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?”
By: Jon Bialecki (University of California, San Diego/University of Edinburgh)
When AnthroCyBib started out, its mission was to index and disseminate academic materials “contributing to, or in dialogue with” the Anthropology of Christianity. In short, it was to be a place where one could expect to find news – good news, if you will – of the kind of monographs and essays that those interested in the intersections of anthropology and Christianity would want to read. Not do overdo the auto-critique, but this in practice has meant mainly anthropological and ethnographic works. Some sociology, geography, and history, and even the occasional missiological text has been included, but these have been the outliers. And no one has complained. This suggests that who or what we imagine to be ‘in dialogue’ with the Anthropology of Christianity isn’t that far reaching.
This a little surprising, given the importance that outside disciplines have had on the anthropology of Christianity. While we cannot by any stretch of the imagination claim either unique, or even exemplary, disciplinary status in this regard, the anthropology of Christianity certainly has been ‘in dialogue’ with Continental Philosophy. Fanella Cannell (2006) starts out the introduction to her Anthropology of Christianity volume by invoking Hegel, even if she holds him up as in essence asking “what difference does Christianity make,” which to Cannell was the wrong question entirely. More recently, there has been engagement with Continental Philosophy’s own dalliance with Paul (Bialecki 2009; Engelke and Robbins 2010). Theology, too, is something that the anthropology of Christianity has at least a theoretical map to engage with (Robbins 2006), even if its usually taken up in the form of ethnographic evidence rather than intellectual interlocutor. Yet still, this material seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.
I bring this up not because I want to take anyone to task for not citing or not reading either philosophy or theology, or to celebrate the moments when there has been engagement with these fields; people will cite whatever they will, and there is no knowing, really, what anyone is reading or not reading. Rather, I want to draw attention to the anthropology of Christianity’s engagement with theology and philosophy in order to ask how difficult it might be for the sub-discipline to have an encounter with a text that presents itself as neither philosophy or theology, while yet at the same time understanding itself to be a part of both disciplines. I am speaking here of Daniel Colucciello Barber’s On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity, a book that intentionally slips itself into the interstitial cracks between those disciplines, and which is all the more difficult to pin down for its shockingly straightforward, lucid prose. And yet despite all the difficulty in positioning his text, and for all the distance there is in his theoretical project from the sort of meticulously ethnographic work that is the hallmark of the sub-discipline, I think that anthropologists of Christianity would do well to read Barber. I think that this is the case because Barber allows us to to have a better grasp of the ontological and political stakes that are already inherent in the ‘anthropology of Christianity’ project, as the field is now constituted – and to perhaps even think of what might happen if we started doing, self consciously, what we have already been doing all along. To be specific, and acknowledging that it will take some time to explain what this means, or why it would be important, Barber offers us a way to defuse “heresiologies” without erasing Christianity, and gives us reasons to take care to see that we are not creating a heresiology of our own.