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.
Abstract: Ritual is a domain of analysis shared across Christian confessions and continents. Yet in anthropological work on Christianity, studies of ritual have thus far remained piecemeal and disjointed, unwittingly perpetuating distinctions between north and south, ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ publics, Pentecostals and ‘the rest’. This introductory essay charts the analytic potential of developing a robust cross-cultural analysis of ritual from the perspective of anthropologists of Christianity. We employ ritual risk and efficacy to expand the ongoing study of the practice of Christian sociality, which we explore through three themes. Firstly, this collection is united by a shared interest in ritual inefficacy—the ‘infelicitous’ moments when ritual go awry— and the societal and metaphysical risks that may result. Secondly, the collection examines the social ‘work’ of ritual in defining and authorizing particular forms of Christianity. Finally, the essays explore the ways Christian futures are imagined and created through ritual.
Abstract: Place-making is a central activity for Christian groups. Yet the scholarly literature contains little comparative conversation on local Christian theories of place. This article ‘thinks across’ ten ethnographic descriptions of evangelical communities in order to pay attention to what these Christians pay attention to in their everyday place-making. It discusses seven problematics that commonly recur in evangelical place-work (namely linguistic, material, temporal, personhood, translocal, transcendent, and worldly concerns). This analysis nuances current anthropological debates on Protestant materiality, temporality, and personhood. The article argues that a central tenet of evangelicals’ place- making is a simultaneous taking apart and bringing together of faith and place. This results in a simultaneous fusing and ‘unfusing’ of situation and setting, which cannot be labeled either displacement or thorough emplacement. More broadly, evangelical place-making provides a modern example of deterritorialization that is different from placelessness. It also speaks to the complex interplay between ideals, intentionality, and agency.
Excerpt: This chapter is about the shifting relationship between anthropology and Christianity. Any relationship has different dimensions—some that are openly acknowledged, and some that are concealed; some that may reflect imbalances between two parties, and others that express ideals of equality. Relationships can go through periods of harmony or occasionally descend into mutual incomprehension or enmity. A common view of anthropology is that it developed as a secular discipline, actively distancing itself from theology and the latter’s Christian associations. Up until at least the 1980s it was common to hear anthropologists say that they had encountered Christian missionaries in the field but had tried to ignore them while they studied the “local” culture. Christianity in many conventional fieldwork contexts was seen as a troubling remnant of colonial times, while its presence in Western societies was regarded as of little interest. Nonetheless, these comments do not tell the whole story of the relationship. The fact that for much of the twentieth century anthropology paid relatively scant ethnographic attention to Christianity may suggest a combination of hostility and indifference; but it also reflects a more complex, ambivalent set of interactions. The term “companion” derives from the Latin word companio, which in literal terms means “one who eats bread with another,” implying not merely separate identities but also mutual bonds expressed through proximity, parallel practices and even a hint at consubstantiality. It points in other words to both conjunctions and distinctions. In this chapter, we shall explore examples of both.
What, then, of my use of “constant” and “inconstant”? In its mathematical sense a constant implies a non-varying value, but I do not suggest that either Christianity or its connections with anthropology have remained unchanged. One reason to introduce this temporal metaphor is to indicate how the relationship between Christianity and anthropology has so often been defined by their respective relationships to time, change, and historical process. In his famous work The Golden Bough (1890) the Victorian anthropologist James Frazer tried to consign Christianity to the same dustbin of history that he reserved for other forms of religion; but a century or so later anthropologists have actually been observing striking increases in Christian adherence and practice across large parts of the world. More and more, they have come to understand the need to analyze how the spread of Christianity raises questions over the supposed disruptions of modernity. But this new analytical impulse does not involve a simple assumption that Christian influence produces a uniform, linear modelof Westernization. The task is rather to develop a critical and nuanced understanding of whether and how encounters with Christianity have produced transformations in cultures around the world. This new focus on Christianity also involves anthropologists taking a more historically informed look at themselves. The aim has been to understand whether anthropological conceptions of cultural coherence, of transcendence, of divisions between sacred and profane time and space, have links with Christian roots in ways that have not hitherto been fully acknowledged.
Following on from such points, categories of time, history and identity will help to form the structure of this chapter. Over the last 15 years or so, a self-conscious sub-field has emerged within the discipline dedicated to studying Christianity. In acknowledgement of this development, I divide my analysis into three periods. The first—with apologies to archeologists—I call “B.A.C.” (Before the Anthropology of Christianity); the second “A.C.” (the era of the Anthropology of Christianity); and finally, I provide some suggestions of possible futures for studies of the religion. However, I invoke such categories with irony. I approach them critically, especially their linear assumptions, and show how they represent only a limited view of how anthropology can continue to approach this religion …
Abstract: The wide-ranging contributions to this special issue point to the extraordinary variety of Christian adherence around the world. In the light of this multiplicity, it has become increasingly important to develop frameworks that will allow us to conceptualize Christianity as a multifaceted, labile, but nevertheless identifiable object. Drawing together the concept of affordances, as used by Webb Keane in his contribution to this issue, as well as what I call “audiences,” this afterword outlines a comparative framework for the study of Christianity. This framework is focused on Christian adherence as a form of value creation, worked out in contested social space. I begin by applying this model to some of my own material from the Zambian Copperbelt, showing how Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel afford claims on audiences that include God, the state, and the wider social world. I then turn my attention to the affordances and audiences that emerge in the articles collected in this special issue. I conclude by suggesting that the framework of affordances and audiences I have developed here helps to address one of the most vexing problems in the anthropology of Christianity, namely, how the subfield defines its object of study.
Abstract: This article reviews the development of the anthropology of Christianity and considers the new questions and approaches introduced by the articles in this special issue of Current Anthropology. The article first addresses the contested history of the anthropology of Christianity, suggesting that there is intellectual value in seeing it as largely a development of the new century. It goes on to locate the rise of the anthropology of Christianity in relation to a number of important changes both in the place of religion in the world and in the academic study of religion that also occurred during this period. It then considers the foci of the articles collected here. These include such relatively novel topics as the nature of Christian social institutions, social processes, space-making practices, and constructions of gender, as well as questions concerning the boundaries of Christianity. Several articles also focus on considerations of recent developments in the study of long-standing topics in the anthropology of Christianity, such as discontinuity, reflexivity, experience, and materiality. Throughout the discussion of these issues, I take up critical debates around the anthropology of Christianity, for example, the charge that it is wholly idealist in orientation, and consider how these articles contribute to the further development of these discussions.
Abstract: Growth in Christianity has spurred the appearance of the subfield of world Christianity, whose assumptions increasingly shape scholarship on Christianity. What I term the world-Christian turn, which is often linked to mission studies, yields more comprehensive approaches to the Christian past, connecting local histories of Christian communities to larger-scale historical movements and producing innovative comparative perspectives on Christianity past and present. In Catholic theology, this turn has encouraged new comparative and contextual theologies. Yet support for Christian mission and the world-Christian turn need not go together. Two cases in point: comparative theology tends to eschew mission while the work of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, is suspicious of some impulses behind the world-Christian turn and their potential for undermining Christian mission. Such cases notwithstanding, I argue that missiology is a promising resource for the field of world Christianity.
Excerpt: “The point here is not to argue, in procrustean fashion, that, far from being irredeemably ‘Other’, Islam actually turns out to be just like other world religions, such as Christianity. This kind of claim – a kind of Orientalism replaced by a form of intellectual McDonaldization – would combine ethnographic naivety with a contradiction of this volume’s message concerning Islam’s ‘immanent’ resistance to being separated out into an autonomous realm of belief and action. However, such reflections should lead us to a question raised about the anthropology of any world religion, once we start to worry at ‘exceptionalisms’ or ‘essentialisms’: what is actually gained by confining our theoretical questions and comparisons to cases relating to any single religion? This issue is raised forcefully by Chris Hann (2007:402) in relation to the burgeoning anthropology of Christianity, where he criticizes the idealism behind calls to explore the ‘cultural logic’ of the religion, and indeed questions (ibid.:406) Joel Robbins’s attempt (2003) to present the anthropology of Islam as exemplary for that of Christianity. Hann summarizes Robbins’s approach as stating that ‘similar progress [to that made on Islam] might be made with Christianity if all those working on Christian groups were to prioritize the theme of religion and engage systematically with each others’ work’ (Hann 2007:406). By ways of contrast, Hann challenges the very idea of demarcating one world religion as a suitable domain for comparison, and argues instead for an approach that proceeds on the basis of identifying analytical problems (such as Christian and non-Christian ideas of transcendence, Catholic versus Muslim notions of mediation, and so on). In some respects, we already see this approach played out in the present volume. For instance Retsikas invokes the work of Thomas Csordas (1994) on charismatic Catholicism in juxtaposing Charismatic and experiences of the immanent presence of the divine. Gabriele vom Bruck’s invocation of David Freedberg’s The Power of Images, (1989) in her discussion of photographic representations of women also opens a window to the kind of comparative observations that Freedberg himself makes . . .. “
Excerpt: “Here I want to take the opportunity to suggest that the study of charisma is not a rupture with any other form of previous anthropology of religion but, in many ways, a refreshing return to the founding fathers of the discipline such as Durkheim, whose centenary I am celebrating with my subtitle. I also want to suggest that new forms of African religion are experienced by their believers not as a rupture but sometimes as a return to a purer and very old form of religion that Africans have forgotten via a destructive combination of internal and external agencies. The return to a ‘forgotten God’ is a common theme in several trends of prophetic Christianity and also of Islam, though less explicit in Pentecostal discourses. . . “
Abstract: The social sciences contribute in important ways to our understanding of current Christian realities, especially ‘newer’ or ‘emerging’ Christianities. Recent research by social scientists on contemporary Christian groups – in historical anthropology and more recently in the anthropology of Christianity – has yielded important insights into modes of Christian agency and identity. Those interested in the spread of Christianity today – including missiologists – should familiarize themselves with such anthropological and sociological research. For their part, those engaged in social-scientific research on newer Christianities should attend more closely to Christianity in its historical and communal dimensions by developing an historical sociology.