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.
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.
Publisher’s Description: This volume examines the significance of spiritual kinship—or kinship reckoned in relation to the divine—in creating myriad forms of affiliations among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Rather than confining the study of spiritual kinship to Christian godparenthood or presuming its disappearance in light of secularism, the authors investigate how religious practitioners create and contest sacred solidarities through ritual, discursive, and ethical practices across social domains, networks, and transnational collectives. This book’s theoretical conversations and rich case studies hold value for scholars of anthropology, kinship, and religion.
Introduction: Re-sacralizing the Social: Spiritual Kinship at the Crossroads of the Abrahamic Religions, Thomas, Todne (et al.)
Spiritual Kinship Between Formal Norms and Actual Practice: A Comparative Analysis in the Long Run (from the Early Middle Ages Until Today), Alfani, Guido
Spiritual Kinship in an Age of Dissent: Pigeon Fanciers in Darwin’s England, Feeley-Harnik, Gillian
Kinship as Ethical Relation: A Critique of the Spiritual Kinship Paradigm, Seeman, Don
Kinship in Historical Consciousness: A French Jewish Perspective, Bahloul, Joëlle
“We All Ask Together”: Intercession and Composition as Models for Spiritual Kinship, Klaits, Frederick
“Forever Families”; Christian Individualism, Mormonism and Collective Salvation, Cannell, Fenella
Expanding Familial Ties: From the Umma to New Constructions of Relatedness Among East African Indians in Canada, Malik, Asiya
Rebuking the Ethnic Frame: Afro Caribbean and African American Evangelicals and Spiritual Kinship, Thomas, Todne
Casey Golomski and Sonene Nyawo, 2017. “Christians’ cut: popular religion and the global health campaign for medical male circumcision in Swaziland,” Culture, Health & Sexuality. Early online publication: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13691058.2016.1267409
abstract: Swaziland faces one of the worst HIV epidemics in the world and is a site for the current global health campaign in sub-Saharan Africa to medically circumcise the majority of the male population. Given that Swaziland is also majority Christian, how does the most popular religion influence acceptance, rejection or understandings of medical male circumcision? This article considers interpretive differences by Christians across the Kingdom’s three ecumenical organisations, showing how a diverse group people singly glossed as ‘Christian’ in most public health acceptability studies critically rejected the procedure in unity, but not uniformly. Participants saw medical male circumcision’s promotion and messaging as offensive and circumspect, and medical male circumcision as confounding gendered expectations and sexualised ideas of the body in Swazi Culture. Pentecostal-charismatic churches were seen as more likely to accept medical male circumcision, while traditionalist African Independent Churches rejected the operation. The procedure was widely understood to be a personal choice, in line with New Testament-inspired commitments to metaphorical circumcision as a way of receiving God’s grace.
Abstract: While Christian involvement in progressive social movements and activism is increasingly recognized, this literature has rarely gone beyond conceptualising religion as a resource to consider instead the ways in which individual activists may articulate their religious identity and how this intersects with the political. Based on ten in-depth interviews with Christian supporters of the London Occupy movement, this study offers an opportunity to respond to this gap by exploring the rich meaning-making processes of these activists. The article suggests that the location of the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral was of central importance in bringing the Christian Occupiers’ religio-political identities to the foreground, their Christianity being defined in opposition to that represented by St Paul’s. The article then explores the religio-political meaning-making of the Christian Occupiers and introduces the term ‘activist religiosity’ as a way of understanding how religion and politics were articulated, and enacted, in similar ways. Indeed, religion and politics became considerably entangled and intertwined, rendering theoretical frameworks that conceptualise religion as a resource increasingly inappropriate. The features of this activist religiosity include post-institutional identities, a dislike of categorisation, and, centrally, the notion of ‘doings’—a predominant focus on engaged, active involvement.
Abstract: In this introduction the theme of prayer is brought into an anthropological discussion. Attending to prayers and how they are performed and seen to intervene in a social world is a significant way to engage with matters close to people. As argued in this introduction, prayers are a way to map affect and affective relationships people hold in what they are oriented towards and care about. Here a social perspective on prayer taking its cue from Marcel Mauss is particularly relevant as it invites us to go beyond the individual and see how prayers always point to a broader landscape. The reason for honing in on the social life of prayers is that it entices a particular form of situated comparison of diverse forms of Christianity that thereby pushes the anthropology of Christianity to consider central questions of agency, responsibility and subjectivity. This introduction argues that attending to the social life of prayers can be seen as a way of mapping affect. Prayers in different ways attest to the implicatedness of human beings in a social world. Furthermore, prayer works as a didactic tool and is in itself an internal scale of comparison and evaluation in various Christian formulations
Howell, Brian, J. Derrick Lemons, Jon Bialecki, James Bielo, Tanya Luhrmann, and Timothy Larsen. 2016. Faith in Anthropology: A Symposium on Timothy Larsen’s The Slain God. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 34(2):140-152.
Abstract: Timothy Larsen is the Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Illinois, and the author of The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), an intellectual history of the relationship between anthropology and Christianity. Here Brian Howell, Professor of Anthropology at Wheaton, introduces comments on the book from J. Derrick Lemons, Jon Bialecki, James Bielo and Tanya Luhrmann, as well as a response from Larsen.
By: Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)
On its face, Brent Nongbri’s book, Before Religion, is seemingly not about Christianity, but about religion more generally – or more specifically, about the category of religion more generally. Nongbri’s argument is that religion is not a human universal, but rather construction that has both a history and a genealogy (to the degree that those are two separate things). To Nongbri, this is important because treating religion as a universal has costs in both how the thought of the analyst ends up structuring whatever object he or she is addressing, and in how work is presumably consumed by readers, many of which will come to the term with a lot of baggage attached.
Nongbri avers that religion as currently understood is marked by a set of invariant features: it is about internal experience, takes the individual as the primary unit, is oriented around ideas and sacred texts, is separate from institutions such as government, is effectively private, and is something that is a response to a universal human need – and is therefore presumably also universally present as well. Finally, religion forms identified bodies – the ‘world religions’ such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity – which are all fungible to the extent that they are formally homologous. Because of this common structure, the relation between religion in the abstract and religions in particular is equivalent to the genus/species formulation, or to put it in a metalanguage borrowed from linguistics, religion is the type, and various ‘religions’ are tokens.
Excerpt: “There is a tendency, when approaching the relation between Christianity and Marxism, to try to identify some element that would be common to both. This element becomes a third thing that allows us to give sense to the relation between the two initially given things of Christianity and Marxism. Such an approach, naming an element common to both Christianity and Marxism—liberation, for instance—allows us to adjudicate their relation. In fact, this third thing provides a site of adjudication to which each side is already implicitly committed. After all, if both Christianity and Marxism avow liberation, how could either object to being evaluated in terms of its capacity to bring about such liberation?”