Mikeshin, “I’m Not like Most of You Here, I’m Just an Alcoholic”

Mikeshin, Igor. 2016. “‘I’m Not like Most of You Here, I’m Just an Alcoholic’: A Russian Baptist Theory of Addiction.” Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 10 (2): 19–32

Abstract: In my paper I discuss alcoholics in the Russian Baptist rehabilitation ministry by comparing them to drug addicts. In the outside world, as well as in the early stages of the rehabilitation program, alcoholics and illicit drug abusers are perceived as different cultural groups. However, during the program, rehabilitants learn Russian Baptist dogma and theology, and soon afterwards the distinction becomes obsolete for them. I address narratives of distinction and the Russian Baptist response to them. Then I reconstruct the Russian Baptist theory of addiction to demonstrate why alcoholism and substance dependence are not regarded as a problem, but rather as consequences of the real problem, which is a life in sin.

Praying and Preying: Book Review

Vilaça, Aparecida. 2016.  Praying and Preying: Christianity in Indigenous Amazonia, translated by David Rodgers. Oakland: University of California Press.

Reviewed by G.E.R. Lloyd (Needham Research Institute, Cambridge UK)

This is a truly remarkable book.  In most anthropological monographs the reader is given a detailed analysis of one particular collectivity, the circumstances of their lives, their kinship relations, social structures, myths, rituals, ways of making sense of the world and of their place in it.  That is certainly what Vilaça here does for the society she has been studying for more than 30 years, the Wari’ who live in what is today the Rondônia province of Brazil.  But a principal theme of this book is the interactions between the Wari’ and the missionaries (Protestants and some Catholics) who have lived among them and attempted, with varying success, to convert them to Christianity.  The Evangelical New Tribes Mission in particular, whose activities date back to the 1940s, may be said to be the subject of a second interlocking ethnographic analysis.  This adds a new dimension to the study of mutual intelligibility with which Vilaça is centrally concerned.  First there is the missionaries’ understanding of the Wari’ (they are not particularly concerned to learn from them or even about them but they certainly wish to get their own message across).  Second there is the Wari’s understanding of the missionaries and of what the missionaries are trying to teach them.  Third there is Vilaça’s own understanding of those divergent understandings and her further entering into dialogue with her fellow anthropologists.  I shall come back to that.

The problem of translation thus takes centre stage, and that takes multiple forms.  This is not just a matter of finding particular terms in one language that will be adequate to convey what is meant by some word in another. This to be sure was a major preoccupation for the missionaries, for what they were hoping to achieve was a rendition of the Word of God, as contained in the Bible, itself interpreted literally.  But for the Wari’ translation was quite different.  Their starting point is that Wari’ is the language spoken by everyone, every living being (and not just humans).  But the same term, used by different agents, may and often does have quite different referents.  The plot thickens when the agents are non-human persons.  When the jaguar drinks the blood of its victims, what the Wari’ see as blood is, for the jaguar, beer.  Of course translating from jaguar perceptions to those of the Wari’ takes special skills, the province of expertise of shamans in particular (though with Christianisation their power has been on the decline).  But the Wari’ in general are used to calling upon what may be thought of as internal dictionaries facilitating translation between jaguars (for example) and the Wari’, and of course also between the missionaries and themselves.  The consequence for reference is radical.  We are used to recognising that for someone to be a ‘father’ implies a relationship with another person, a son or daughter, who makes the father what he is.  But that principle is applied quite generally.  So that ‘blood’ is (only) blood to some agent for whom it is blood.  Indeed, a ‘person’ is only a person in virtue of being seen as a person.

That of course was the central message of the perspectivism proposed by Viveiros de Castro, which the Wari’ instantiate particularly clearly.  But where does that leave Vilaça herself?  On the one hand, she evidently distances herself from the assumptions of the missionaries, that the Word of God sets out a definitive statement of how things are.  On the other, she resists the relativising conclusion that the different understandings of translation, and of terms across languages, effectively rule out any possibility of mutual intelligibility.  That is not a conclusion the Wari’ themselves draw.  On the contrary their perspectivism suggests a particular focus on the efforts needed, and the difficulties likely to be encountered, in the task of translation.

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Mikeshin, “How Jesus Changes Lives”

Mikeshin, Igor. 2016. How Jesus Changes Lives: Christian Rehabilitation in the Russian Baptist Ministry. Research Series in Anthropology (University of Helsinki). Doctoral Dissertation. Helsinki: Unigrafia.

Abstract: This thesis is the study of a rehabilitation ministry for the addicted people called Good Samaritan, run by the Russian Baptist Church. The study scrutinizes a two-dimensional process of Christian Rehabilitation. This process consists of two aspects: bodily detoxication through prolonged isolation, and radical moral transformation through conversion to Christianity. This twofold process corresponds to the twofold nature of substance use dependence: biochemical and psychological. The narrative of conversion is constructed upon the literalist reading of the particular translation of Scripture Russian Synodal Bible impacted by the 16th (Martin Luther) and 17th century (Jacobus Arminius and the Remonstrants) Protestant dogmatics and Russian historical and sociocultural context. The narrative of rehabilitation is also impacted by the street, junkie, and prison experience of the rehabilitants and their elders, who hold the authority to interpret Scripture. My research contributes to the study of Russian Evangelical Christianity and substance use dependence, both of which are unique and substantially influenced by contemporary Russian historical, sociocultural, political, economic, and linguistic context. At the same time, both Russian Evangelicalism and substance abuse share global features of Evangelical Christianity and drug epidemics. My analysis is based on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted from January 2014 to January 2015 in St. Petersburg and Leningradskaia oblast’, Russia. The participant observation included prolonged stays in three rehab facilities, guest and missionary visits, church services, seminars, festivities, and extensive study of Protestant Christianity and substance abuse.

Mikeshin, “Decency, Humility, and Obedience”

Mikeshin, Igor. 2016. Decency, Humility, and Obedience: Spatial Discipline in the Baptist Rehab Centre. Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 9(2): 41-58. 

Abstract: This paper scrutinises the role of place and space in the process of Christian rehabilitation. This process is an interconnection of the rehabilitation of the addicted people and conversion to a particular kind of Christianity, working as an inseparable twofold process. The narrative of conversion in the rehabilitation ministry is impacted by the 150-year history of Russian Baptists, the rich sociocultural context of contemporary Russia, the junkie and prison context of the people in rehabs, and a very specific Russian Synodal translation of the Bible. I demonstrate the role of space in the implementation of rehab rules and discipline, Christian dogmatics, and construction of the Christian self. The organisation of space in the rehabs very much resembles prison, while also following the common dogmatic principles of the program. At the same time, rehabilitation is enforced by harsh conditions, a strict regime, and the idea of proper Christian family.

Occasional Paper: Mikeshin, “Russian Evangelicalism Glocalized”

Russian Evangelicalism Glocalized
Igor Mikeshin (University of Helsinki)

This paper echoes the idea of glocalization of Evangelical Christianity, suggested by Joel Robbins (2004). Robbins marks two simultaneous processes in Pentecostalism and Charismatic (P/C) Christianity as Westernizing homogenization and indigenizing differentiation. I suggest that Russian Evangelicalism’s relation to the Russian culture is glocal in a similar way: “a relationship of both rejection and preservation.” (Robbins 2004: 137) Russian Evangelical congregations, as well as P/C, are also to a great extent autonomous, egalitarian, and focused on evangelism.

Although I place Russian Evangelicalism in the Robbins’ model, there are remarkable differences between those two phenomena, constructing a distinct narrative of glocalization. These differences go beyond denominational features, or even explicit display of the Holy Spirit by P/C, and they rise from the dogmatics. Firstly, the emphasis on the direct interaction with God was spread through the vast activity of P/C missionaries. Initially it took form of planting and growing churches by the Western ministers, which can be also seen in Russia after 1991. However, Russian Evangelical groups, even Pentecostals, originated from the spiritual endeavors of certain Russian intellectuals, most remarkably Ivan Voronaev (Pentecostal) and Ivan Prokhanov (Evangelical Christian). They brought Western teachings to Russia, interpreted and transformed them on the basis of the Russian Bible, and constructed the narrative of response to the Orthodox spiritual monopoly and Russian sociocultural context.

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Vallikivi, “On the Edge of Space and Time”

Vallikivi, Laur. 2014. On the Edge of Space and Time: Evangelical Missionaries in the Post-Soviet Arctic. Journal of Ethnology and Folklorisitics 8(2): 95-120.

Abstract: Evangelical missionaries have missionised pretty much throughout Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among their favourite targets are the small-numbered indigenous groups in the Russian Arctic, where the numbers of converts are steadily growing. One particular denomination, known as the Unregistered Baptists, are among the leading agents of religious change in the North today. They are driven by the promise of the return of Christ after the gospel is preached “at the ends of the earth”. I suggest that the Baptists’ agenda is shaped, on the one hand, by the literal reading of the Bible, which allows them to be the divine instruments at the end times and, on the other hand, by the idea of Russia’s special role in God’s salvation plan. I shall analyse the Baptists’ ideas and practices, using among others Bakhtin’s concept of chronotope in order to demonstrate how powerful narratives are created and lived.

McIntyre, “All of Their Customs are Daughters of Their Religion'”

McIntyre, Kathleen M. 2013. ‘All of Their Customs are Daughters of Their Religion’: Baptists in Post-Revolutionary Mexico, 1920s–present.  Gender & History 25(3): 477–497.

Excerpt: My analysis of this contentious Baptist project in the Central Valley of Oaxaca reveals the intersection of missionary and revolutionary agendas with contrasting conceptualisations of gender, ethnic and regional identities. Although members of the Unión Femenil felt a Christian obligation to support indigenous converts, they saw Zapotec culture as a frustrating obstacle in attaining a dual (and at times competing) Mexican/Christian identity. Local conflicts in the Central Valley community of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya led to alternate martyrdom narratives that speak to the larger religious conflicts in indigenous Mexico but prioritise Protestant, not the dominant Catholic, histories of martyrdom. By examining an oral history of martyrdom, I trace a community’s construction as well as its contestation of collective memory. Primarily a local history of one Baptist congregation, this article details these events and experiences as representative of a larger pattern of religious conflict in Oaxaca. However, what makes this study of Tlacochahuaya particularly important is that it provides an intimate look at the interworking of a new belief system in a centuries-old village that the predominantly mestizo Baptist men and women did not understand in the post-revolutionary period.

Walker Peterson, “A Non-Place Identity and a Fixed (Sacred) Text”

Walker Peterson, Heather.  2012.  A Non-Place Identity and a Fixed (Sacred) Text: Literacy Practices Shaping Identity/ies of a Slavic Baptist Congregation from the Former Soviet Union to the United States.  Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 12(3): 450–465.

Abstract: Based on an interdisciplinary linguistic ethnography, I apply the term ‘non-place’ to the collective identity of a Slavic migrant congregation in the United States. Those members socialised into their faith before migration had already been marginalised in their resistance to the former national Soviet identity. The New Literacy Studies in particular help to describe their historic Protestant literacy practices regarding a sacred, and thus fixed, text. A fixed sacred text provided the freedom to interpret the group’s context, a perceived narrative to join, and authority for leadership to dictate a way of life. Events around text were warm and welcoming, utilising Western texts for legitimatised scripture interpretation, and accessible to both Russian speakers and second-generation English speakers. With the assumed permanence of a sacred text, new believers retold their own narratives as part of the scriptural one, and had a ‘home land’ they had never stepped foot in.

Djuriæ-Milovanoviæ, “‘Smuggling Bibles’: Everyday Life Of Baptist Serbs In Communist Romania”

Djuriæ-Milovanoviæ, Aleksandra. (2012). “‘Smuggling Bibles’: Everyday Life Of Baptist Serbs In Communist Romania.” Religion in Eastern Europe 32(4):33-40.

Excerpt: “This paper seeks to present everyday life experiences of Baptist Serbs in Romania during the specific historical period of communism . . .  Special interest is paid to the connections between Serbs from Romania and Yugoslavia, various missionary activities, and religious experiences of the born-again Christians during communism “