Kołodziejska and Neumaier, “Between individualisation and tradition”

Kołodziejska, Marta and Anna Neumaier. 2017. Between individualisation and tradition: transforming religious authority on German and Polish Christian online discussion forums,” Religion 47(2): 228-255

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to connect the debates on individualisation and mediatisation of religion and transformations of religious authority online on theoretical and empirical basis. The classical and contemporary concepts of individualisation of religion, rooted in the secularisation debate, will be connected with Campbell’s [2007. “Who’s Got the Power? Religious Authority and the Internet.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12 (3): 1043–1062] concept of four layers of religious authority online. The empirical material consists of a joint analysis of German Christian and Polish Catholic Internet forums. In a transnational comparison, the findings show similar tendencies of individualisation and emerging communities of choice, as well as a lasting significance of textual religious authorities, although different levels of authority are negotiated and emphasised to a varying extent. However, in both cases critique of the Church and religion usually emerges offline, and is then expressed online. While the forums do not have a subversive potential, they facilitate adopting a more independent, informed, and reflexive approach to religion.

Ikeuchi, “Accompanied Self”

Ikeuchi, Suma.  2017. Accompanied Self: Debating Pentecostal Individual and Japanese Relational Selves in Transnational Japan.  Ethos 45(1): 3-23.

Abstract: While the notion of the individual figures prominently in the debate about Christian personhood, the concept of relational selves has shaped the existing literature on Japanese selfhood. I take this seeming divergence between “individual Christian” and “interdependent Japanese” as the point of departure to probe how Japanese-Brazilian Pentecostal migrants in contemporary Japan understand and experience their sense of self. The article is based on 14 months of fieldwork in Toyota, Japan, which consisted of participant observation, interviews, and surveys among Brazilian and Japanese residents there. The discourses about the category of religion serve as a major source of data to tease out cultural understandings about “the authentic self.” I will argue that Pentecostal personhood does not fit within either the “individual” or the “relational.” The concept of “accompanied self” will then be proposed to accurately capture the kind of self that many migrant converts strive to embody.

Haynes, “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way”

Naomi Haynes, 2016. “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way: language and personhood on the Zambian Copperbelt,” Religion, early online publication: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1225906

Abstract: This article examines the role of prayer in the production of the Pentecostal person on the Zambian Copperbelt. While Pentecostal prayer is partly focused on private concerns, and therefore reinforces a classic Protestant notion of bounded, individualised personhood, success in this practice depends on a believer’s ability to incorporate the language of the Pentecostal community. Prayer is also therefore dependent on a model of personhood in which permeability has an important part to play. One of the implications of this latter element of Pentecostal prayer is that it turns individual believers into iconic representations of their communities.

Montemaggi, “Sacralisation”

Montemaggi, Francesca Eva Sara.  2015. Sacralisation – the role of individual actors in legitimising religion.  Culture and Religion 16(3): 291-307.

Abstract: The article makes a contribution to the study of religion by developing the analytical concept of sacralisation as the process whereby individual religious actors and groups construct religious tradition by attributing value to single ideas and practices. The concept of sacralisation helps us understand how religious actors engage with their religious tradition and participate in constructing it by legitimising its single elements. The sacred is thus understood as constructed by religious actors as that which is of value for them and distinctive of their specific tradition. This concept has been developed from a three-year long ethnographic research in a Christian evangelical church and is illustrated through an analysis of the research data.

Stromberg, “Wesleyan Sanctification”

Stromberg, Peter G. 2015. Wesleyan Sanctification and the Ethic of Self-Realization. Ethos 43(4): 423-443.

Abstract: Among the related but distinct ideas that comprise contemporary American individualism is the ethic of self-realization, the belief that each person has the moral duty to develop their own characteristic talents and potentialities. Here I argue that although the intellectual sources of this belief are well-understood, we have little knowledge of how this idea became an ethic, how it acquired the emotional force of a moral directive. I suggest that this development can be explained in part by exploring the history of the Wesleyan doctrine of Sanctification, the conviction that the Christian believer can achieve a state of perfection. In the 19th century, debates erupted over whether Sanctification—originally an ecstatic experience occurring in revivals—could also take place as a gradual process, the development of Christian character. By the early 20th century, broader cultural forces conditioned a theological shift whereby Sanctification was increasingly understood in liberal thought as realization of the divinity that dwells within each individual soul. Along this path, Sanctification progressively permeated certain routines of daily life. This history provides an example of gradual transformation within Christianity, an example that can help to refine understandings of the processes of continuity and discontinuity that have been central to discussion in the Anthropology of Christianity.

Occasional Paper: Daswani, “Christian Personhood in a Ghanaian Pentecostal Church”

Christian Personhood in a Ghanaian Pentecostal Church

Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)

Abstract: The question ‘what is Christian personhood?’ has been on the anthropological radar for some time now. Most of these debates around Christian personhood have engaged with ideas of ‘individuality’ and ‘dividuality’ and have considered whether Christians are individual or dividual first. By looking at how relationships are organized differently within one Pentecostal church in Ghana, I argue that both individuality and dividuality should be considered as intrinsic to any notion of Christian personhood. I examine how church leaders and prophets from the Church of Pentecost reveal the different social arrangements through which a Pentecostal identity and its relations are constituted, managed, and brought into being in Ghana. Ultimately this paper argues that the qualities of how church leaders and prophets of this church come together, and come apart, as individual or dividual, can also be studied through a better understanding of kinship and the social structures that people cohabit.

In early 2015 I met up with Albert, a friend and interlocutor, someone who introduced me to The Church of Pentecost (CoP) when I was in Ghana between 2003 and 2004. It was Albert who in 2004 said to a prayer congregation that Pentecostalism in Ghana was not about a ‘belief in God’ but about ‘relationships’, that God worked through people to help those in need (Daswani 2015). My attempts to make sense of what he meant by relationships helped frame my first impressions of Pentecostalism and in understanding how CoP members were related to God through their shared spiritual practices and through the networks of care and support that were a part of. Back then Albert spent much of his time visiting and assisting several prophets from CoP. Through prayer and prophecies they helped build his hopes for the future and provided him with a sense of security in the world. Albert eventually left CoP and in 2014 formed his own prayer fellowship, which quickly turned into a small but vibrant church. He now had others, followers of his own, who clung to his every word as he gave them advice, predicted their future and spoke demons out of their bodies. His new role as a prophet of his own church allowed him to take on a special position in Ghanaian society as a spiritual guide and mentor. Albert told me that one could convert, become born-again, speak in tongues and learn from others as to how to be a good Pentecostal but the gifts of the prophet were something that one could not cultivate over time. Instead the prophetic gifts were given by God to a chosen few and within different degrees of intensity, either present or absent in the Christian person. When Albert emphasised ‘relationships’ as central to his understanding of Pentecostalism in Ghana, I came to understand that he was referring to the relationships of support and spiritual protection he had received from prophets and from other church members who attended these special prayer services. Over time I realized that there were different types of relationships in CoP and different understandings of ‘relationships’ that informed a Pentecostal identity in Ghana.

The two groups that best represented the different types of relationships in CoP were (1) the church leaders who included pastors that held administrative positions and who provided guidelines for how Pentecostal relations ought to play out practice, and (2) the prophets who held spiritual power and who operated out of prayer camps and prayer centres. The former provided specific theologically based guidelines for how church members were related to God and to each other, paying particular attention to how Pentecostals should come together as individuals-in-Christ. The latter were subject to the same criteria of biblical relatedness but were also described as specially chosen vectors of divine power. Because of their special relationship with the Holy Spirit, prophets were described as more spiritually powerful than ordinary Christians and even CoP leaders. They were known to be able to see what lies behind people’s intentions and to mediate on behalf of others with God and the spirits causing them harm. Church leaders and prophets represented two models of ‘intersubjectivity’ (see Hamberger 2013; Course 2013) that co-existed but that were in tension with one another. They also informed my understanding of the divisions within CoP and within Pentecostalism in Ghana more generally – between more hierarchical-institutionalized forms of Pentecostalism and more charismatic forms that centre around individual personalities and their ability to transmit spiritual power.

In this paper I pay special attention to church leaders and prophets in CoP in order to demonstrate how they help form Pentecostal ‘relationships’ differently. I argue that while interconnected as members of a single institution these two groups reveal the different social arrangements through which a Pentecostal Christian identity and its relations are constituted, managed, and brought into being in Ghana. This distinction between groups speaks to the interconnected but different ways of conceiving Christian persons and their relations – one that can be chosen and cultivated over time and another that is simply gifted to a select few. If the acceptable forms of socialization and the constituent parameters of individual selfhood within the church community are prescribed by CoP leaders, and as premised on the cultivation of certain Christian virtues, prophets provide another way of imagining social relations, acting as channels of and for a divine power that not every Christian possesses. These two groups are not representative of different types of “Ghanaian Pentecostal” but tokens of a single type, moral characters that are identifiable in many Christian churches in Ghana including CoP. In CoP church leaders and prophets operate alongside each other and criticize each other but their interactions also help us consider the structure of relations that frame personhood and to reconsider an important theme in an anthropology of Christianity to which I now turn. Continue reading

Morgain, “‘Break Down These Walls'”

Morgain, Rachel.  2015. ‘Break Down These Walls’: Space, Relations, and Hierarchy in Fijian Evangelical Christianity.  Oceania 85(1): 105-118.

Abstract: Patterns of sociality in Fijian evangelical Christianity differ from the mainline Fijian Methodist church in being notably less integrated with relations of vanua and chiefly hierarchy, leading scholars to speculate as to whether such traditions are more individualised. Analysing teachings, hymns, worship styles and spatial arrangements within a prominent Fijian Pentecostal ministry, I explore how sociality is produced through the interaction of spatial, conceptual, and embodied processes. Competing dynamics of hierarchy and equality, connections and boundaries, are mobilised within an overall framework that emphasises individual moral authority and personal relationship with God. Through this analysis, in conversation with previous studies, this paper argues for a critical examination of schemes of ‘egalitarian individualism’ and ‘hierarchical holism’, which, through the influence of Louis Dumont in particular, have been prominent in studies of Christianity and sociality in Oceania.

Occasional Paper: Bialecki, “The Judgment of God and the Non-elephantine Zoo”

The Judgment of God and the Non-elephantine Zoo: Christian Dividualism, Individualism, and Ethical Freedom After the Mosko-Robbins Debate

Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)

Abstract: The recent debate between Joel Robbins and Mark Mosko regarding whether Melanesian and extra-Melanesian forms of Christianity should be considered “individual” or “dividual” gives us the opportunity to revisit the question of dividualisms, and to question the over one decade old “current anthropological wisdom” that “all persons are both dividuals and individuals.” (Englund and Leach 2000: 229; see also Lipuma 1998). Reading deployments of Mosko’s argument outside of Melanesia, in conjunction with careful attention to the works of Robbins and Webb Keane, as well as with fieldwork with American Charismatic Christians, this essay argues for a more complex analytic in which individualism as well as disparate dividualism form an economy, working at different scales and temporal frameworks, and at times toward unanticipated ends.

Continue reading

Herbal, “Turning to Tradition”

Herbal, (The Rev.) D. Oliver.  2014.  Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Recent years have seen increasing numbers of Protestant and Catholic Christians converting to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In this book D. Oliver Herbel examines Christian converts to Orthodoxy who served as exemplars and leaders for convert movements in America during the twentieth century. These convert groups include Carpatho Rusyns, African Americans, and Evangelicals.

Religious mavericks have a long history in Americaa tradition of being anti-tradition. Converts to orthodoxy reject such individualism by embracing an ancient form of Christianity even as they exemplify it by choosing their own religious paths. Drawing on archival resources including Rusyn and Russian newspapers, unpublished internal church documents, personal archives, and personal interviews, Herbel presents a close examination of the theological reasons for the exemplary converts’ own conversions as well as the reasons they offered to persuade those who followed them. He considers the conversions within the context of the American anti-tradition, and of racial and ethnic tensions in America. This book offers the first serious investigation of this important trend in American religion and the first in-depth investigation of any kind of African-American Orthodoxy.