Abstract: This article cautions against an ‘earnest turn’ within the anthropology of religion, pointing up the tendency for anthropologists of religion to over-emphasize the role of discipline in the construction of the religious subjecthood over mechanisms of leniency and compromise. Taking the Catholic Church as an example, I show how discipline andlenience have been co-constitutive of Christian subjectivities, as different movements in a gigantic choreography which have spanned and evolved over several centuries. By looking at certain technologies of lenience that have emerged over the course of Catholic history, I trace an alternative genealogy of ‘the Christian self’; one in which institutional growth, power, and survival depended not only upon the formation of disciplined bodies and interior dispositions but also upon a carefully managed division of labour between clergy and laity, as well as upon a battery of legal commutations and practical avoidances aimed at minimizing the effort and pain of the ascetic approach. Taking the concept of ‘lapsedness’ as cue, I ask to what extent the ‘lapsed Catholic’, rather than indexing an ever-increasing tendency towards secularism, might already be contained and accounted for within Catholicism as a living, evolving form.
Abstract: In the wake of welfare reform, there has been growing scholarly attention to ‘religious neoliberalism’ and, specifically, to the practices and politics of faith-based organizations in neoliberalized landscapes of social service provision. While much of this scholarship has suggested a seamless ‘fusion’ between conservative evangelicalism and neoliberal ideology, ethnographic research has tended to reveal the far more complicated, and contradictory, reality of evangelical social projects as they play out on the ground. Presenting the first in-depth ethnography of a faith-based job-readiness program, this article examines the contradictory logics operative within the project of what we call ‘evangelizing employability.’ Targeting joblessness, the program urges entrepreneurial independence. Targeting godlessness, the program urges righteous dependence on God. The project of evangelizing employability reveals the extraordinary utility of religion for the enactment of neoliberal priorities and policies of work enforcement and contributes to our understanding of religious neoliberalism and its class-based contradictions.
Abstract: The article addresses a conflicting encounter of two ideologies of kinship, ‘natural’ and ‘religious’, among the newly established Evangelical communities of Nenets in the Polar Ural and Yamal tundra. An ideology of Christian kinship, as an outcome of ‘spiritual re-birth’, was introduced through Nenets religious conversion. The article argues that although the born-again experience often turned against ancestral traditions and Nenets traditional kinship ties, the Nenets kinship system became a platform upon which the conversion mechanism was furthered and determined in the Nenets tundra. The article examines missionary initiatives and Nenets religiosity as kin-based activities, the outcome of which was twofold. On one side, it was the realignment of Nenets traditional kinship networks. On other side, it was the indigenisation of the Christian concept of kinship according to native internal cultural logic. Evangelical communities in the tundra were plunged into the traditional practices of Nenets kinship networks, economic exchanges, and marriage alliances. Through negotiation of traditional Nenets kinship and Christian kinship, converted Nenets developed new imaginaries, new forms of exchanges, and even new forms of mobility.
Abstract: This paper draws upon over three years’ research among Eastern Orthodox (principally Antiochian and Greek) communities in London and Mount Athos, Greece. This research came to engage theology quite heavily as part of the ethnographic facts of the fieldsites. This paper reviews some of the existing ways that theology (as both discipline and practice) relate to ethnographic enquiry, particularly as it has arisen in the dialogue with the Anthropology of Christianity and frames this in light of the historical development of Anthropology and its relationship to theology and Christianity. The paper then advances a methodological argument, in favour of further means of relation, specifically in terms of theology as a cultural artefact. Drawing on local practices of liturgical theology and Eastern Orthodox forms of allegorical interpretation, I argue for the inclusion of theological insight and practice within the social scientific study of religion. Working in an Orthodox setting requires the investigation of liturgical theology and brings to light important aspects of the relationship between temporal and sempiternal domains of action. Particularly as it relates to liturgical theology and the practices of interpretation, ethnographic enquiry into Orthodox theology asks for a reconsideration of social scientific methods of analysis and representation.
Abstract: Evangelical rap may sound like an oxymoron, but it was one of the most important trends in evangelical America as the Christian right rose to new levels of power in the 1990s. The trio DC Talk sold millions of album and dominated the Christian charts from the early 1990s and into the early 2000s. This was more than pure entertainment. Popular culture, and especially popular culture targeted at teens, is an important venue for disseminating values and sustaining religious identities. The artists promoted by the Christian music industry have to reflect the ideas and values that parents and central evangelical institutions wish to teach their children. In the 1990s, racial reconciliation was one of the most important issues to evangelical America and DC Talk were poster boys for a multiracial and multicultural America. Therefore this article takes DC Talk as a starting point to discuss evangelical engagement with race issues in the 1990s. DC Talk wrapped up evangelical individualism and color-blind conservatism in hip-hop garb, trying to reinvent a group with a checkered past when it comes to race relations as the hope of a racially harmonious America.
By: Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)
In an important thesis published in 1998, Birgit Meyer showed how making a ‘complete break with the past’ had become a central concern for Ghanaian Pentecostals. Five years later, Joel Robbins’ (2003) piece on the problem of “continuity thinking” (an anthropological bias toward emphasizing cultural continuity) called for “an anthropology of discontinuity”, that further engaged with a self-conscious anthropology of Christianity (see Bialecki et al 2008:138). Since then, the literature on discontinuity and rupture, which takes seriously Christian ideology and Christian attempts to bring about change, has shaped many debates (Meyer 2004; Engelke 2004; Robbins 2007). It has also impacted on how, when I came back from my doctoral fieldwork in 2004, I related to my ethnographic material. While I purposefully moved at the time beyond the public rhetoric of rupture to, instead, reflect on how different groups of Ghanaian Pentecostal believers selectively drew from and struggled with the discourse of discontinuity (Daswani 2007; see also Engelke 2010), the underlying question of what Ghanaian culture brought to Pentecostalism eventually fell – at least for a while – out of focus (Daswani 2015).
Abstract: Prayers in Christianity are often considered to be a theological or pastoral topic; while social scientific studies generally tend to reduce them, like prayers in other religious contexts, to the status of psychological responses bringing comfort to the practitioner, or a collective construction connected with social and cultural institutions. However, what prayer actually is, and what it means to Christians who practise it remains an open issue for further, more intensive and thorough study. Based on fieldwork in an urban church in China, this article provides some perspectives on contemporary Chinese Christians and their prayer life, attempting to elaborate its possible significance, especially in terms of subject-formation processes within these Christians. Meanwhile, this article argues that, in working towards a better understanding of Christians, it is more efficacious to take ‘Christians’ as those who are, rather than a given or acquired identity, or a status of being, engaged in a process of becoming through a practice, or set of practices, which in this case is prayer,. Moreover, in the case of this Chinese Christian church, the practise of prayer also indicates some reflections on the cultural and religious diversity of contemporary Chinese society.
Abstract: In a majority Catholic country like the Philippines, it can be difficult to appreciate the true impact of Catholicism, beyond the obvious presence of Catholics. For the ‘unchristianised’ indigenous minorities in its peripheral upland regions, the role of the Catholic thought-world in shaping who they are today is masked substantially by their cultural distinctiveness. Missionary-dominated narratives in colonial historiography configure our understanding of the present, structuring our approach to anthropology in these peripheral spaces. This article argues that the diachronic component is necessary to make sense of how Catholicism has not only shaped the diversity of modern Philippine cultures, but also how it has configured cultural and political spaces so completely that, as anthropologists, we at times reproduce this thought-world uncritically through our own ethnographies. A focus on the so-called unchristianised Lumad ethnic minorities of Mindanao argues that it is essential to look beyond Catholics as obvious subjects when undertaking an anthropology of Catholicism.
Abstract: The declining number of religious vocations joining Catholic seminaries in Italy has encouraged some dioceses to hire migrant religious workers to compensate for the lack of clergy available for parish work. Although initially approached as a temporary solution, an unforeseen consequence of this policy has been the emergence of congenial relationships between migrant priests and Italian parishioners, who often describe their bond as deeply spiritual. This article examines the experiences of Sri Lankan priests who work in Italy, highlighting the distinct emphasis that they place on reaching out to the communities that they work with. Through fieldwork conducted in Sri Lanka and Italy, I analyse how South Asian priests use concepts such as devotion and sincerity to explain how their approach to the priesthood makes a ‘solemn’ difference that is celebrated by local parishioners. With an explicit focus on pastoral work, this form of Asian Catholicism emphasises the importance of bodily comportment, ceremonial poise and ritual dignity, capturing the yearnings of Catholic laities avid for devotional celebrations capable of re-connecting them to the spiritually meaningful aspects of their faith. My work draws lines of connection between the historical, theological and pedagogical underpinnings of Sri Lankan Catholicism and the affective responses that South Asian priests elicit in Europe.