Boylston, “The Stranger at the Feast”

Boylston, Tom. 2018. The Stranger at the Feast: Prohibition and Mediation in an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Community. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Publisher’s DescriptionThe Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.

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Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction.”

Richard Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction” Journal of Southern African Studies, 2018. This Special Issue of JSAS explores the little-recognised, shifting importance of grassroots ecumenism in religious experience and public life. The cases that we present come from across southern Africa, from Rwanda to Angola, to Zambia and Botswana, to South Africa and Swaziland. We match this breadth with arguments that also draw widely, for an emerging area of interest in popular religious change, with contributions from anthropology, social history, theology and religious studies. Among the ecumenical changes we discuss are, perhaps most surprisingly, ones in which counterpublics are anti-establishment, transgressive, even disruptive, as they bring strangers together, with religious motives and moral passion, and oppose dominant publics in the making of public cultures.

Other articles in the special issue are relevant to anthropologists of Christianity. Follow the link above.

Brennan, “Singing Yoruba Christianity”

Brennan, Vicki. 2017. Singing Yoruba Christianity: Music, Media, and Morality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Publisher’s Description:

Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.

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

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.

Zetterström-Sharp, “‘I cover myself in the blood of Jesus’: Born Again heritage making in Sierra Leone”

Zetterström-Sharp, Johanna. 2017. “‘I cover myself in the blood of Jesus’: Born Again heritage making in Sierra Leone” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12647

Abstract: This article concerns the risky terrain of heritage management in Sierra Leone and its navigation by devout Born Again Pentecostal Christians. It engages with the ever-expanding Born Again movement and its narrative of rupture, on the one hand, and the increasingly visible heritage sector and its focus on cultural continuity, on the other. These positions appear irreconcilable: one experiences the past as a dangerous satanic realm, the other as a valuable resource. However, as this article explores, they frequently meet in the workplace as many heritage professionals are also Born Again believers. I am interested in this meeting-point as demonic channels and godly practices converge. I argue that Freetown’s Born Again heritage professionals do not succeed in their roles despite their religion, but because of it.

Haynes, “Moving by the Spirit”

Haynes, Naomi. 2017. Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Oakland: University of California Press. 

Publisher’s description: This book argues that the runaway popularity of Pentecostal Christianity on the Zambian Copperbelt is a result of this religion’s capacity to produce novel forms of value realization. A close analysis of the relationships that form in Pentecostal churches reveals that Pentecostal social life is structured around an animating idea – a value – called ‘moving by the Spirit.’ Moving by the Spirit entails personal advancement both with regard to material prosperity and religious skill or charisma. While moving by the Spirit makes Pentecostalism attractive, it is difficult for Pentecostal believers to balance prosperity against charisma without reproducing divisions in economic status. These divisions undermine the social world of the church by limiting the access of poorer believers to the relationships with their leaders – relationships through which the value of moving by the Spirit is most effectively realized.

Malara and Boylston, “Vertical Love”

Malara, Diego Maria and Tom Boylston. 2016. Vertical Love: Forms of Submission and Top-Down Power in Orthodox Ethiopia. Social Analysis 61(4): 40-57.

Abstract: The classical sociological literature on Amhara hierarchy describes a society based on open relations of domination and an obsession with top-down power. This article asks how these accounts can be reconciled with the strong ethics of love and care that ground daily life in Amhara. We argue that love and care, like power, are understood in broadly asymmetrical terms rather than as egalitarian forms of relationship. As such, they play into wider discourses of hierarchy, but also serve to blur the distinction between legitimate authority and illegitimate power.

Olsson, “Jesus for Zanzibar”

Olsson, Hans. 2016. Jesus for Zanzibar: Narratives of Pentecostal Belonging, Islam, and Nation. Doctoral Dissertation, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies. Lund: Lund University.

Excerpt: The study focuses on the City Christian Center, Zanzibar’s largest Pentecostal church and a major outreach of the Tanzania Assemblies of God in the archipelago, which was founded, and is growing, in conjunction with increased flows of labor migration, primarily from Mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar, over the past decades. In relation to the Zanzibar setting in general, and vis-a-vis political projects of creating a Zanzibari national identity in particular, the CCC congregation has become a locus of tension for several reasons. First and foremost, with an outspoken mission to expand Christianity – captured in the slogan “Jesus for Zanzibar” – the CCC brings a narrative of religious change to Zanzibar society.

Reinhardt, “Praying until Jesus returns”

Bruno Reinhardt, “Praying until Jesus returns: commitment and prayerfulness among charismatic Christians in Ghana” Religion, published online 14 November 2016.

Abstract: Charismatic Christians in Ghana display heterogeneous intensities of personal piety, often mapped out by believers to levels of ‘spiritual maturation’. In this article, I examine the devotional routines of ‘committed’ Christians, individuals recognized as ‘prayerful’ subjects. Through Marcel Mauss’ incidental definition of prayer as an ‘expenditure of physical and moral energy’, I investigate ethnographically the methods whereby prayerfulness comes about. I argue that charismatic prayer is not a discernible object of inquiry, but an ongoing field of ethical problematization driven forward by two modes of physical and moral expenditure: habit and anticipation. From this angle, spiritual maturity indicates not a durable ethical asset, but a continuous effort to produce homeostatic balance between these embodied temporal forces. I conclude by stressing how attention to the internal goods of prayer allow us to integrate vulnerability within religious projects, instead of reducing it to an external causal force, as in most deprivation theories of religion.