Abstract:In Christian traditions of “speaking in tongues,” glossolalia refers to an explicitly linguistic form of involvement with the deity, one carried out through denotationally unintelligible behavior. Its religious legitimacy depends on its being speech and not merely speech-like. South Korean Christians practice glossolalia widely across denominations, commonly in cacophonous settings of group prayer. Combined, glossolalia and cacophony impose limits on “normal” linguistic functions while reinforcing ideological commitments to language itself. Glossolalia should be conceptualized as cultural semiosis that is said to contain, and can therefore be justified by, an ideological core of language, but that is in fact produced at the ideological limits of language. This dynamic shapes how practitioners discern the nature of communication with their deity and with one another.
Abstract: Homologies between so-called soft infrastructures like language and hard ones like roads depend on ethnographically variable metaphors of circulation. In these homologies, speakers understand language to propel or inhibit forms of physical movement, affecting the embodied experiences of transportation or locomotion. In the case of Guhu-Samane Christians in Papua New Guinea, people focus on language as a kind of infrastructure as they grapple with postcolonial feelings of disconnection from divine powers that were once manifest in a New Testament translation. They channel this sense of disconnection into ongoing complaints about their lack of a vehicular road and the pain of walking, particularly walking like a heavily burdened woman. If a road were built into their valley, this would signal the New Testament’s transformation into Christian infrastructure.
Ryan Schram, 2016. “Tapwaroro is true”: Indigenous Voice and the Heteroglossia of Methodist Missionary Translation in British New Guinea” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology.
Abstract: In the semiotic ideology of many Christian discursive practices, it is assumed that any language can convey the same message of salvation, and any person is capable of true belief, no matter how it is expressed. Evangelism, especially by Western missions, thus centers on translating Christian texts into vernacular languages. This article considers these understandings and practices by examining the written discourse of Australian Methodist missionaries in the early colonial period in New Guinea. These missionaries desired an encounter with heathens in an unevangelized field, but they operated in a colonial terrain defined by the politics of past encounters between Australians and Melanesians. In their writings, missionary authors parody the voices of indigenous speakers and present a world in which missionary and native cannot arrive at a shared understanding of religion. Their parody usually involves quoting one term, taparoro, as a word used by natives for the mission and its activities. Having presented a world defined by a persistent gap in understanding, missionaries appropriate this particular sign of their own otherness to others as a basis for a new mission register into which they can translate Christian ideas. In so doing, they do not simply impose one dominant code as a metalinguistic standard, but fashion a new discourse out of available materials in a complex field of interlingualism.
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.
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.
Abstract: Although Q’eqchi’-Maya Mainstream Catholics and Charismatic Catholics in the Guatemala highlands share many of the same physical and social spaces, the relationship between them is a tense one due to their differing modes of ritual practice. Although this conflict rarely comes to a head directly, on one particular occasion a highly ranked member of a Mainstream congregation, and indeed an outspoken critic of the Charismatics, entered the village chapel during the latter’s weekly service and proceeded openly to criticize their ritual practices, leaders’ religious knowledge, and relationship to the larger institutional Catholic Church. This article analyzes this event as a means of furthering our understanding of what happens when unexpected circumstances threaten the integrity of a religious group’s ritual. How do participants try to circumvent, mitigate or otherwise manage such an occurrence? Examining the spoken and embodied actions taken by both the speaker criticizing the congregation and his intended audience sheds light on the interactive strategies each used to manage their social and ethical standing during the uneasy interaction. This article draws critical attention to the way adherents to two related but distinct forms of Christianity establish and contest their modes of religious authority through language, discourse, and bodily behavior. By investigating an episode in which two modes of Christian practice came into direct confrontation with each other, we can better understand how differing ways of being Christian are dialogically constituted.
Bialecki, Jon. 2015. Protestant Language, Christian Problems, and Religious Realism. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 37-42.
Excerpt: If there is one thing that can be ticked off as ‘accomplished’ by the nascent anthropology of Christianity, it is cementing the idea that in multiple and disparate ethnographic locales featuring self-designated Protestant and Post-Protestant Christians, there are often shared and religiously inflected ideas about what constitutes effective and ethical language. In places as physically distant as Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea, Northern Europe and the United States, ethnographers have found patterns in language use and in speech ethics; again and again, we see that the referential aspects of language are celebrated, and that linguistics agency and responsibility is properly placed directly with the ‘sincere’ speaker.
Opas, Minnas. 2015. Religion, Christianity and the Question of Generative Problems: Comment to Jon Bialecki. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 43-47.
Excerpt: The idea of looking at religion through the notion of the generative problem is, I think, a prolific point of departure for comparative work. Nevertheless, instead of looking at religion only through one specific problem, we could ask, what different kinds of generative problems motivate religious traditions?
Utriainen, Terhi. 2015. Language, Presence and Transforming Christianities through the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion: Comment to Jon Bialecki. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(4): 47-51.
Excerpt: The anthropology and sociology of religion make an interesting couple—a couple that could perhaps have even more conversation and family-life than they have today. From the perspective of the academic study of religion (or ‘religious studies’ as it is often called), which is my home base, anthropology and sociology are often considered two alternative approaches for the empirical study of contemporary religion—approaches to religion as a presence as well as to the presence (or absence) of religion in modernity. Even if they share some classics, Durkheim anyway, these two disciplines are sometimes considered to differ both in their methods (ethnography for anthropology and predominantly quantitative methods for sociology) and their fields and respective theories (non-Western others for anthropology and the religious and secularizing people in the West for sociology). This is, however, changing.
Luehrmann, Sonja. 2015. The politics of prayer books: Delegated intercession, names, and community boundaries in the Russian Orthodox Church. Journal of Religious and Political Practice. Early online publication.
Abstract: Prayer is most easily conceived of as political speech when it is a spontaneous practice showing individual and group reactions to current events. Where prayer is a routinized activity involving the recitation of canonical texts, interpreters locate politics in the disciplining of bodies and acts of claiming space. This paper takes inspiration from ethnographies of oral ritual performance and Quranic recitation to include texts and the delegation of speech roles in the analysis of recited prayer. Most Russian Orthodox Christians either pray from a prayer book or order such prayers to be said by specialists. Focusing on the use of baptismal names as indexical elements in intercessory prayer, I argue that Orthodox Christian textual practices sustain a particular form of fractal social authority. Standardized prayer texts synchronize lay and delegated clerical voices, while individualizing responsibility for non-Orthodox kin and acquaintances. Through analyzing canonical and non-canonical intercessory formulae, one can see that part of the political force of prayer lies in constructing community boundaries while dynamically readjusting them.
Abstract: This article proposes a revised definition of glossolalia based on the ritual value of incomprehensible speech, which allows for an approach to meaning emergence in non-human languages and the issue of extreme linguistic alterity. The main social and acoustic features associated with glossolalia will be presented through the case study of a Christian charismatic community in Brazil (the Canção Nova), showing us how linguistic evidence supports different notions of Christian personhood and an iconic-based communication between human and divine beings.
Abstract: Within the anthropology of Christianity, much attention has been paid to the convergence of Christianity with modern understandings of language. In this essay, I review scholarship that traces the historical connections between modern and Christian views of language, particularly in British colonial attacks on Hindu language practices, and I examine two recent ethnographies that offer different vantage points on the variety of ways in which contemporary Christians use language in a self-consciously modern way.