Haynes, “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way”

Naomi Haynes, 2016. “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way: language and personhood on the Zambian Copperbelt,” Religion, early online publication: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1225906

Abstract: This article examines the role of prayer in the production of the Pentecostal person on the Zambian Copperbelt. While Pentecostal prayer is partly focused on private concerns, and therefore reinforces a classic Protestant notion of bounded, individualised personhood, success in this practice depends on a believer’s ability to incorporate the language of the Pentecostal community. Prayer is also therefore dependent on a model of personhood in which permeability has an important part to play. One of the implications of this latter element of Pentecostal prayer is that it turns individual believers into iconic representations of their communities.

Webster, “Praying for Salvation”

Webster, Joseph.  2016.  Praying for salvation: a map of relatedness.  Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: This article attempts to push Mauss’ work on the sociality of prayer (1909) to its fullest conclusion by arguing that prayer can be viewed anthropologically as providing a map for social and emotional relatedness. Based on fieldwork among deep-sea fisher families living in Gamrie, North-East Scotland (home to 700 people and six Protestant churches), the author takes as his primary ethnographic departure the ritual of the ‘mid-week prayer meeting’. Among the self-proclaimed ‘fundamentalists’ of Gamrie’s Brethren and Presbyterian churches, attending the prayer meeting means praying for salvation. Yet, contrary to the stereotype of Protestant soteriology as highly individualist, in the context of Gamrie, salvation is not principally focused upon the self, but is instead sought on behalf of the ‘unconverted’ other. Locally, this ‘other’ is made sense of with reference to three different categories of relatedness: the family, the village and the nation. The author’s argument is that each category of relatedness carries with it a different affective quality: anguish for one’s family, resentment toward one’s village, and resignation towards one’s nation. As such, prayers for salvation establish and maintain not only vertical – human-divine – relatedness, but also horizontal relatedness between persons, while also giving them their emotional tenor. In ‘fundamentalist’ Gamrie, these human relationships, and crucially their affective asymmetries, may be mapped, therefore, by treating prayers as social phenomena that seek to engage with a world dichotomised into vice and virtue, rebellion and submission, and, ultimately, damnation and salvation.

Bandak, “Repeated Prayers”

Bandak, Andreas.  2016. Repeated prayers: saying the rosary in contemporary Syria.  Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Mauss’ seminal doctoral thesis, On Prayer [1909], captured the social character of prayer, but he sidelined the rosary as a merely mechanical prayer of repetition. This article also finds repetition at play in the rosary, as it is performed in the shrine of Our Lady of Soufanieh, Damascus, in pre-2011 Syria. However, it argues that repetition need not be conceptualised as dulling and inhibiting for the devotee. Rather, repetition can be seen like a heartbeat: something alive and pulsating. The repetition of the prayers among the followers is seen as unforced, a voluntary response to a grace already bestowed upon them by the Virgin Mary and Christ. Prayers are a response to this grace and, in this sense, repetition is to be understood as re-petition. This re-petition is seen as modelling the individual in the image of the Virgin Mary and, by this, exemplifying the saintly character of the devout.

Schermerhorn, “Walkers and their Staffs”

Seth Schermerhorn, 2016. “Walkers and their Staffs: O’odham Walking Sticks by Way of Calendar Sticks and Scraping Sticks,” Material Religion 12, 476-500.

Abstract: As archaeologist J. Andrew Darling and Akimel O’odham traditional singer and cultural preservation officer Barnaby V. Lewis have previously shown, scraping sticks encode geographical knowledge, while calendar sticks encode historical knowledge. Like these other sticks, the staffs of O’odham “walkers,” or pilgrims, to Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico, similarly contain both geographical and historical knowledge, evoking memories of past journeys in the present and the presence of Magdalena. Moreover, these staffs are spoken of and treated as people, or at least as an extension of O’odham walkers. For O’odham walkers with their staffs, or walking sticks, Magdalena, Saint Francis, and all of the blessings associated with them are never too far away. And the memories of these journeys that they have taken with their sticks and the stories that they together tell, inextricably link walkers and their sticks, sticks and stories, people and places, as well as the past and the present. Thus, Magdalena is palpably present in the everyday lives of the walkers who cannot help but be transported by their sticks to stories—whether told or untold—and memories made along the road to Magdalena as well as dreams of future journeys.

Blythe, “Emma’s Willow: Historical Anxiety, Mormon Pilgrimage and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa”

Christopher James Blythe, 2016. Emma’s Willow: Historical Anxiety, Mormon Pilgrimage and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa, Material Religion 12: 405-432.

Abstract: Religious institutions establish collective identities through the production of a usable past, and thereby provide adherents with a sense of heritage. This article examines how this process functions in a Mormon pilgrimage site, Nauvoo, Illinois, where not one but two competing institutions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and Community of Christ, have established alternative narratives of identity. I focus on the thousands of (almost exclusively) LDS pilgrims who visit the town each summer. I argue that the presence of multiple interpretations raises significant anxieties for many of these pilgrims. In an attempt to mediate these anxieties a vernacular religious site, a willow tree, is employed to point pilgrims to a Saint figure, Emma Smith, Joseph Smith Jr.’s widow, in order to fortify an alternative narrative existing outside of either official representation of Nauvoo’s past.

Praying and Preying: Book Review

Vilaça, Aparecida. 2016.  Praying and Preying: Christianity in Indigenous Amazonia, translated by David Rodgers. Oakland: University of California Press.

Reviewed by G.E.R. Lloyd (Needham Research Institute, Cambridge UK)

This is a truly remarkable book.  In most anthropological monographs the reader is given a detailed analysis of one particular collectivity, the circumstances of their lives, their kinship relations, social structures, myths, rituals, ways of making sense of the world and of their place in it.  That is certainly what Vilaça here does for the society she has been studying for more than 30 years, the Wari’ who live in what is today the Rondônia province of Brazil.  But a principal theme of this book is the interactions between the Wari’ and the missionaries (Protestants and some Catholics) who have lived among them and attempted, with varying success, to convert them to Christianity.  The Evangelical New Tribes Mission in particular, whose activities date back to the 1940s, may be said to be the subject of a second interlocking ethnographic analysis.  This adds a new dimension to the study of mutual intelligibility with which Vilaça is centrally concerned.  First there is the missionaries’ understanding of the Wari’ (they are not particularly concerned to learn from them or even about them but they certainly wish to get their own message across).  Second there is the Wari’s understanding of the missionaries and of what the missionaries are trying to teach them.  Third there is Vilaça’s own understanding of those divergent understandings and her further entering into dialogue with her fellow anthropologists.  I shall come back to that.

The problem of translation thus takes centre stage, and that takes multiple forms.  This is not just a matter of finding particular terms in one language that will be adequate to convey what is meant by some word in another. This to be sure was a major preoccupation for the missionaries, for what they were hoping to achieve was a rendition of the Word of God, as contained in the Bible, itself interpreted literally.  But for the Wari’ translation was quite different.  Their starting point is that Wari’ is the language spoken by everyone, every living being (and not just humans).  But the same term, used by different agents, may and often does have quite different referents.  The plot thickens when the agents are non-human persons.  When the jaguar drinks the blood of its victims, what the Wari’ see as blood is, for the jaguar, beer.  Of course translating from jaguar perceptions to those of the Wari’ takes special skills, the province of expertise of shamans in particular (though with Christianisation their power has been on the decline).  But the Wari’ in general are used to calling upon what may be thought of as internal dictionaries facilitating translation between jaguars (for example) and the Wari’, and of course also between the missionaries and themselves.  The consequence for reference is radical.  We are used to recognising that for someone to be a ‘father’ implies a relationship with another person, a son or daughter, who makes the father what he is.  But that principle is applied quite generally.  So that ‘blood’ is (only) blood to some agent for whom it is blood.  Indeed, a ‘person’ is only a person in virtue of being seen as a person.

That of course was the central message of the perspectivism proposed by Viveiros de Castro, which the Wari’ instantiate particularly clearly.  But where does that leave Vilaça herself?  On the one hand, she evidently distances herself from the assumptions of the missionaries, that the Word of God sets out a definitive statement of how things are.  On the other, she resists the relativising conclusion that the different understandings of translation, and of terms across languages, effectively rule out any possibility of mutual intelligibility.  That is not a conclusion the Wari’ themselves draw.  On the contrary their perspectivism suggests a particular focus on the efforts needed, and the difficulties likely to be encountered, in the task of translation.

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Perrin, “The Bible Reading of Young Evangelicals”

Perrin, Ruth H. 2016. The Bible Reading of Young Evangelicals: An Exploration of the Ordinary Hermeneutics and Faith of Generation Y. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Publisher’s Description:  Young evangelicals in Britain often find themselves at odds with an increasingly secular society, and yet the tradition persists and in some places flourishes. Sociological studies into the faith of this demographic group are rare, yet there is much to be explored as to how their faith functions and how it compares to other groups globally. Similarly, given the privilege evangelicals afford the biblical text, how young believers engage with the ancient Scriptures they understand to be “the word of God” is particularly significant. This work addresses that core question. How do young evangelicals make sense of the Bible today? Based on qualitative data gathered from three diverse evangelical churches it compares the reading priorities, ordinary hermeneutics, and theological concerns of young adults. Presenting age-related focus groups with challenging biblical narratives, the study compares strategies for negotiating the texts based on age, gender, and churchmanship. It provides a unique insight into the realities of Bible reading and the faith of “Generation Y” and gives food for thought not only to those with scholarly interests, but also those with a pastoral concern to shape and sustain the Christian faith of young adults in Britain and beyond.

de Witte, “Encountering Religion through Accra’s Urban Soundscape”

Marleen de Witte, “Encountering Religion through Accra’s Urban Soundscape” in Jonathan Darling and Helen Wilson (eds.), 2016, Encountering the City: Urban Encounters from Accra to New York. London and New York: Routledge. Pp. 133-150.

Excerpt: Encountering the bustling West-African city of Accra is an intense sonic experience. The metropolis is alive with sounds. Everywhere music is in the air, pulsating from portable radios, car speakers, and open-air drinking spots. Taxis honk their way through traffic jams; street hawkers market their wares; markets and transport hubs are cacophonies of voices: talking, calling, shouting, hissing, bargaining, quarrelling, laughing, singing, preaching. Amidst the fullness of sounds in the city, religious sounds claim a prominent place, day and night. Roaming evangelists on street corners, markets and in buses try to persuade their audiences of the word of God with raucous voices or loudspeakers at full volume. Charismatic radio preachers and Ghanaian gospel hits enter urban space on the airwaves, while singing and praying voices of devout Christians escape private rooms and church buildings through open louver windows…This chapter explores how religious diversity is encountered and negotiated through the urban soundscape.

Doucet-Battle, “Sweet Salvation”

James Doucet-Battle, “Sweet Salvation: One Black Church, Diabetes Outreach, and Trust,” Transforming Anthropology, 24: 2 October 2016: 125–135

Abstract: Memories of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study persist in the minds of many in the African American community and informs both individual and group responses when exposed to the clinical gaze. However, the contemporary political value of diversity drives new forms of inclusion in both medical research projects and public health programs linking race, risk, and disease. This article is based in part on community-based participant observation and clinical fieldwork in Rochester, New York from 2008 to 2013. I provide an ethnographic narrative of one church’s Type 2 diabetes outreach efforts amid the diversity of the African American racial category in which the postcolonial subject is as embedded as the post-Jim Crow citizen. I examine the gendered problematics involved in establishing trust toward achieving robust outreach and recruitment goals within church spaces. This article aims to contribute to the literature on community health practices, the anthropology of trust, the sociology of knowledge, religion, and the study of race as a social category.

Mkallyah, “Indigenous Tanzanian Music in Christian Worship”

Mkallyah, Kassomo. 2016. Affects and Effects of Indigenous Tanzanian Music Traditions in Christian Worship in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Ethnomusicology 60(2): 300-328.

Abstract: This paper explores specific musical and cultural attributes that make indigenous Tanzanian music traditions effective in church worship in Dar es Salaam, the foremost metropolis in this East African nation. Based in empirical evidence, it argues that the power of indigenous Tanzanian music traditions, in heightening the religious experience of believers, is inherent in musical attributes – melody, harmony, and rhythms – as well as cultural aesthetics that facilitate the believers’ identification with such local music. Specifically, the article shows how the power of indigenous Tanzanian music to arouse deep and demonstrable emotions among church members is attributable to the characteristics of traditional music and its cultural usage. Indeed, as the article affirms, the strength of these culturally-rich indigenous Tanzanian music traditions can be traced to their African origins and the traditional attributes and aesthetics that make them deeply religious and powerful in generating emotions.