Meneses et. al., “Engaging the Religiously Committed Other: Anthropologists and Theologians in Dialogue”

Meneses, Eloise, Lindy Backues, David Bronkema, Eric Flett, and Benjamin L. Hartley. 2014. Engaging the Religiously Committed Other: Anthropologists and Theologians in Dialogue. Current Anthropology. Preprint – issue, volume, page not available. 

Abstract: Anthropology has two tasks: the scientific task of studying human beings and the instrumental task of promoting human flourishing. To date, the scientific task has been constrained by secularism, and the instrumental task by the philosophy and values of liberalism. These constraints have caused religiously based scholarship to be excluded from anthropology’s discourse, to the detriment of both tasks. The call for papers for the 2009 meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) recognized the need to “push the field’s epistemological and presentational conventions” in order to reach anthropology’s various publics. Religious thought has much to say about the human condition. It can expand the discourse in ways that provide explanatory value as well as moral purpose and hope. We propose an epistemology of witness for dialogue between anthropologists and theologians, and we demonstrate the value added with an example: the problem of violence.

Dulin, “Messianic Judaism as a Mode of Christian Authenticity”

Dulin, John. 2013.Messianic Judaism as a Mode of Christian Authenticity: Exploring the Grammar of Authenticity through Ethnography of a Contested Identity. Anthropos 108(1):33-51.

Abstract: While most studies of Messianic Jews focus on how they grapple with anxieties of in-authenticity in relation to the broader Jewish community, this article considers how adherents understand their faith as a unique form of authenticity. On one level, both Messianic Jewish claims of authenticity and critics of Messianic authenticity reflect the same cultural logic of what I call the “evaluative grammar of authenticity.” The evaluative grammar of authenticity values causal/metonymic indexes over manipulated symbols and is undergirded by a suspicion that general appearances are symbolically manipulated in order to mask actual indexical underpinnings. This article argues that the strong stance on Messianic Jewish authenticity in this community is facilitated by the employment of the evaluative grammar of authenticity within a model of reality strongly influenced by the eschatology and epistemology of American Christian fundamentalism. The indexical underpinnings of the cosmos within this model of reality make it logical to conceive of the Messianic Jewish movement as a manifestation of authentic biblical religion. This mode of authenticity is briefly compared to that reflected by critics of Messianic Jewish authenticity who tend to employ this evaluative grammar within a more natural/historical model of reality. This ethnographic example is useful for exploring some of the basic contours of conflicts over authenticity, including how the value-laden domains of knowledge and agency are implicated in these conflicts. It also illustrates how the evaluative grammar of authenticity exemplifies a shared cultural value that, due to its internal logic, tends to engender division and cultural heterogeneity as much, or more, than it engenders cultural consensus.

Magolda and Gross, “Misinterpreting the Spirit and Heart: Religious and Paradigmatic Tensions in Ethnographic Research”

Magolda, Peter and Kelsey Ebben Gross (2012) “Misinterpreting the Spirit and Heart: Religious and Paradigmatic Tensions in Ethnographic Research.” Religion & Education 39(3):235-256.

Abstract: This article discusses the unique methodological challenges that 2 secular researchers encountered while studying an evangelical collegiate enclave. The article showcases the researchers’ retrospec- tive sense making of their fieldwork and offers insights for qualitat- ive researchers interested in studying faith-based organizations.

Lindhardt, “Who bewitched the pastor and why did he survive the witchcraft attack? Micro-politics and the creativity of indeterminacy in Tanzanian discourses on witchcraft”

Lindhardt, Martin (2012) “Who bewitched the pastor and why did he survive the witchcraft attack? Micro-politics and the creativity of indeterminacy in Tanzanian discourses on witchcraft.” Canadian Journal of African Studies / La Revue canadienne des e ́tudes africaines 46(2): 215–232 

Abstract: Many Tanzanians share a basic understanding of the occult as a moving force in the visible world. But at the same time, notions of the occult are characterised by indeterminacies in meaning, thereby allowing for multiple interpretations of particular events. This article explores various readings of two particular incidents that both occurred within a suburb of the city of Iringa in South-central Tanzania. First a Lutheran pastor started suffering from a paralyzed shoulder and a few weeks later an old woman was found lying naked outside of his home in the middle of the night. While both incidents were widely ascribed to witchcraft the article shows how particular interpretations were embedded in and reflective of a dense social climate, characterised by different kinds of tension, inequalities, suspicions of corruption and by religious and medical pluralism and competition. The article argues that the very opaqueness and uncertainty of witchcraft knowledge enabled a variety of actors with different stakes to make claims to truth, spiritual status and moral identity.

Luhrmann, Tanya. (2012). “A Hyperreal God and Modern Belief: Toward an Anthropological Theory of Mind.”

Luhrmann, Tanya. 2012. A Hyperreal God and Modern Belief: Toward an Anthropological Theory of Mind. Current Anthropology 53(4):371-395


This article argues that there is an epistemological style associated with much American evangelical Christianity that is strikingly different from that found in never-secular Christianities. This epistemological style is characterized by a playful, self-consciously paradoxical framing of belief-claims in which God’s reality is both clearly affirmed and qualified. One can describe this style as using an “epistemological double register” in which God is described as very real—and as doubted, in some way. The representation of God generated by this complex style is a magically real or hyper-real God, both more real than everyday reality and in some way fictive. The article goes on to argue that these epistemological features can be understood as generated by and generative of particular theories of mind. The article argues for the development of an anthropological theory of mind in which at least four dimensions are important: boundedness, interiority, sensorium, and epistemic stance.

Rynkiewich, “Do We Need a Postmodern Anthropology for Mission in a Postcolonial World?”

Rynkiewich, Michael (2010) “Do We Need a Postmodern Anthropology for Mission in a Postcolonial World?” Mission Studies 28(2):151-169

Abstract: There was a time when mission studies benefitted from a symbiotic relationship with the social sciences. However, it appears that relationship has stagnated and now is waning. The argument is made here, in the case of cultural anthropology both in Europe and the United States, that a once mutually beneficial though sometimes strained relationship has suffered a parting of the ways in recent decades. First, the article reviews the relationships between missionaries and anthropologists before World War II when it was possible to be a `missionary anthropologist’ with a foot in both disciplines. In that period, the conversation went two ways with missionary anthropologists making important contributions to anthropology. Then, the article reviews some aspects of the development of the two disciplines after World War II when increasing professionalism in both disciplines and a postmodern turn in anthropology took the disciplines in different directions. Finally, the article asks whether or not the conversation, and thus the cross-fertilization, can be restarted, especially since the youngest generation of anthropologists has recognized the reality of local Christianities in their fields of study.