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.

McIvor, “Human Rights and Broken Cisterns”

McIvor, Meadhbh. 2018. Human Rights and Broken Cisterns: Counterpublic Christianity and Rights-Based Discourse in Contemporary England. Ethnos (Online First, January)

Abstract: Although human rights are often framed as the result of centuries of Western Christian thought, many English evangelicals are wary of the U.K.’s recent embrace of rights-based law. Yet this wariness does not preclude their use of human rights instruments in the courts. Drawing upon fieldwork with Christian lobbyists and lawyers in London, I argue that evangelical activists instrumentalise rights-based law so as to undermine the universalist claims on which they rest. By constructing themselves as a marginalised counterpublic whose rights are frequently ‘trumped’ by the competing claims of others, they hope to convince their fellow Britons that a society built upon the logic of equal rights cannot hope to deliver the human flourishing it promises. Given the salience of contemporary political conservatism, I call for further ethnographic research into counterpublic movements, and offer my interlocutors’ instrumentalisation of human rights as a critique of the inconsistencies of secular law.

Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda: Book Review

Bruner, Jason. 2017. Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Reviewed by: Emma Wild-Wood (University of Edinburgh)

Since its beginnings in the 1930s the East African Revival has had a lasting influence on the religious culture of the region. It began in Uganda and Rwanda as a lively, internal critique to the orderly and hierarchical Anglican Church of Uganda and spread into Kenya, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi. Revivalists sought to transform all aspects of society in conformity with their strict code of conduct and their expansive vision of Christianity. With this volume Jason Bruner makes a significant contribution to the study of the Revival. He takes the movement beyond the parameters of mission history, and beyond an interest in its leadership figures. He shows that the distinct spiritual culture of revivalists was a response to the late colonial social context. Continue reading

Interview, “The Journal of Global Catholicism”

In 2016 a new open access journal, The Journal of Global Catholicism, was launched in conjunction with the Catholics & Cultures program at College of the Holy Cross. We recently caught up Dr. Marc Loustau, one of the journal editors, to talk about this exciting new forum. 

Participants: Marc Loustau (College of the Holy Cross); James S. Bielo (Miami University)

James: Marc, thanks so much for taking the time to talk about The Journal of Global Catholicism. The inaugural issue was published in late 2016, and consists of six articles on Indian Catholicism. Very exciting for anyone interested in “lived Catholicism” (a category we’ll circle back to), and certainly exciting for the editorial team. Could you start by explaining a bit about the project’s background. How did this project get started?

Marc: The Journal of Global Catholicism (JGC) works in tandem with the Catholics & Cultures initiative at College of the Holy Cross. Both are programs of Holy Cross’ McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture. I am the Editor, working with Mat Schmalz, Associate Professor in Holy Cross’ Department of Religious Studies, who is the JGC’s Founder and Senior Editor. We also work with Tom Landy, Director of the McFarland Center’s Catholics & Cultures program where the JGC has its institutional home. Continue reading

Priest and Barine (eds), “African Christian Leadership”

Priest, Robert and Kirimi Barine.  2017.  African Christian Leadership: Realities, Opportunities, and Impact.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Publisher’s Description: The remarkable expansion of Christianity in Africa amid massive social challenges has created unprecedented opportunities for Christian leadership. Thousands of young congregations now provide local platforms for spiritual and social direction. Schools and Universities provide a wide range of educational opportunities. African Christians also find themselves exercising leadership in a wide variety of business, educational, media, social service, and governmental venues. They have lacked verified research data to develop new opportunities and improve existing support structures for contextually relevant Christian leadership training and development.

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.