Reinhardt, “Flowing and Framing”

Reinhardt, Bruno.  2015.  Flowing and Framing: Language ideology, circulation, and authority in a Pentecostal Bible school.  Pragmatics and Society 6(2): 261-287.

Abstract: Experiential and mediatized, Pentecostal Christianity is one of the most successful cases of contemporary religious globalization. However, it has often grown and expanded transnationally without clear authoritative contours. That is the case in contemporary Ghana, where Pentecostal claims about charismatic empowerment have fed public anxieties concerning the fake and the occult. This article examines how Pentecostalism’s dysfunctional circulation is countered within seminaries, or Bible schools, by specific strategies of pastoral training. First, I revisit recent debates on Protestant language ideology in the anthropology of Christianity, and stress Pentecostalism’s affinity with notions of flow and saturation of speech by divine presence. Second, I move to data collected in the Anagkazo Bible and Ministry Training Center, and investigate this institution’s pedagogical framing of Pentecostalism’s otherwise erratic flow of speech and power according to two normative operations: Biblical figuration and the emic notion of transmission as ‘impartation’. I conclude by stressing how the metapragmatics of figuration and impartation in Anagkazo requires an understanding of religious circulation that exceeds the dominant scholarly focus on religion-as-mediation.

Hoenes del Pinal, “From Vatican II to speaking in tongues: theology and language policy in a Q’eqchi’-Maya Catholic parish”

Hoenes del Pinal, Eric. 2015. “From Vatican II to speaking in tongues: theology and language policy in a Q’eqchi’-Maya Catholic parish” Language Policy DOI 10.1007/s10993-015-9364-0 [Pre-Publication Release]

Abstract: One of the most far-reaching reforms undertaken by the Catholic Church as part of the Second Vatican Council was the adoption of vernacular languages in the liturgy. The transition from Latin to vernaculars was not unproblematic, how- ever, as it raised several practical and theoretical questions regarding the relation- ship between local churches and their languages. This paper examines the issues of language choice in the liturgy of an ethnically homogenous Q’eqchi’-Maya parish in Guatemala. While the aims of Vatican II have largely been met in the parish with Q’eqchi’ functioning as its de facto language, within the last decade Charismatic Catholicism has presented a challenge to Q’eqchi’ liturgical monolingualism. Catholic Charismatics’ theological commitment to unmediated experience of the divine is manifested through linguistic practices that subvert Q’eqchi’s status in the parish. Specifically Charismatics’ use of Spanish in their services has become an issue of contention in the parish. Though members of both congregations are equally likely to be functionally bilingual in Spanish and Q’eqchi’, language choice in ritual settings has become a marked and highly charged point of contention between them. In examining the conflict this paper proposes that the congregations’ language practices can be understood as de facto policies authorized by their distinct constructions of the role of language in religion. The paper contextualizes this local debate in light of the historical changes in the Catholic Church’s policies regarding the use of vernaculars in the liturgy.

Tsai, “Glossolalia and Church Identity”

Tsai, Yen-zen. 2015. Glossolalia and Church Identity: The Role of Sound in the Making of a Chinese Pentecostal-charismatic Church. Review of Religion and Chinese Society 2(1): 87-108.

Abstract: Glossolalia or speaking in tongues has been one of the prominent features that characterize Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity. Some linguists, however, regard it phonologically illogical and semantically meaningless and thus invalid as a communicative tool. Orthodox Christianity frowns on it because of its uncouth ritual manifestations or disruptive effect on the church order. Against these perspectives, I argue that glossolalia plays a very crucial role in shaping the identity of a Pentecostal-charismatic community. “Tongue sound,” acoustically jarring to the outsider but soothing and harmonious to the believer, functions to confer on the glossolalists a particular mode of existence and consolidate them as a homogeneous group. For this argument, I draw on Lawrence E. Sullivan’s interpretation of sound in contrast to language, and on Alfred Schütz’s theory about “tuning in” and “inner time.” For illustration, I take the glossolalic manifestation of the True Jesus Church as a concrete example.

Arrington “Hymns of the Everlasting Hills”

Arrington, Aminta.  2014. Hymns of the everlasting hills: The written word in an oral culture in southwest China.  PhD Dissertation, Biola University.

Abstract:The Lisu of southwest China were evangelized 100 years ago by missionaries from the China Inland Mission, and adopted Christianity in a people movement that permeated nearly their entire society. But despite the missionaries’ creation of a Lisu written language, translation of the Bible into Lisu, and elevation of Scripture as the focal point of Christian devotion, Lisu culture remained heavily oriented toward oral thought patterns. While the Lisu viewed their Bible as the authoritative Word of God, they read it only in ritualistic contexts, and not for personal Bible study or in devotional settings.

This led to the question: how can Christianity, with its long literate tradition and its focus on the written Scriptures, be sustained among a people who have the Bible, but do not read it? A people whose thought patterns and behaviors are primarily oral? How are the more abstract theological concepts—such as grace, sanctification, and forgiveness—of such a religion as Christianity that highly values the written word, translated into the oral context of the Lisu?

For the Lisu, such biblical abstractions are mediated through song. The hymnbook was the bridge between the written Word as sacred object, and the lived, spoken, and sung words of the people. If the Lisu Bible was an icon, sacred and revered, the hymnbook, the second item in this two-book set, was the religious handbook. Singing the written words of the hymns brought the two realms—oral and literate—together.

The various functions the hymns provide for Lisu Christians overlap and intersect at various levels of meaning and experience, which can be encapsulated into one central understanding: The Lisu hymns serve as a theological mediator for Lisu Christians, bridging the gap between the text-intensive religion that is Christianity, and the oral world of Lisu culture.

Reynolds, “Discourses of Love”

Reynolds, Nicola.  2015. Discourses of Love, Compassion, and Belonging: Reframing Christianity for a Secular Audience.  Journal of Contemporary Religion 30(1): 39-54.

Abstract: Religious plurality has implications for religious organisations active within the public realm. Using semi-structured interviews, I examine how Christians and Christian organisations are framing faith discourses so that they resonate with religiously neutral discourses dominant in the public sphere. There are indications of a shift towards the use of profane terms instead of sacred terms to explain aspects of the Christian faith and Christian teachings of love, compassion, and belonging are amplified to counter criticisms that Christianity is a threat to liberal rights and beliefs. This article conceptualises these discourses as two social action frames: the ‘Love Frame’ and the ‘Inclusivity Frame’. I do not refute claims that the social significance of religion is declining but argue that Christians and Christian organisations are working within the confines of secular discourses to disseminate their messages in order to build credibility as egalitarian public service providers.

Barchas-Lichtenstein, “Jehovah’s Witnesses, endangered languages, and the globalized textual community”

Barchas-Lichtenstein. 2014. Jehovah’s Witnesses, endangered languages, and the globalized textual community. Language and Communication DOI: 10.1016/j.langcom.2014.05.006 (pre-publication release)

Abstract: This article explores Jehovah’s Witnesses’ use of Oaxaca Chontal, an endangered language spoken in Mexico. The Witness religion is highly centralized and standardized: Witnesses obeyed instructions to use Chontal because these instructions bore the authority of the Watch Tower Society institution. This article proposes the concept of the globalizing textual community, which synthesizes understandings of community from throughout social science literature, in order to explain how religious identity can supersede national, ethnic, and linguistic identities. A central mechanism of this community is the discourse of the “pure language,” which renders language choice irrelevant even as it provides a warrant for extensive translation.

The Anthropology of Protestantism: Book Review

Webster, Joseph. 2013. The Anthropology of Protestantism: Faith and Crisis among Scottish Fishermen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

By: Matt Tomlinson (Australian National University)

This book is an innovative attempt to understand the relationship between language and materiality in terms of the Protestant doctrine of consubstantiation, “that view of the Christian Eucharist that attempts to explain the real (material and spiritual) presence of the body and blood of Jesus as existing alongside the real material presence of the bread and the wine” (208). It is anthropology with a theological aura, but also a skillfully crafted ethnography that will appeal to scholars who don’t normally mix the anthro- and the theo-.

Webster’s ethnographic subjects are elderly fishermen and their wives in the northeast Scottish village of Gamrie. They provide a boatload of evidence that they live in a world that is, as the author puts it, both modern and enchanted. Many are members of Brethren churches and radical individualists as well as strict fundamentalists. As individualists, they distrust any authority except their own, leading one critic to characterize their attitude as “every man is his own skipper and he can go wherever he likes” (59; n.b., as they go wherever they like, they are likely to be watched by their neighbors, who keep binoculars at home “to see what others were up to further down the brae” [6]). As fundamentalists, they hold the Bible to be literally true, and they enthusiastically track signs of the end of the world.

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Harkness, “Songs of Seoul”

Harkness, Nicholas. 2013. Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Release Date: December 13, 2013

Publisher’s Description: Songs of Seoul is an ethnographic study of voice in South Korea, where the performance of Western opera, art songs, and choral music is an overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian enterprise. Drawing on fieldwork in churches, concert halls, and schools of music, Harkness argues that the European-style classical voice has become a specifically Christian emblem of South Korean prosperity. By cultivating certain qualities of voice and suppressing others, Korean Christians strive to personally embody the social transformations promised by their religion: from superstition to enlightenment; from dictatorship to democracy; from sickness to health; from poverty to wealth; from dirtiness to cleanliness; from sadness to joy; from suffering to grace. Tackling the problematic of voice in anthropology and across a number of disciplines, Songs of Seoul develops an innovative semiotic approach to connecting the materiality of body and sound, the social life of speech and song, and the cultural voicing of perspective and personhood.

Webster, “The Anthropology of Protestantism”

Webster, Joseph. 2013. The Anthropology of Protestantism: Faith and Crisis among Scottish Fishermen. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Publisher’s Description: Narrowing in from the broader context of the north Atlantic, through northern Europe, to Britain, northeast Scotland, and finally the fishing village of Gamrie, this anthropology of Protestantism examines millennialist faith and economic crisis. Through his ethnographic study of the fishermen and their religious beliefs, Webster speaks to larger debates about religious radicalism, materiality, economy, language, and the symbolic. These debates (occurring within the ostensibly secular context of contemporary Scotland) also call into question assumptions about the decline of religion in modern industrial societies. By chronicling how these individuals experience life as “enchanted,” this book explores the global processes of religious conversion, economic crisis, and political struggle.

Lau, “Mobility, Christianity, and Belonging”

Lau, Sin Wen. 2013. Mobility, Christianity, and Belonging: Reflections of an Overseas Chinese Expatriate Wife in Shanghai. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 14(1).

Abstract: This paper explores what it means to be a Christian on the move in a transnational Asia. It provides an account of the reflections of a Singaporean expatriate wife as she searches for a spiritual home in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It shows how her sense of being Christian is shaped by extra-religious concerns of class, language and nationality. Underscoring the tensions inherent in finding faith in motion, this paper aims to nuance prevalent understandings of religion as havens for people on the move.