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.
Abstract: This article examines two competing historical formations that expatriate missionaries and Papua New Guineans respectively have used to create connections between local ethnic groups and “the ancient Jews” of the Bible. In part through 1970s publications analyzed here, missionaries introduced redemptive and repetitive historicist models that established Melanesian ethnic groups as generically and iconically Jewish. The article then examines the ways in which Guhu-Samane Christians in rural Papua New Guinea take up these missionary narratives in order to produce indexical, genealogical connections to biblical Jews. Ancient Jews have become “figures” of Guhu-Samane history through interpretive discourses in which local people discover the prophetic revelations of their Jewishness that anticipate a future Christianity. Guhu-Samane Christians thus particularize their relationship to Christianity by taking up the history of another group, a Christian historical imagination that runs counter to secular forms of history that orient around issues of autonomous identity.
Excerpt: Confronted with a catalogue of contradictions—the evidence of everyday inconsistencies in human lives—it is easy to take an external position of analysis which makes the incongruity seem all too obvious. Surely anyone can see this is not consistent with that? Perhaps, once dissected and laid out as specimens, the contradictions seem stark. But are they experienced this way when lived out in real time?…. As an anthropologist of religion who has carried out research on Christianity, here I wish to focus on a number of apparent contradictions that play an important role in Christian life (not because I believe they are necessarily unique to Christianity, simply that because of my ethnographic experience I find Christianity a useful lens through which to view this topic). My contention will be that such “contradictions” are not instances of disequilibrium to be rectified, but are often the very heart of the matter and, indeed, may be sustained as contradictions.
Abstract: Previous work on conservative Protestant creationism fails to account for other creationists who are much less morally invested in opposition to evolution, raising the sociological question: What causes issues’ moral salience? Through ethnographic fieldwork in four creationist high schools in the New York City area (two Sunni Muslim and two conservative Protestant), I argue that evolution is more important to the Christian schools because it is dissonant with their key practices and boundaries. The theory of evolution is salient for American Evangelicals because it is dissonant with reading the Bible literally, which is both their key practice and key boundary. For American Muslims, the key practice is prayer, and the key boundary is gender performance, neither of which is dissonant with evolution. These cases provide evidence for a theory of moral salience that is more cultural and micro-level than the typical political and macro-level studies of issues’ political salience.
Abstract: In an attempt to emulate early modern missionaries to Yunnan who engaged in the invention of writing systems for various ethnic groups, contemporary evangelical missionaries in Yunnan have become heavily involved in the realm of linguistics, focused on the preservation of endangered languages. While such activity may potentially be perceived as a challenge to the state-Chinese linguistic hegemony, I argue that the presence of missionary linguists is acceptable to the Chinese authorities as it does not threaten the paramount position of Putonghua but rather serves to integrate minority people into the state system. In addition, based on interviews conducted with a missionary working to produce texts for Kunming’s Buoyi population in their language, I aim to demonstrate how missionary linguists attempt to remold local culture by attempting to reconstruct ethnic identity around a language core. The article is based on fieldwork conducted in Yunnan in 2009–2010 and 2012.
Abstract: Prominent versions of social capital theory presume a positive link between voluntary memberships—including religious memberships—and generalized trust in society. Yet this relationship has not been tested in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with low average levels of generalized trust and high levels of religious membership and participation, where the rise of Charismatic Evangelical churches has recently transformed the religious landscape. Contrary hypotheses based in a theory of oppositional subcultures would suggest that memberships in such churches could dampen generalized trust due to their oppositional discourse vis a vis the wider society. In this paper, I use 2008 Afrobarometer survey data from seven countries in the region to test these contrasting hypotheses, analyzing both the pooled data and the separate country datasets. I find mixed evidence for the link between religious membership and generalized trust, and more consistent evidence that affiliating with a Charismatic Evangelical group is negatively associated with generalized trust. The study supports the conclusion that the link between religious membership and generalized trust is dependent on both the context and the content of the discourse circulating in religious settings.
Abstract: In this article I analyse the narratives of conversion to Evangelical churches in St Petersburg by inquiring how Russians engage with the Evangelical churches and how they construct a meaningful conversion identity. My analysis shows how the social and political changes of post-Soviet Russia are experienced in religious terms and whether they have social implications that are reflected in identity-building as both Russian and Evangelical. Individual identity always reflects time and place, and the social and societal context in which an individual lives. Through this route I also broaden the understanding of Russian societal attitudes towards present-day ‘religious dissidents’. My research is based on 19 thematic interviews and participant observations in church meetings in St Petersburg between 2006 and 2009. Most of the interviewees belonged to communities that could be categorised as neo-Pentecostal. The study revealed that both a personal religious quest, especially during the societal turmoil that existed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the influence of friends or relatives were significant impulses for conversion. The resources sustaining the conversion as an ongoing process are communal, but also involve an individual self-improvement project within the construction of a new Evangelical self.
Beck, Sedefka V. and Sara J. Gundersen. A Gospel of Prosperity? An Analysis of the Relationship Between Religion and Earned Income in Ghana, the Most Religious Country in the World. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Early online publication.
Abstract: This study tests for a relationship between religious affiliation and earned income in Ghana. While microeconomic analyses have studied the relationship between religion and several socioeconomic outcomes in the United States, remarkably few have done so in developing countries, and none has explored the religion-earnings relationship. Using the fifth round of the Ghana Living Standards Survey from 2005 to 2006, we find that, among women, religious denomination correlates with earned income. Specifically, Spiritualists, Pentecostals, and Methodists earn higher income than the Presbyterian base group, while Traditionalists earn less. This article investigates the relationship and posits some of its causes, including the influence of a trend in neo-Pentecostal religious groups that emphasizes wealth accumulation and self-confidence.