Gibson, “Suffering and Hope”

Gibson, Ian. 2017. Suffering and Hope: Christianity and Ethics among the Newars of Bhaktapur. Ekta Books.

Publisher’s Description: As soon as Ian Gibson began meeting Christians in the Nepali city of Bhaktapur, he noticed the importance of a particular type of story in their lives. When he asked someone “How did you become a Christian?” they would usually give a long and fluent answer, a narrative that had been told with minor or major variations many times before. This book grows out of these conversion narratives: it is a study of Christians in Bhaktapur, and of the Christian church in Nepal. It seeks to explain why Nepali Christianity is growing so rapidly, and to depict the lives of individual Christians.

Paredes, “Projecting order in the pericolonial Philippines”

Paredes, Oona.  2017. Projecting order in the pericolonial Philippines: An anthropology of Catholicism beyond Catholics. The Australian Journal of Anthropology.  Early online publication.

Abstract: In a majority Catholic country like the Philippines, it can be difficult to appreciate the true impact of Catholicism, beyond the obvious presence of Catholics. For the ‘unchristianised’ indigenous minorities in its peripheral upland regions, the role of the Catholic thought-world in shaping who they are today is masked substantially by their cultural distinctiveness. Missionary-dominated narratives in colonial historiography configure our understanding of the present, structuring our approach to anthropology in these peripheral spaces. This article argues that the diachronic component is necessary to make sense of how Catholicism has not only shaped the diversity of modern Philippine cultures, but also how it has configured cultural and political spaces so completely that, as anthropologists, we at times reproduce this thought-world uncritically through our own ethnographies. A focus on the so-called unchristianised Lumad ethnic minorities of Mindanao argues that it is essential to look beyond Catholics as obvious subjects when undertaking an anthropology of Catholicism.

Johnson, “If I Give My Soul”

Johnson, Andrew.  2017.  If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Pentecostal Christianity is flourishing inside the prisons of Rio de Janeiro. To find out why, Andrew Johnson dug deep into the prisons themselves. He began by spending two weeks living in a Brazilian prison as if he were an inmate: sleeping in the same cells as the inmates, eating the same food, and participating in the men’s daily routines as if he were incarcerated. And he returned many times afterward to observe prison churches’ worship services, which were led by inmates who had been voted into positions of leadership by their fellow prisoners. He accompanied Pentecostal volunteers when they visited cells that were controlled by Rio’s most dominant criminal gang to lead worship services, provide health care, and deliver other social services to the inmates. Why does this faith resonate so profoundly with the incarcerated? Pentecostalism, argues Johnson, is the “faith of the killable people” and offers ex-criminals and gang members the opportunity to positively reinvent their public personas. If I Give My Soul provides a deeply personal look at the relationship between the margins of Brazilian society and the Pentecostal faith, both behind bars and in the favelas, Rio de Janeiro’s peripheral neighborhoods. Based on his intimate relationships with the figures in this book, Johnson makes a passionate case that Pentecostal practice behind bars is an act of political radicalism as much as a spiritual experience.

Roman, “Kaale belongings and Evangelical becomings”

Roman, Raluca Bianca.  2017. Kaale belongings and Evangelical becomings : faith, commitment and social outreach among the Finnish Kaale (Finnish Roma).  PhD Thesis, Department of Social Anthropology, University of St. Andrews. 

Abstract: Grounded in a theoretical debate between anthropological studies on Roma/Gypsies and anthropological studies of Christianity, the focus of this thesis is on the experience of social and religious life among members of a traditional minority in Finland, the Finnish Kaale/Finnish Roma, a population of approximately 13.000 people living in Finland and Sweden. Over the past decades, the processes of urbanisation and sedentarisation have led to shifts in the ways in which the social lives of Kaale families are lived. A shift towards individualisation is interlinked with the continuous importance placed on family and kin belonging, which come together in a re-assessment of people’s central attachments in the world. At the same time, over the same period of time, a large number of this population have converted to Pentecostal and charismatic movements in the country, leading to subtle changes in the shape of social relations within and outside their own community: between believers and non-believers, between Kaale and non-Kaale. Making use of participant observation, interviews, conversion stories and individual life histories among Finnish Kaale living in the capital city of Helsinki and in Eastern parts of the country, this ethnography provides an insight into the multiple, overlapping and complex ways in which Kaale belonging is understood and into the ways in which Pentecostal religious life takes shape among born-again Kaale. Furthermore, looking specifically at the practice of Evangelism and missionary work, which defines the life of Pentecostal Kaale believers, the role of faith as an enhanced engagement with the world is analysed. A conversation therefore emerges also on the role of Pentecostal belonging in mobilising believers in relation to the world around them and, more specifically, on the way in which Pentecostal faith provides an avenue for a further social engagement and social mobilisation of individual Kaale believers.

Ardhianto, “Politics of Conversion”

Ardhianto, Imam. 2017. The Politics of Conversion: Religious Change, Materiality, and Social Hierarchy in Central Upland Borneo. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 18(2): 119-134.

Abstract: Contrary to the assumption that religious conversion is strongly influenced by the hegemony of global forces (colonialism and modern state formation) over local communities, this paper argues that internal class antagonisms and material conditions also play an important role in the dynamics of adoption of or resistance to Christianity. By taking narratives of inter-class contestation between aristocrats (paren) and commoners (panyin) and ritual changes among the Kayan-Kenyah in upland Central Borneo during periods of religious conversion, this paper shows the significance of social hierarchy on people’s decisions to change or retain their religious practices.

Jung, “The Religious-Political Aspirations of North Korean Migrants”

Jung, Jin-Heon.  2016.  The Religious-Political Aspirations of North Korean Migrants and Protestant Churches in Seoul.  Journal of Korean Religions 7(2): 123-148.

Abstract: This article highlights an aspiration specific to Seoul that is projected onto, experienced, and contested by North Korean refugee-migrants who have recently arrived by way of China in this capitalist city of a divided Korea. I pay particular attention to the role of the evangelical Protestant Church in the process of subjectification of these migrant individuals and the performative rituals by which they negotiate religious-political aspirations toward the future. The bodily-spiritual transformation of individual North Korean migrants into Christians is not strictly teleological and is more complicated, ambivalent, and diversified. By comparing two distinctive North Korean migrant activities—the balloon leaflet campaigns and the With-U music concerts and activities—this article discusses the efficacies of the performative rituals of violence and peace that contest and constitute the particular religious-political aspirations in the context of late-Cold War Seoul.

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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Redden, “‘Boil them Hearts’: The Role of Methodist Revivalist Piety in Indigenous Conversion and Evangelization in Late Nineteenth-century Coastal British Columbia”

Redden, Jason. 2016. “‘‘Boil them Hearts’’: The Role of Methodist Revivalist Piety in Indigenous Conversion and Evangelization in Late Nineteenth-century Coastal British Columbia.” Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses DOI: 10.1177/0008429816660883

Abstract: This paper addresses the academic conversation on Protestant missions to the Indigenous peoples of coastal British Columbia during the second half of the nine- teenth century through a consideration of the role of revivalist piety in the conversion of some of the better known Indigenous Methodist evangelists identified in the scholarly literature. The paper introduces the work of existing scholars critically illuminating the reasons (religious convergence and/or the want of symbolic and material resources) typically given for Indigenous, namely, Ts’msyen, conversion. It also introduces Methodist revivalist piety and its instantiation in British Columbia. And, finally, it offers a critical exploration of revivalist piety and its role in conversion as set within a broader theoretical inquiry into the academic study of ritual and religion.

Penttilä, “Creating an Evangelical Self”

Penttilä, Maija.  2016.  Creating an Evangelical self: an analysis of narratives of conversion to Evangelicalism in post-Soviet St Petersburg.  Religion, State and Society.  Early online publication.

Abstract: In this article I analyse the narratives of conversion to Evangelical churches in St Petersburg by inquiring how Russians engage with the Evangelical churches and how they construct a meaningful conversion identity. My analysis shows how the social and political changes of post-Soviet Russia are experienced in religious terms and whether they have social implications that are reflected in identity-building as both Russian and Evangelical. Individual identity always reflects time and place, and the social and societal context in which an individual lives. Through this route I also broaden the understanding of Russian societal attitudes towards present-day ‘religious dissidents’. My research is based on 19 thematic interviews and participant observations in church meetings in St Petersburg between 2006 and 2009. Most of the interviewees belonged to communities that could be categorised as neo-Pentecostal. The study revealed that both a personal religious quest, especially during the societal turmoil that existed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the influence of friends or relatives were significant impulses for conversion. The resources sustaining the conversion as an ongoing process are communal, but also involve an individual self-improvement project within the construction of a new Evangelical self.

High, “A Little Bit Christian”

High, Casey. 2016. “A Little Bit Christian”: Memories of Conversion and Community in Post-Christian Amazonia. American AnthropologistDOI: 10.1111/aman.12526

Abstract: Conversion to Christianity in Amazonia is often described in terms of collective action rather than radically new beliefs interior to the individual. I describe how Waorani people in Ecuador remember the conversion of specific elders as a time of civilization that brought Waorani into a wider social order after a period of violence and isolation. Despite having largely abandoned Christianity since their mass conversion in the 1960s, Waorani today embrace past conversion as a catalyst of social transformation that they say made the present ideal of living in a “community” possible. The individual experiences evoked in memories of collective “civilization” and an insistence on personal autonomy in Waorani visions of community illustrate why the moral commentaries of Waorani Christians remain highly valued in communities where Christianity has ceased to be a dominant social identity.