Boylston, “The Stranger at the Feast”

Boylston, Tom. 2018. The Stranger at the Feast: Prohibition and Mediation in an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Community. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Publisher’s DescriptionThe Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.

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Luehrmann, “Praying with the Senses”

Luehrmann, Sonja, ed. 2017. Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Publisher’s Description: How do people experience spirituality through what they see, hear, touch, and smell? Sonja Luehrmann and an international group of scholars assess how sensory experience shapes prayer and ritual practice among Eastern Orthodox Christians. Prayer, even when performed privately, is considered as a shared experience and act that links individuals and personal beliefs with a broader, institutional, or imagined faith community. It engages with material, visual, and aural culture including icons, relics, candles, pilgrimage, bells, and architectural spaces. Whether touching upon the use of icons in the age of digital and electronic media, the impact of Facebook on prayer in Ethiopia, or the implications of praying using recordings, amplifiers, and loudspeakers, these timely essays present a sophisticated overview of the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianities. Taken as a whole they reveal prayer as a dynamic phenomenon in the devotional and ritual lives of Eastern Orthodox believers across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Senses of Prayer in Eastern Orthodox Christianity / Sonja Luehrmann

Part I: Senses
1. Becoming Orthodox: The Mystery and Mastery of a Christian Tradition / Vlad Naumescu
A Missionary Primer / Ioann Veniaminov
2. Listening and the Sacramental Life: Degrees of Mediation in Greek Orthodox Christianity / Jeffers Engelhardt
Creating an Image for Prayer / Sonja Luehrmann
3. Imagining Holy Personhood: Anthropological Thresholds of the Icon / Angie Heo
Syriac as a lingua sacra: Speaking the Language of Christ in India / Vlad Naumescu
4. Authorizing: The Paradoxes of Praying by the Book / Sonja Luehrmann

Part II: Worlds
5. Inhabiting Orthodox Russia: Religious Nomadism and the Puzzle of Belonging / Jeanne Kormina
Baraka: Mixing Muslims, Christians, and Jews / Angie Heo
6. Sharing Space: On the Publicity of Prayer, between an Ethiopian Village and the Rest of the World / Tom Boylston
Prayers for Cars, Weddings, and Well-Being: Orthodox Prayers en route in Syria / Andreas Bandak
7. Struggling Bodies at the Crossroads of Economy and Tradition: The Case of Contemporary Russian Convents / Daria Dubovka
Competing Prayers for Ukraine / Sonja Luehrmann
8. Orthodox Revivals: Prayer, Charisma, and Liturgical Religion / Simion Pop

Epilogue: Not-Orthodoxy/Orthodoxy’s Others / William A. Christian Jr.

Carroll, “Axis of Incoherence”

Carroll, Timothy. 2017. “Axis of Incoherence: Engagement and failure between two material regimes of Christianity. In The Material Culture of Failure: When Things Do Wrong, edited by David Jeevendrampillai, Aaron Parkhurst, Timothy Carroll, and Julie Shackelford, 157-176. London: Bloomsbury. 

Excerpt: In this chapter, I work with a more processual phenomenon of ‘failure.’ Rather than the material conforming and then not, the materials discussed in this chapter – a parish church building, to be exact – never fully matches the aspirations of the community.

Antohin, “Holy Water”

Antohin, Alexandra. 2017. “Holy Water, healing and the sacredness of knowledge.” In The Material Culture of Failure: When Things Do Wrong, edited by David Jeevendrampillai, Aaron Parkhurst, Timothy Carroll, and Julie Shackelford, 75-94. London: Bloomsbury. 

Excerpt: This chapter traces the processes by which people confront and seek to address failures in their lives by looking at one specific material: holy water. The following analyses will consider several key questions for evaluating when things go wrong by specifically interrogating the processes of knowledge production when using materials to achieve desired effects. In particular, what is the relationship between the expectation of individuals seeking a radical change and the reality of that change failing to take place?

Carroll, “Theology as an Ethnographic Object”

Carroll, Timothy.  2017.  Theology as an Ethnographic Object: An Anthropology of Eastern Christian Rupture.  Religions 8(7): 114.

Abstract: This paper draws upon over three years’ research among Eastern Orthodox (principally Antiochian and Greek) communities in London and Mount Athos, Greece. This research came to engage theology quite heavily as part of the ethnographic facts of the fieldsites. This paper reviews some of the existing ways that theology (as both discipline and practice) relate to ethnographic enquiry, particularly as it has arisen in the dialogue with the Anthropology of Christianity and frames this in light of the historical development of Anthropology and its relationship to theology and Christianity. The paper then advances a methodological argument, in favour of further means of relation, specifically in terms of theology as a cultural artefact. Drawing on local practices of liturgical theology and Eastern Orthodox forms of allegorical interpretation, I argue for the inclusion of theological insight and practice within the social scientific study of religion. Working in an Orthodox setting requires the investigation of liturgical theology and brings to light important aspects of the relationship between temporal and sempiternal domains of action. Particularly as it relates to liturgical theology and the practices of interpretation, ethnographic enquiry into Orthodox theology asks for a reconsideration of social scientific methods of analysis and representation.

Opas and Haapalainen, eds, “Christianity and the Limits of Materiality”

Opas, Minna and Anna Haapalainen, eds.  2017.  Christianity and the Limits of Materiality.  London: Bloomsbury.

Publisher’s Description: Despite the fact that Christianity is understood to be thoroughly intertwined with matter, objects, and things, Christians struggle to cope with this materiality in their daily lives. This volume argues that the ambivalent relationships many Christians have with materiality is a driving force that contributes to the way people in different Christian traditions and in different parts of the world understand and live out their religion.

By placing the questions of limits and boundary-work to the fore, the volume addresses the question of exactly how Christianity takes place materially, addressing a gap in studies to date. Christianity and the Limits of Materiality presents ground-breaking research on the frameworks and contexts in relation to and within which Christian logics of materiality operate. The volume places the negotiations at the limits of materiality within the larger framework of Christian identities and politics of belonging.
The chapters discuss case studies from North and South America, Europe, and Africa, and demonstrate that the limits preoccupying Christians delimit their lives but also enable many things. Ultimately, Christianity and the Limits of Materiality demonstrates that it is at the interfaces of materiality and the transcendent that Christians create and legitimise their religion.
Foreword, David Morgan (Duke University, USA)
Introduction, Minna Opas & Anna Haapalainen (University of Turku, Finland)
Part 1: Doubting
1. Spirit Media and the Spectre of the Fake, Marleen de Witte (Unviersity of Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
2. Organic Faith in Amazonia: De-indexification, doubt and Christian corporeality, Minna Opas (University of Turku, Finland)
3. Things not for themselves: idolatry and consecration in Orthodox Ethiopia, Tom Boylston (University of Edinburgh)
Part 2: Sufficing
4. The Bible in the Digital Age: Negotiating the Limits of ‘Bibleness’ of Different Bible Media, Katja Rakow(Heidelberg University, Germany)
5. The Plausibility of Immersion: limits and creativity in materializing the Bible, James Bielo (Miami University, USA)
6.Humanizing the Bible: Limits of materiality in a passion play, Anna Haapalainen (University of Turku, Finland)
7. Semana Santa processions in Granada – Religion or Spectacle? Sari Kuuva (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)
8. The death and rebirth of a crucifix: Materiality and the sacred in Andean vernacular Catholicism, Diego Alonso Huerta (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú / University of Helsinki, Finland)
Part 3: Unbinding
9. Proving the Inner Word: (De)materializing the Spirit in Radical Pietism Elisa Heinämäki (University of Helsinki, Finland)
10. The Return of the Unclean Spirit: Collapse and Relapse in the Baptist rehab ministry Igor Mikeshin (University of Helsinki, Finland)
11. Mimesis and Mediation in the Semana Santa Processions of Granada, Sari Kuuva, University of Jyväskylä
Afterword: Diana Espirito Santo (London School of Economics, UK)

Malara and Boylston, “Vertical Love”

Malara, Diego Maria and Tom Boylston. 2016. Vertical Love: Forms of Submission and Top-Down Power in Orthodox Ethiopia. Social Analysis 61(4): 40-57.

Abstract: The classical sociological literature on Amhara hierarchy describes a society based on open relations of domination and an obsession with top-down power. This article asks how these accounts can be reconciled with the strong ethics of love and care that ground daily life in Amhara. We argue that love and care, like power, are understood in broadly asymmetrical terms rather than as egalitarian forms of relationship. As such, they play into wider discourses of hierarchy, but also serve to blur the distinction between legitimate authority and illegitimate power.

Boylston, “Death and the Semiotics of Remembrance”

Boylston, Tom. 2015. “And Unto Dust Thou Shalt Return”: Death and the Semiotics of Remembrance in an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Village. Material Religion 11(3): 281-302.

Abstract: This ethnographic article discusses funerary practice, Orthodox Christian ideas of body and spirit, and the ways in which people make memorials for each other on the Zege Peninsula in northwest Ethiopia. I pay special attention to gravestones because, here as in many other places, physical memorials to the dead become locations where latent uncertainties and conflicts about the relationship between spirit and matter, body and soul, and this world and the next, tend to crystallize. I show that material memorials highlight ambiguities in Orthodox attitudes to human embodiment and challenge priestly monopolies over relations between the living and the dead. Because of material chains of mediation and memorialization, the disaggregating practices of Orthodox funerary ritual can never fully untangle the deceased from their worldly social entanglements.

Winchester, “Converting to Continuity”

Winchester, Daniel.  2015. Converting to Continuity: Temporality and Self in Eastern Orthodox Conversion Narratives.  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Based on interviews with converts to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the United States, this article documents and analyzes a narrative form in which conversion is described as the progressive discovery of a latent religious self that was part of one’s life all along, or what I term a conversion to continuity. These findings contrast markedly with those of most contemporary conversion research, which emphasize the narration of a dramatic temporal break between converts’ past and present religious selves (epitomized by the evangelical “born-again” genre). I examine how and why temporal continuity was a characteristic feature of these conversion accounts and demonstrate how such narratives helped constitute forms of religious experience and self-identity that differ in important respects from those documented in previous studies. In light of these findings, I argue for a reconceptualization of continuity and discontinuity within processes of religious identity change as an institutionally anchored figure/ground relationship as opposed to an either/or dichotomy. I also highlight promising avenues for future comparative research on the relationships between time, narrative, and subjectivity across religious and secular contexts.

Bakker, “Ritual Sounds, Political Echoes”

Bakker, Sarah Kellogg. 2015. Ritual Sounds, Political Echoes: Vocal agency and the sensory cultures of secularism in the Dutch Syriac diaspora. American Ethnologist 42(3): 431-445.

Abstract: Among Syriac Orthodox Christian migrant communities in the Netherlands, liturgical performance is a site of controversy over where and how to draw a boundary between “religious” and “ethnic” identity. Tensions materialize in discordant singing styles and modes of performance, echoing complex historical encounters with Dutch, Syrian, and Turkish secularisms. These encounters, I argue, have refashioned the liturgical tradition’s role as a central axis of ethnoreligious social life and kin relations across the diaspora. Secular state practices shape a diasporic sensory culture that is met with a distinct form of vocal agency. Syriac Orthodox liturgical experiments show how the voice can transform the sensorial interface between human subjectivity and social intelligibility, in turn transforming how categories of secular modernity—whether ritual, art, ethnicity, or politics—are distinguished and lived.