Gibson, “Suffering and Hope”

Gibson, Ian. 2017. Suffering and Hope: Christianity and Ethics among the Newars of Bhaktapur. Ekta Books.

Publisher’s Description: As soon as Ian Gibson began meeting Christians in the Nepali city of Bhaktapur, he noticed the importance of a particular type of story in their lives. When he asked someone “How did you become a Christian?” they would usually give a long and fluent answer, a narrative that had been told with minor or major variations many times before. This book grows out of these conversion narratives: it is a study of Christians in Bhaktapur, and of the Christian church in Nepal. It seeks to explain why Nepali Christianity is growing so rapidly, and to depict the lives of individual Christians.

Gibson, “Pentecostal Peacefulness”

Gibson, Ian. 2017. Pentecostal Peacefulness: virtue ethics and the reception of theology in Nepal. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12700

Abstract: The anthropology of Christianity has struggled to theorize the place of theology in Christian social life. Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre’s account of virtue ethics, in particular his concepts of practice, narrative, and moral tradition, I explore the reception of Pentecostal theology in the Nepali city of Bhaktapur. I show how local Christians have drawn on Pentecostal eschatology to develop a pacifistic ethics, allowing them to negotiate local social and religious conflicts. The belief that Christ has decisively defeated evil spirits allows local Christians to detach themselves from cycles of aggression connected with witchcraft accusations, providing a space of security in which to cultivate distinctive practices of care. Connecting this local theology with a wider tradition in Pentecostal moral thought, I argue that MacIntyre’s virtue ethics provides a powerful tool for interpreting the relationship between local circumstance and extra-local theology, and for studying cross-cultural patterns of theological reception.


L’anthropologie du christianisme a rencontré quelque difficulté à théoriser la place de la théologie dans la vie sociale chrétienne. À partir de l’histoire des vertus retracée par Alasdair MacIntyre, et en particulier de ses concepts de pratique, de narration et de tradition morale, l’auteur explore la réception de la théologie pentecôtiste dans la ville népalaise de Bhaktapur. Il montre comment les chrétiens locaux ont exploité l’eschatologie pentecôtiste pour développer une éthique pacifiste, qui leur permet de négocier les conflits sociaux et religieux locaux. La croyance que le Christ a remporté une victoire décisive sur les mauvais esprits permet aux chrétiens locaux de se détacher des cycles d’agression liés aux accusations de sorcellerie et de se créer un espace de sécurité dans lequel ils peuvent cultiver des pratiques distinctes d’attention envers les autres. En reliant cette théologie locale à une plus large tradition de la pensée morale pentecôtiste, l’auteur avance que l’éthique des vertus de MacIntyre offre un outil puissant pour interpréter la relation entre circonstances locales et théologie venue de l’extérieur, ainsi que pour étudier différents schémas culturels de réception théologique.

Bielo, “Biblical Gardens and the Sensuality of Religious Pedagogy”

Bielo, James. 2017. Biblical Gardens and the Sensuality of Religious Pedagogy. Material ReligionDOI: 10.1080/17432200.2017.1345099

Abstract: This article explores how the phenomenon of biblical gardens joins three bodies of scholarship: the social life of scriptures, the study of religion’s media turn, and religious pedagogy. As a kind of religious attraction, the biblical garden is both devotional and pedagogical, with historic roots in nineteenth-century projects to connect botanical science with biblical literacy. I argue that the pedagogy of biblical gardens is anchored by an ideology of sensual indexicality and a strategy of metonymic immersion, which is differentiated from themed immersion. Analyses are drawn from observational and textual data, as well as comparative data from other forms of Holy Land replication, primarily in the USA. Ultimately, I argue that biblical gardens resist a modern ideology that elevates visual experience atop a sensory hierarchy.

Oosterbaan, “Transposing Brazilian Carnival”

Oosterbaan, Martijn. 2017. Transposing Brazilian Carnival: Religion, Cultural Heritage, and Secularism in Rio de Janeiro. American Ethnologist Online First, DOI: 10.1111/aman.12930

Abstract: This article discusses the rise of evangelical carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro in relation to spectacular carnival parades that feature Afro-Brazilian religious elements. The article exposes divergent intersections of religion and cultural heritage in Brazilian carnival. The first intersection aims to affirm the intrinsic connection between samba enredo carnival music and Afro-Brazilian religion by means of cultural heritage narratives, and the second type employs similar narratives to undo this connection, attempting to make samba enredo accessible to evangelical religious performance. The article demonstrates the important role secularism plays in upholding distinctions between “culture” and “religion,” and shows how evangelical carnival groups engage with such historical formations by means of estratégia (strategy)—evangelical performances in cultural styles that are commonly perceived as “worldly.” This estratégia depends on and proposes a particular set of semiotic ideologies that allows for the separation of cultural form and spiritual content. Efforts to open up “national” cultural styles to different religious groups in light of multicultural politics are laudable, but advocates of such politics should keep in mind that cultural heritage regimes concerning samba push in the opposite direction and support a different set of semiotic ideologies.

Zanfagna, “Holy Hip Hop”

Zanfagna, Christina. 2017. Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Publisher’s Description: In the 1990s, Los Angeles was home to numerous radical social and environmental eruptions. In the face of several major earthquakes and floods, riots and economic insecurity, police brutality and mass incarceration, some young black Angelenos turned to holy hip hop—a movement merging Christianity and hip hop culture—to “save” themselves and the city. Converting street corners to open-air churches and gangsta rap beats into anthems of praise, holy hip hoppers used gospel rap to navigate complicated social and spiritual realities and to transform the Southland’s fractured terrains into musical Zions. Armed with beats, rhymes, and bibles, they journeyed through black Lutheran congregations, prison ministries, African churches, reggae dancehalls, hip hop clubs, Nation of Islam meetings, and Black Lives Matter marches. Zanfagna’s fascinating ethnography provides a contemporary and unique view of black LA, offering a much-needed perspective on how music and religion intertwine in people’s everyday experiences.

A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program for monographs.

Tomlinson, “Try the Spirits.”

Tomlinson, Matt. 2017. “Try the Spirits: power encounters and anti-wonder in Christian missions,” Journal of Religious and Political Practices 3(3): 168-182.

Abstract: Missionaries who attempted to convert Pacific Islanders to Protestant Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often engaged in public contests meant to demonstrate the power of Jehovah and the weakness of indigenous gods. These ‘power encounters’, as they came to be called, depended on a relationship between wonder and anti-wonder: missionaries were fully invested in the concept of wonder as radical alterity, as the success of their efforts depended on local populations’ willingness and capacity to open up to the previously unimaginable; but to make new encounters with wonder possible, missionaries had to challenge local expectations of spiritual efficacy, denying local sites’ original potential to evoke wonder. In this article, I begin by examining several cases of power encounters in Oceania, including Fiji, Tonga, and Solomon Islands. I then turn specifically to trees as spiritual sites that were prominent in old Fiji – and therefore the target of ax-wielding missionaries – but remain today as sites of a perceived fundamental, indigenous, land-based spiritual efficacy.

Bond and Timmer, “Wondrous Geographies and Historicity”

Bond, Nathan and Jaap Timmer. 2017. Wondrous Geographies and Historicity for State-Building on Malaita, Solomon Islands. Journal of Religious and Political Change 3(3): 136-151.

Abstract: Contemporary anthropological debates over the political implications of the global explosion of Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity frequently center on a ‘break with the past’ and reliance on the working of divine power. In this article, we intervene in this debate by exploring people’s wonder about new global geography and historicity and the ways in which this wonder is opening up a space for local state building by an Evangelical/Pentecostal movement on the island of Malaita, Solomon Islands. We present and discuss the origins of a particular theocratic impulse of this movement to show how the movement’s theology evokes and supports the institution of a form of governance. This challenges the widespread observation that Evangelical/Pentecostal believers are politically quiet.


Harkness, “Glossolalia and Cacophony”

Harkness, Nicholas. 2017. Glossolalia and Cacophony in South Korea: Cultural semiosis at the limits of language. American Ethnologist 44(3): 476-489.

Abstract:In Christian traditions of “speaking in tongues,” glossolalia refers to an explicitly linguistic form of involvement with the deity, one carried out through denotationally unintelligible behavior. Its religious legitimacy depends on its being speech and not merely speech-like. South Korean Christians practice glossolalia widely across denominations, commonly in cacophonous settings of group prayer. Combined, glossolalia and cacophony impose limits on “normal” linguistic functions while reinforcing ideological commitments to language itself. Glossolalia should be conceptualized as cultural semiosis that is said to contain, and can therefore be justified by, an ideological core of language, but that is in fact produced at the ideological limits of language. This dynamic shapes how practitioners discern the nature of communication with their deity and with one another.

Robbins, “Keeping God’s Distance”

Robbins, Joel. 2017. Keeping God’s Distance: Sacrifice, possession, and the problem of religious mediation. American Ethnologist 44(3): 464-475.

Abstract: Much contemporary work in the anthropology of religion explores how human experience of the divine is mediated. One question rarely asked, however, is why people distance the divine from themselves in the first place, such that complex practices of mediation are necessary to make it present. An answer to this question is provided by Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss in their book Sacrifice, which I read as a key precursor to current work on religious mediation. Hubert and Mauss focus on how religious mediations model and shape social mediations. I demonstrate the usefulness of an approach to mediation that draws on their work by examining a shift from sacrifice to possession as forms of mediation among Pentecostal converts in Papua New Guinea. I also show that this approach can help us further develop broader anthropological theories of mediation and social life.

Ikeuchi, “From ethnic religion to generative selves”

Ikeuchi, Suma. 2017. “From ethnic religion to generative selves: Pentecostalism among Nikkei Brazilian migrants in Japan,” Contemporary Japan, 1-16. Early online publication. DOI: 10.1080/18692729.2017.1351046

Abstract: Starting in the early 1990s, Brazil-derived Pentecostal denominations have flourished among Nikkei Brazilian migrant communities in Japan. While some researchers have characterized the phenomenon of Pentecostal conversion in this ethnographic context as a formation of ‘ethnic religion,’ the individuals often characterize themselves as primarily Christian. This article takes this apparent disconnect as the point of departure to investigate the relationship between ethnicity and religious identity. The concept of ethnic religion indicates an overlap between ethnic group and religious community, oftentimes prioritizing ethnic categories as the basic units of analysis. My ethnographic findings based on 14 months of fieldwork in Toyota, Japan, however, suggest that the very boundary of ‘ethnic group’ is fluid and unstable, which in turn shows that ethnicity cannot be taken as an analytical given. By tracing the varying narratives of four migrant converts, I detail the ways in which Pentecostalism in fact contributes to the proliferation of identities, both ethnic and non-ethnic. For example, migrant converts speak of Pentecostal ideas, practices, and networks as ‘Brazilian,’ ‘Japanese,’ and/or ‘just Christian,’ depending on the context. In conclusion, I argue that Pentecostal churches in this ethnographic context seem to give rise to generative selves rather than an ethnic religion.