Abstract: Religion has been conceptualised as personal belief in the transcendent. Anthropologists of religion have critiqued such a construct for decades for being based on a Christian Protestant model and one that reflected subsequently modern rationalist Western culture. This construct has increasingly been shown to fail to account for the religiosity of contemporary Christians. Drawing on the sociology of Georg Simmel and based on ethnographic research in a Christian evangelical church, the article proposes a reconceptualisation of religious belief that is experiential and relational. Evangelicals in this case study show that propositional belief plays increasingly a secondary role to belief intended as trust in God and forming a relationship with God and others. Relationships mediate personal religious experience and are shown to be essential to the conversion process, the life of faith, and Christian identity. The study thus bridges the separation between theoretical and empirical works by operationalising Simmel’s sociology.
Engberg, Aron. 2016. Walking on the Pages of the Word of God: Self, Land, and Text among Evangelical Volunteers in Jerusalem. Doctoral Dissertation, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies. Lund, Sweden: Lund University.
Excerpt: During the last 30 years, the Evangelical relationship with the State of Israel has drawn much academic and popular attention, particularly from historical, theological, and political perspectives. This dissertation engages with this literature but also complements it with an ethnographic account of the discursive practices of Evangelical Zionists through which, it is suggested, much of the religious significance of the contemporary state is being produced. The study is based on ethnographic fieldwork among Evangelical volunteer workers in Jerusalem, focusing on their stories about themselves, the land, and the biblical text.
Bielo, James S. 2016. Creationist History-Making: Producing a Heterodox Past. In Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices, 81-101. Edited by Jeb J. Card and David S. Anderson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Excerpt: The past, though quite real, is forever and densely mediated by this production of histories. As a cultural process, history-making is a social and ideological accomplishment that is achieved through material means and infrastructure. In turn, the anthropology and ethnography of history-making confronts important questions: how are different relationships to the past cultivated? What strategies and resources are marshaled to perform history-making? And, what is up for grabs in competing acts of history-making? A key contribution of this volume is to develop better ways of thinking about how non-professional historians and scientists perform the work of history-making (cf. Beisaw this volume). The Answers in Genesis creative team reminds us with little subtlety that the past is ideologically contested and that even the most scientifically established historical claims can be actively challenged. As the historian Raphael Samuel writes: “History is not the prerogative of the historian, nor even, as postmodernism contends, a historian’s ‘invention.’ It is, rather, a social form of knowledge; the work, in any given instance, of a thousand different hands” (1994: 8). Moreover, those thousand hands are not working in concert, which means the present hosts multiple historical narratives vying for cultural authority. Anthropologically, our remit is to understand whose hands are doing what and to seek a full ethnographic account of all history-making projects, including those of creationists. To aim for any less is to shrug off our most profound scholarly responsibility.
Abstract: Many scholars have debated the potential results of pilgrimage, but few have tracked how pre-trip goals actually relate to post-trip outcomes. Based on research with US evangelicals, this article argues that, despite being confronted with the possibility of disrupted meaning, nearly every pilgrim comes to see the trip as a success. To understand why, I draw on studies that frame Christian rituals as processes that are partial and in flux. Firstly, I explore how gendered notions of relationality affect perceptions of efficacy and lead to multiple goal-setting. Secondly, I show how the journey is couched within broader epistemologies that define a Christian life as incremental improvements, where one ‘grows’ with God. Thus the meaning making associated with pilgrimage is never fully complete, but is compelled into a future where further interpretations and presumed successes are inchoate. Ultimately, the belief in future meaning is as important—perhaps more so—than immediate ritual success.
Marti, Gerardo. 2016. “I Was a Muslim, But Now I Am a Christian”: Preaching, Legitimation, and Identity Management in a Southern Evangelical Church. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Early online publication.
Abstract: Established in 2005, “Life” is a suburban, nondenominational, evangelical church in Charlotte, North Carolina, with an almost entirely white membership, yet the lead pastor is an immigrant from the Middle East. As an ex-Muslim ethnic Pakistani who was born and raised in Kuwait, Pastor Sameer Khalid does not “fit” into southern culture, and he did not convert to Christianity until he was enrolled in college in the United States. Ethnographic data from 14 months of fieldwork reveal how Pastor Sameer uses weekly sermons to negotiate racialized stigmas, emphasize his common religious identity with the congregation, and make his immigrant background a distinctive religious resource for the church. More specifically, while all pastors require legitimation of their charismatic authority, this research focuses on the dynamics of performance through preaching within the Sunday morning services of this congregation, a performance that negotiates this lead pastor’s ethnic and religious identities and accentuates his strategic use of institutionalized evangelical narratives to subvert Islamophobic threats and buttress legitimation of his pastoral identity.
Abstract: Prominent versions of social capital theory presume a positive link between voluntary memberships—including religious memberships—and generalized trust in society. Yet this relationship has not been tested in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with low average levels of generalized trust and high levels of religious membership and participation, where the rise of Charismatic Evangelical churches has recently transformed the religious landscape. Contrary hypotheses based in a theory of oppositional subcultures would suggest that memberships in such churches could dampen generalized trust due to their oppositional discourse vis a vis the wider society. In this paper, I use 2008 Afrobarometer survey data from seven countries in the region to test these contrasting hypotheses, analyzing both the pooled data and the separate country datasets. I find mixed evidence for the link between religious membership and generalized trust, and more consistent evidence that affiliating with a Charismatic Evangelical group is negatively associated with generalized trust. The study supports the conclusion that the link between religious membership and generalized trust is dependent on both the context and the content of the discourse circulating in religious settings.
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.
Abstract: The role of religion in Latin American politics can no longer be interpreted with reductionist schemes. The faithful—citizens—are combining faith and politics in unprecedented ways, and churches and denominations are no longer factors of political identity. The reconfiguration of new social and political movements interweaves complex linkages with the religious. The transformations of the political field and especially of democratic processes have reshaped identities in a context of increasing religious and cultural diversity with relatively less Catholic presence and greater Evangelical presence. Institutional secularization and religious pluralism seem to go hand in hand with a new cleavage between religion and politics.
Abstract: This article explores how religious communities actualize the virtual problem of temporality. Analysing two case studies from contemporary America, Mormon Trek re-enactment and a creationist theme park re-creating Noah’s ark, I argue that replication is a strategy for constructing a relationship with time in which a strict past–present divide is collapsed through affective means. This work contributes to comparative studies in the anthropology of religion and temporalizing the past.