Luehrmann, “Praying with the Senses”

Luehrmann, Sonja, ed. 2017. Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Publisher’s Description: How do people experience spirituality through what they see, hear, touch, and smell? Sonja Luehrmann and an international group of scholars assess how sensory experience shapes prayer and ritual practice among Eastern Orthodox Christians. Prayer, even when performed privately, is considered as a shared experience and act that links individuals and personal beliefs with a broader, institutional, or imagined faith community. It engages with material, visual, and aural culture including icons, relics, candles, pilgrimage, bells, and architectural spaces. Whether touching upon the use of icons in the age of digital and electronic media, the impact of Facebook on prayer in Ethiopia, or the implications of praying using recordings, amplifiers, and loudspeakers, these timely essays present a sophisticated overview of the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianities. Taken as a whole they reveal prayer as a dynamic phenomenon in the devotional and ritual lives of Eastern Orthodox believers across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Senses of Prayer in Eastern Orthodox Christianity / Sonja Luehrmann

Part I: Senses
1. Becoming Orthodox: The Mystery and Mastery of a Christian Tradition / Vlad Naumescu
A Missionary Primer / Ioann Veniaminov
2. Listening and the Sacramental Life: Degrees of Mediation in Greek Orthodox Christianity / Jeffers Engelhardt
Creating an Image for Prayer / Sonja Luehrmann
3. Imagining Holy Personhood: Anthropological Thresholds of the Icon / Angie Heo
Syriac as a lingua sacra: Speaking the Language of Christ in India / Vlad Naumescu
4. Authorizing: The Paradoxes of Praying by the Book / Sonja Luehrmann

Part II: Worlds
5. Inhabiting Orthodox Russia: Religious Nomadism and the Puzzle of Belonging / Jeanne Kormina
Baraka: Mixing Muslims, Christians, and Jews / Angie Heo
6. Sharing Space: On the Publicity of Prayer, between an Ethiopian Village and the Rest of the World / Tom Boylston
Prayers for Cars, Weddings, and Well-Being: Orthodox Prayers en route in Syria / Andreas Bandak
7. Struggling Bodies at the Crossroads of Economy and Tradition: The Case of Contemporary Russian Convents / Daria Dubovka
Competing Prayers for Ukraine / Sonja Luehrmann
8. Orthodox Revivals: Prayer, Charisma, and Liturgical Religion / Simion Pop

Epilogue: Not-Orthodoxy/Orthodoxy’s Others / William A. Christian Jr.

Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction.”

Richard Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction” Journal of Southern African Studies, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2018.1416978Excerpt: This Special Issue of JSAS explores the little-recognised, shifting importance of grassroots ecumenism in religious experience and public life. The cases that we present come from across southern Africa, from Rwanda to Angola, to Zambia and Botswana, to South Africa and Swaziland. We match this breadth with arguments that also draw widely, for an emerging area of interest in popular religious change, with contributions from anthropology, social history, theology and religious studies. Among the ecumenical changes we discuss are, perhaps most surprisingly, ones in which counterpublics are anti-establishment, transgressive, even disruptive, as they bring strangers together, with religious motives and moral passion, and oppose dominant publics in the making of public cultures.

Other articles in the special issue are relevant to anthropologists of Christianity. Follow the link above.

Loustau, “The Uncanny Self in Love”

Loustau, Marc Roscoe. 2018. The Uncanny Self in Love: Divorced Catholic Women Remember Abortion in Romania. Journal of Religious Ethics 46(1): 63-87.

Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.

Brennan, “Singing Yoruba Christianity”

Brennan, Vicki. 2017. Singing Yoruba Christianity: Music, Media, and Morality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Publisher’s Description:

Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.

Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt: Book Review

Haynes, Naomi. 2016. Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Reviewed by: Casey Golomski (University of New Hampshire)

The key values Haynes describes in her innovative book about Pentecostals in a Zambian town are “moving” (ukusela in Bemba) and “moving by the spirit.” Moving means to be visibly, recognizably improving one’s lot, and it can be materialized or realized in growing up, having children, gaining weight, getting an education, or advancing professionally. Things move in a positive sense, and stagnate or regress in a negative sense. “Moving by the spirit” is the newer, Pentecostalized version of ukusela, with the religion offering new evaluative metrics and modalities of relating to others in the Copperbelt. Haynes’s use of vernacular concepts to illuminate anthropological theory was one of my favorite things about the book overall. I can easily envision, when teaching this book, writing the different concepts of “moving” and “moving by the spirit” on the board to illustrate Bantu (Bemba) grammatical structures and show students how local values are religiously reframed. Continue reading

Klaits, “Catch the Word”

Klaits, Frederick. 2017. “Catch the Word”: Violated contracts and prophetic confirmation in African American Pentecostalism. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7(3): 237-260.

Abstract: The image of a violated social contract has long held a distinctive place in African American Christian thought about injustice. This essay discusses the efforts made by members of Pentecostal churches in Buffalo, New York, to enter into forms of contract with God that supersede the broken social contracts they see as devaluing their lives. These believers listen to God’s words as expressed in prophetic utterances for “confirmation” of the significance of events. In their view, “catching the word” through faithful listening enables them to create social commitments on their own terms, whereas their creative capacities are liable to be alienated from them if they listen improperly. Applying David Graeber’s revisionist treatment of “fetishism” as a form of social creativity, this essay explores how believers create their blessings within a dialogic space involving themselves, God, the devil, and pastor- prophets with exceptional abilities to listen to and convey the terms of the divine contract.

Crawley, “Blackpentecostal Breath”

Crawley, Ashon T. 2016. Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: In this profoundly innovative book, Ashon T. Crawley engages a wide range of critical paradigms from black studies, queer theory, and sound studies to theology, continental philosophy, and performance studies to theorize the ways in which alternative or “otherwise” modes of existence can serve as disruptions against the marginalization of and violence against minoritarian lifeworlds and possibilities for flourishing.

Examining the whooping, shouting, noise-making, and speaking in tongues of Black Pentecostalism―a multi-racial, multi-class, multi-national Christian sect with one strand of its modern genesis in 1906 Los Angeles―Blackpentecostal Breath reveals how these aesthetic practices allow for the emergence of alternative modes of social organization. As Crawley deftly reveals, these choreographic, sonic, and visual practices and the sensual experiences they create are not only important for imagining what Crawley identifies as “otherwise worlds of possibility,” they also yield a general hermeneutics, a methodology for reading culture in an era when such expressions are increasingly under siege.

On Knowing Humanity: Book Review

Meneses, Eloise and David Bronkema, eds. 2017. On Knowing Humanity: Insights from Theology for Anthropology. London and New York: Routledge.

Reviewed By: Leanne Williams Green (University of California, San Diego)

On Knowing Humanity: Insights from Theology for Anthropology contributes to several current projects and proposals in which the disciplines of anthropology and theology engage one another. Several of these endeavors aim to make each discipline speak to the other in particularly foundational ways (see Lemons et al. forthcoming, or Banner 2013 for an approach from moral theology). These emerging projects are situated where the significant growth in anthropological studies of Christianities has opened up space not only to make Christianity in its diverse and global manifestations a focus of anthropological interest, but also to account for the intellectual heritage of anthropology itself and its association with Christian visions of humans and of the world. In his elegant tracing of the faith commitments of several early anthropologists, Timothy Larsen (2014) has pointed out the ways this kind of engagement has already been evident historically in the work of individual scholars. In the examples he describes, the interaction between theology and the subject matter of these anthropologists is categorical, going beyond merely a faith stance from which each operates as ethnographer and analyst. While other singular efforts like those of John Milbank (1990) sought to take theology as social theory, a larger shared project did not emerge within anthropology. Continue reading

Abraham, “Evangelical Youth Culture”

Abraham, Ibrahim. 2017. Evangelical Youth Culture: Alternative Music and Extreme Sports Subcultures. London: Bloomsbury. 

Publisher’s Description: This book offers a theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich study of the intersections of contemporary Christianity and youth culture, focusing on evangelical engagements with punk, hip hop, surfing, and skateboarding. Ibrahim Abraham draws on interviews and fieldwork with dozens of musicians and sports enthusiasts in the USA, UK, Australia, and South Africa, and the analysis of evangelical subcultural media including music, film, and extreme sports Bibles.

Evangelical Youth Culture: Alternative Music and Extreme Sports Subcultures makes innovative use of multiple theories of youth cultures and subcultures from sociology and cultural studies, and introduces the “serious leisure perspective” to the study of religion, youth, and popular culture. Engaging with the experiences of Pentecostal punks, surfing missionaries, township rappers, and skateboarding youth pastors, this book makes an original contribution to the sociology of religion, youth studies, and the study of religion and popular culture.

Farinacci, “Our Lady of the Wall”

Farinacci, Elisa. 2017. The Israeli-Palestinian Separation Wall and the Assemblage Theory: The Case of the Weekly Rosary at the Icon of Our Lady of the Wall. Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 11(1): 83-110. 

Abstract: In this work I analyse the ethnographic case study of the icon of Our Lady of the Wall as establishing a unique ritual landscape among the cement slabs of the Israeli-Palestinian Wall separating Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Although the Wall has been widely described as a technology of occupation on one side and as a device to ensure security on the other, through Latour’s concept of assemblages I unearth its agency in developing a Christian shrine. Through a decade of weekly recitations of the Rosary along the Wall near Checkpoint 300, the Elizabethan nuns of the Caritas Baby Hospital have been invoking Mary’s help to dismantle the Wall. This weekly ritual represents both political dissent against the bordering action enacted by the Wall, as well as giving visibility to the plea of the Palestinian Christian right to live in this territory in the face of their status as an ethnoreligious minority.