Excerpt: “I first became interested in research with Latter-day Saints because Mormonism’s famous distinctiveness allowed me to question some of my own discipline’s theoretical claims about what religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is like and how it is supposed to work. When I was asked by the editors of this journal to write a short piece on Mormon anthropology, it seemed to me that two kinds of task were implied: first, to provide some indicative references to the anthropology written about Latter-day Saints, which Ann Taves has said is less familiar to scholars of religion including herself; and second, more broadly, to offer a brief account of what a comparative, plural, and perspective-sensitive approach to Mormonism—now also being called for by scholars in other fields, notably in a key issue of Mormon Studies Review —might look like from the point of view of an anthropologist. Another way of putting this second task would be to ask what the object “Mormonism” might look like from the viewpoint of anthropology and what the object “anthropology” might look like from the viewpoint of Mormonism, and so to begin to imagine the kinds of conversation that could take place between people involved in these two practices.
Abstract: This article explores the trace as a methodological tool and theoretical pathway in anthropology and beyond. Traces signal the limits of representation; they are the mater- ials of knots of histories at the margins, as well as auratic presences. Through a critical reading of key ethnographic works, including an analysis of a Casa del Popolo in Rome which has been turned into a squat by Peruvian migrants, this article argues that the study of traces has an important genealogy in anthropology. This study invites us to explore the mattering of things (as forms becoming of importance), new ways of conjuring and operationalizing ethnographic ‘details’ and to broaden our debate of an anthropology beyond the subject, in the light of the mattering of histories.
Stewart, Anna and Simon Coleman. 2014. “Contributions from Anthropology,” in The Oxford handbook of theology, sexuality, and gender, edited by Adrian. Thatcher, 107-119. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Excerpt: “Religion, according to one popular anthropological definition, is a realm of experience in which humans confront ultimate categories of meaning. Through religious language, ritual, and ideology human beings come to reside within a ‘system of symbols’ that colours their experience and orientation towards the world ….In the years since Geetz’s influential definition of religious was proposed, anthropologist have pointed out the importance of looking not only at systems of meaning but also at the entanglement of actors in more material and more mundane networks of family, economy, and politics … Gender (In solving cultural expectations about the roles of men and women) ash sexuality (involving morality, desire, and physical activity related to sex) have added significant dimensions to the study of religion, for they appear to bring together these themes of symbolic meaning and embodied life ….”
Abstract: In the anthropology of Christianity, and more broadly in the anthropology of religion, methodological atheism has foreclosed ethnographic description of God as a social actor. This prohibition is the product of certain ontological presumptions regarding agency, an absence of autonomy of human creations, and a truncated conception of what can be said to exist. Reading Tanya Luhrmann’s recent ethnography, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (2012), in light of both the ontological postulates of Object Orientated Ontology and the work of Bruno Latour, this article proposes an ontological framework that makes it is possible to ethnographically describe God as a social actor without adopting methodological theism. This article also notes, however, that the ethnographic description of religious practice, found in studies of the Vineyard denomination such as Luhrmann’s, challenge Latour’s own account of the difference between science and religions as distinguishable enterprises.
Abstract: Any anthropological approach to ethics that gives a central place to subjects and the positions they might occupy is obliged sooner or later to address an apparent paradox, instances of which are widespread. They occur in those many ethical systems that valorize a condition that can hardly be characterized without equivocation: the subject that is not one. We commonly think of such a (non-)subject as a mystic. A useful starting point in coming to terms with the mystic rests in the distinctive place in which he or she typically stands in relation to any given ethical domain – a place decidedly not at the center, at the axial conjunction that the ethical Everyperson occupies. Victor Turner’s treatment of liminality provides a useful analytical precedent, but it does not of itself adequately clarify either the specific ethical difference or the specific ethical function of mysticism as such. Crucial to both is the mystic’s generation in practice of what turns out to be a very real paradox of self-reference, the thinking and acting out of the proposition that ‘this ethics is not an ethics’. The upshot is that the mystic as (non-) subject confronts the ethical system in which or by which he or she resides with its logical and its social incompleteness. No wonder, then, that mystics are rarely beloved of ethical absolutists, whose absolutism – by their very being, and whether or not wittingly – they call into question. No wonder, on the other hand, that moral-ethical liberals so often find them beyond the pale. The ethical paradox of the mystic is insu- perable – but all the more socioculturally significant in being so.
Meneses, Eloise, Lindy Backues, David Bronkema, Eric Flett, and Benjamin L. Hartley. 2014. Engaging the Religiously Committed Other: Anthropologists and Theologians in Dialogue. Current Anthropology. Preprint – issue, volume, page not available.
Abstract: Anthropology has two tasks: the scientific task of studying human beings and the instrumental task of promoting human flourishing. To date, the scientific task has been constrained by secularism, and the instrumental task by the philosophy and values of liberalism. These constraints have caused religiously based scholarship to be excluded from anthropology’s discourse, to the detriment of both tasks. The call for papers for the 2009 meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) recognized the need to “push the field’s epistemological and presentational conventions” in order to reach anthropology’s various publics. Religious thought has much to say about the human condition. It can expand the discourse in ways that provide explanatory value as well as moral purpose and hope. We propose an epistemology of witness for dialogue between anthropologists and theologians, and we demonstrate the value added with an example: the problem of violence.
Excerpt: This collection of articles is a very welcome surprise. In the years since writing the 2006 essay on anthropology and theology with which all of the articles to some extent engage, I had become resigned to what seemed to the be the likelihood that the dialogue between anthropology and theology was going to be one that at best built very slowly, and at worst was destined hardly to take place. To be sure, there had been some fits and starts kinds of discussions, but nothing much had happened in the way of sustained conversation. Anthropology and theology appeared to me set to continue to go their separate ways without the benefit of much cross-fertilization. The publication of this collection fundamentally alters this picture. Each of its articles is a substantial contribution in its own right, and taken together they indicate in a way no other collection yet has how productive of fresh anthropological ideas encounters with various kinds of theology can be. And in moving decisively beyond a focus solely on the Christian tradition, they also rescue this nascent engagement from becoming a purely parochial one . . .
Abstract: While contemporary philosophers have been content to declare the logical possibilities of sacrifice exhausted, to have finally ‘sacrificed sacrifice,’ for many people around the world the notion of sacrifice – whether religious, secular, or somewhere in between – remains absolutely central to their understanding of themselves, their relations with others, and their place in the world. From religion to economics, and from politics to the environment, sacrificial tropes frequently emerge as key means of mediating and propagating various forms of power, moral discourse, and cultural identity. This paper lays out reasons for retaining sacrifice as an analytical concept within anthropology, and argues for the importance of a renewed focus on the ‘other side of sacrifice’, as a means of understanding better how sacrifice emerges beyond ritual and enters into the full gamut of social life.