with 81 Nicaraguans in communities that receive aid from Christian development organizations. Compared to secular constructions of aid interactions, prayers provide space for Nicaraguans to position themselves as influential actors effecting change for themselves or their families. Through prayers, recipients portray themselves as influencing the actions of more powerful parties, including God and potential donors. They also pray for donors’ well-being, thereby offering spiritual reciprocity for material gifts. However, the same prayers that empower individuals at the interpersonal level constrain their ability to envision transformation of social structures. These findings shape understandings of prayer as aligning actions, of the moral and social dimensions of receiving care from strangers, and of the complex and contradictory ways religious practices influence discourses of empowerment and development.
Abstract: Based on ethnographic research in the Republic of Benin, this article explores how Pentecostal teachings on marriage and the management of sexual pleasure contribute to shaping converts’ moral selves. For Pentecostals, fidelity towards God, when single and fidelity between partners, once married, is presented as the ideal model of partnership to which every “Born-Again” should aspire. In the context where polygamous unions are socially accepted, Pentecostal pastors teach that a satisfactory sexual life restricted to marriage is the means of building successful monogamous unions. However, sexual satisfaction might not always guarantee marital success, especially when people face problems of infertility. The author suggests that the disciplinary regimes that these teachings promote contribute to shaping new modes of intimacy, which are compatible with societal changes but often contradict the extant social norms and ideals of reproduction. Moral dilemmas arising from this tension are the key to understanding how Pentecostal Christianity shapes the moral self. The article addresses how Pentecostals in Benin navigate and negotiate cultural continuities and discontinuities in relation to church authority and family life.
Abstract: Established in 2005, “Life” is a suburban, nondenominational, evangelical church in Charlotte, North Carolina, with an almost entirely white membership, yet the lead pastor is an immigrant from the Middle East. As an ex-Muslim ethnic Pakistani who was born and raised in Kuwait, Pastor Sameer Khalid does not “fit” into southern culture, and he did not convert to Christianity until he was enrolled in college in the United States. Ethnographic data from 14 months of fieldwork reveal how Pastor Sameer uses weekly sermons to negotiate racialized stigmas, emphasize his common religious identity with the congregation, and make his immigrant background a distinctive religious resource for the church. More specifically, while all pastors require legitimation of their charismatic authority, this research focuses on the dynamics of performance through preaching within the Sunday morning services of this congregation, a performance that negotiates this lead pastor’s ethnic and religious identities and accentuates his strategic use of institutionalized evangelical narratives to subvert Islamophobic threats and buttress legitimation of his pastoral identity.
By John Durham Peters and Gavin Feller (University of Iowa)
One of the most exciting things about the anthropology of Christianity is the way it uses the minutiae of practices in out of the way cultures to cast light on ancient and deep philosophical and religious questions. To think about will and personhood, one can turn equally to St. Augustine and to Joel Robbins’ Urapmin. To think about translation and denominational schism, one can turn equally to Martin Luther and to Courtney Handman’s Guhu-Samane Christians. (Like the Urapmin, they live in New Guinea.) The anthropology of Christianity likes to coax theologizing from its armchair and show it at work in the wild, in the field, in vernacular forms.
Birgit Meyer’s Sensational Movies is a worthy contribution in this project. Amassing and integrating over two decades of her research, the book shows, as we will see, how richly the film culture of south Ghana treats the theological problem of necessary but productive evil and the theoretical problem of the ontology of the photographic or cinematic image. The producers, actors, and audiences she has worked with over the years may not be trained religious thinkers or media theorists, but their constant meditations about the occult, about the nature of acting, the power of the image, and the willing suspension of disbelief show them to have rich ideas about how media can form entities in this world and the world beyond. The resulting book is a major contribution to the interdisciplinary sweet spot where religion, media, and cultural anthropology converge. Continue reading →
Abstract: This article seeks to move beyond the critical politicizing impulse that has characterized anthropologies of development since the 1990s towards a more open-ended commitment to taking seriously the diverse moral and imaginative topographies of development. It explores how members of four small Bidayuh villages affected by a dam-construction and resettlement scheme in Sarawak draw on both historically inflected tropes of gifting and Christian moral understandings in their engagements with Malaysia’s peculiar brand of state-led development. These enable the affected villagers not to resolve the problems posed by Malaysian developmentalism, but to ambiguate them and actually hold resolution at bay. I conclude by considering the implications of such projects of ambiguation for the contemporary anthropology of development.
Publisher’s description: Upward, Not Sunwise explores an influential and growing neo-Pentecostal movement among Native Americans characterized by evangelical Christian theology, charismatic “spirit-filled” worship, and decentralized Native control. As in other global contexts, neo-Pentecostalism is spread by charismatic evangelists practicing faith healing at tent revivals.In North America, this movement has become especially popular among the Diné (Navajo), where the Oodlání (“Believers”) movement now numbers nearly sixty thousand members. Participants in this movement value their Navajo cultural identity yet maintain a profound religious conviction that the beliefs of their ancestors are tools of the devil.
Kimberly Jenkins Marshall has been researching the Oodlání movement since 2006 and presents the first book-length study of Navajo neo-Pentecostalism. Key to the popularity of this movement is what the author calls “resonant rupture,” or the way the apparent continuity of expressive forms holds appeal for Navajos, while believers simultaneously deny the continuity of these forms at the level of meaning. Although the music, dance, and poetic language at Oodlání tent revivals is identifiably Navajo, Oodlání carefully re-inscribe their country gospel music, dancing in the spirit, use of the Navajo language, and materials of faith healing as transformationally new and different. Marshall explores these and other nuances of Navajo neo-Pentecostal practices by examining how Oodlání perform their faith under the big white tents scattered across the Navajo Nation.
Abstract: Anthropologists have framed ethnographers as participant-observers, strangers, and friends and have written about ethnographic research encounters in terms of the productive spaces between researchers and research collaborators. Informed by my review of research literature on ethnographic relationships, my application of de-colonial, feminist, and postmodern research methodologies, and my experience of being reconstituted as a “[church] sister” by the members of an Afro-West Indian and African American evangelical church association, I argue that characterizations of research encounters by research collaborators hold important implications for ethnographic research and writing.
Abstract: The public role of religious objects is highly contested in Quebec, epitomized by the Charter of Values in 2013. In this heated political atmosphere, rural Catholics continue to create and care for more than 3,000 wayside crosses. They note that these colourful, fifteen-foot devotional objects often remain invisible to passersby, unless a cross “calls” someone to it. Proceeding from this observation, this article unites studies of mate- rial culture with recent work on secularism to argue that the crosses exemplify a form of engagement with secularism that corresponds to what anthropologist Matthew Engelke calls “ambient faith”: religiosity that filters in and out of sensory and conscious space. Extending this idea, I argue that ambient objects exert an authority often missed in stud- ies of public religion, which still focus largely on political discourse and legal codes about marked objects (e.g. the hijab). As ambient objects, wayside crosses are powerful because they ‘act’ on human beings, thereby mediating a dichotomy between “modernity” and traditional Catholicism by laying claim to both at once.
Abstract: J. D. Y. Peel’s Frazer Lecture of 2000, published here posthumously, presented his early thoughts about the three-sided comparison that would culminate his trilogy of works on Yoruba religion. Working through these arguments would occupy another decade and a half until the publication of Christianity, Islam, and Orisa religion: Three traditions in comparison and interaction (2016, University of California Press). As a historian and sociologist, John was by turns stimulated and exasperated by anthropologists. An ethnographic method was essential to comparison he accepted, but anthropologists were poor at temporality in a number of senses: when locating their own researches, the lives of those they met, the sources they used, their own notes; and when delineating what they meant by context, what it meant to their subjects, and where it came from; and most germane here, in recognizing the historical trajectories imparted to religions by their histories, discourses and practices. In short, for all they wrote a deal about it, anthropologists were practically poor when describing the consequences of humans being beings in time. The lecture proposes solutions to these lacks.