Elisha, “Proximations of Public Religion: Worship, Spiritual Warfare, and the Ritualization of Christian Dance”

Elisha, Omri. 2017. “Proximations of Public Religion: Worship, Spiritual Warfare, and the Ritualization of Christian Dance.” American Anthropologist. DOI: 10.1111/aman.12819

Abstract: This essay is about a group of neo-Pentecostal evangelists who decided to represent their church in the New York Dance Parade, which they regarded as an opportunity to promote worship as the true purpose of art and engage in spiritual warfare. Their participation was predicated on a distinction between “performance” and “ministry,” privileging the latter. I argue that upholding this distinction in the immersive context of a secular festival required a process of intensive ritualization, involving physical and spiritual preparations and symbolic boundary maintenance. I further argue that anthropological perspectives on such instances of public religion should seek to account for how ritual forms produce and are shaped by the effects of what I call proximation, a condition of “closeness” between categories of activity otherwise regarded as separate and autonomous (e.g., religion and the arts). The concept is a means to explore how religious ministries are influenced by ostensibly external factors and the need to manage them, and by the various opportunities, tensions, and moral associations that arise when ritual strategies evoke comparisons with secular genres and domains. The proximations of religion highlight the ethnographic significance of ideal-typical categories and spheres, including their potential to intersect, which is a byproduct of how they have been differentiated.

Marshall, “Upward, not sunwise”

Marshall, Kimberly Jenkins. 2016. Upward, not sunwise: resonant rupture in Navajo neo-pentecostalism. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press.

Publisher’s description: Upward, Not Sunwise explores an influential and growing neo-Pentecostal movement among Native Americans characterized by evangelical Christian theology, charismatic “spirit-filled” worship, and decentralized Native control. As in other global contexts, neo-Pentecostalism is spread by charismatic evangelists practicing faith healing at tent revivals.In North America, this movement has become especially popular among the Diné (Navajo), where the Oodlání (“Believers”) movement now numbers nearly sixty thousand members. Participants in this movement value their Navajo cultural identity yet maintain a profound religious conviction that the beliefs of their ancestors are tools of the devil.

Kimberly Jenkins Marshall has been researching the Oodlání movement since 2006 and presents the first book-length study of Navajo neo-Pentecostalism. Key to the popularity of this movement is what the author calls “resonant rupture,” or the way the apparent continuity of expressive forms holds appeal for Navajos, while believers simultaneously deny the continuity of these forms at the level of meaning. Although the music, dance, and poetic language at Oodlání tent revivals is identifiably Navajo, Oodlání carefully re-inscribe their country gospel music, dancing in the spirit, use of the Navajo language, and materials of faith healing as transformationally new and different. Marshall explores these and other nuances of Navajo neo-Pentecostal practices by examining how Oodlání perform their faith under the big white tents scattered across the Navajo Nation.

Fer, “Youth with a Mission in the Pacific Islands”

Fer, Yannick. 2016. “Youth With a Mission in the Pacific Islands: From Evangelical globalization to the reshaping of local cultural identities.” in F. Magowan et C. Schwartz (eds.), 2016, Christianity, Conflict, and Renewal in Australia and the Pacific, Leiden/Boston, Brill, pp. 81-101.

Abstract: The rise of Pentecostal-charismatic movements in Polynesia today is opening up new spaces for converts to engage in the contemporary dynamics of globalization, encouraging them to question the intertwined links between religion, culture, and the land, as shaped by local Christian cultures. A complex articulation of converts’ voluntary disaffiliation from traditional religion and their critical reappropriation of Christianity create dilemmas of identity, as Polynesian “Christian tradition” finds no unanimous response within the Pentecostal-charismatic field. Indeed, in recent decades, these movements have led to a double diversification, brought about on the one hand, by the growth of The Christianity of the South and, on the other hand, by the increasing separation of charismatic streams from classical Pentecostal theology.

The charismatic network Youth with a Mission (YWAM), which has been present in Oceania for forty years, exemplifies this global transformation of the Pentecostal-charismatic field and its local impact upon reshaping the identity of Pacific Islander youth. After situating this network within contemporary Pacific Island Protestantism and the post-World War ii American context, this chapter examines the patterns of YWAM global culture, including its positive representation of cultural diversity. I show how these trends generated a militant reappropriation and renewal of cultural identities within the Christian space among young Polynesian converts at the outset of the 1980s. In particular, the Island Breeze movement, a YWAM ministry launched in 1979 by the Samoan Sosene Le’au, claims to seek the “redemption of cultures” and advocates the use of Polynesian dances as both an expression of Christian faith and a universal missionary tool. Finally, an analysis of the links between the YWAM global charismatic culture and this local religious renewing and reshaping of Polynesian cultural identities illuminates several points of adjustment or tension: between individual “new birth”, regional migrations and cultural authenticity; and between historical relationships of domination and the emergence of a “Christian indigeneity influenced by the global theology of “spiritual warfare”.