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.

de la Cruz, “To Which Earthly Categories Do Not Apply”

de la Cruz, Deirdre. 2017.”To Which Earthly Categories Do Not Apply: Spirit Photography, Filipino Ghosts, and the Global Occult at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Material Religion, 13(3): 301-328 .

Abstract: In this article I examine an album of spirit photographs published in Barcelona circa 1903. The album comprises two photograph collections, one of photos taken in a studio in Manila, the Philippines, another belonging to Dr. Theodore Hansmann, a German immigrant to the USA who was one of the country’s most ardent advocates and researchers of spirit photography. Apart from their overt share in a genre, it is unclear what connects these two collections and who exactly brought them together. I draw from this ambiguity in order to explore the tension between spiritism as a philosophy and practice that traveled via historically specific colonial routes and were localized to particular political and cultural contexts, and spiritism as a global occult movement founded precisely on the promise of transcending metaphysical and spatial boundaries.


Carroll, “Axis of Incoherence”

Carroll, Timothy. 2017. “Axis of Incoherence: Engagement and failure between two material regimes of Christianity. In The Material Culture of Failure: When Things Do Wrong, edited by David Jeevendrampillai, Aaron Parkhurst, Timothy Carroll, and Julie Shackelford, 157-176. London: Bloomsbury. 

Excerpt: In this chapter, I work with a more processual phenomenon of ‘failure.’ Rather than the material conforming and then not, the materials discussed in this chapter – a parish church building, to be exact – never fully matches the aspirations of the community.

Antohin, “Holy Water”

Antohin, Alexandra. 2017. “Holy Water, healing and the sacredness of knowledge.” In The Material Culture of Failure: When Things Do Wrong, edited by David Jeevendrampillai, Aaron Parkhurst, Timothy Carroll, and Julie Shackelford, 75-94. London: Bloomsbury. 

Excerpt: This chapter traces the processes by which people confront and seek to address failures in their lives by looking at one specific material: holy water. The following analyses will consider several key questions for evaluating when things go wrong by specifically interrogating the processes of knowledge production when using materials to achieve desired effects. In particular, what is the relationship between the expectation of individuals seeking a radical change and the reality of that change failing to take place?