Abstract: This introductory essay seeks to reintroduce character to anthropological inquiry. Although it has long been out of favour due to its historical associations with accounts that attempt to describe national or ethnic character, we argue that a return of the under‐theorised concept may be in order. The essay invites socio‐cultural anthropologists to describe the diverse contexts in which character is recognised or enacted, out‐there‐in‐the‐world, and to become far more reflective about the ways in which characterization is deployed in our ethnographic writing. At the same time, it asks how the concept might be fruitfully operationalized at a meta‐language level to reorient current fields of anthropological study, without necessarily resorting to any collective or individual essentialisms. To illustrate the utility of re‐interrogating the concept, the question is addressed to two specific fields in which one might expect a concept such as character to already feature strongly: the anthropology of ethics and the anthropology of Christianity. What does an ethnographic attention to the ways in which character gets attributed reveal? How differently might these and other fields look if anthropologists embraced the concept of character or rejected it more knowingly? Finally, the essay asks what kinds of recombination of insights an anthropology and character approach might enable.
Abstract: Although human rights are often framed as the result of centuries of Western Christian thought, many English evangelicals are wary of the U.K.’s recent embrace of rights-based law. Yet this wariness does not preclude their use of human rights instruments in the courts. Drawing upon fieldwork with Christian lobbyists and lawyers in London, I argue that evangelical activists instrumentalise rights-based law so as to undermine the universalist claims on which they rest. By constructing themselves as a marginalised counterpublic whose rights are frequently ‘trumped’ by the competing claims of others, they hope to convince their fellow Britons that a society built upon the logic of equal rights cannot hope to deliver the human flourishing it promises. Given the salience of contemporary political conservatism, I call for further ethnographic research into counterpublic movements, and offer my interlocutors’ instrumentalisation of human rights as a critique of the inconsistencies of secular law.
Filmaker’s Description: The feature-length documentary God Loves Uganda is a powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to change African culture with values imported from America’s Christian Right.
The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow Biblical law.
Excerpt: “In this Essay, using a wide-ranging set of examples, I wish to provide some background on the emergent discussion on limitations on religious freedom in Africa, especially how these relate to the current debates on family law that are the subject of this Symposium. My general objectives are (1) to consider the legitimate and illegitimate ways in which African state and non-state actors seek to regulate religious practice; (2) to examine how particular religious groups may be disproportionately affected by these measures; (3) to demonstrate how interference with manifestations of religion often leads to abuses of related rights and freedoms (e.g. women’s and ethnic minorities’ rights, and rights of political participation, expression, and association); (4) to broaden and update the concept of religious practice; and (5) to consider how the African examples of restrictions on and regulation of religious practice challenge Western assumptions about the nature of religion as an essentially private and internal affair. Using two East African examples, I then provide more specific discussion of how attempts to introduce domestic relations bills and Sharia law reflect these changing entanglements of religion and state in neoliberal Africa. Part I provides some background on pertinent religious and legal developments in Africa. Part II examines the dialectics of regulation and recognition of religious freedom in select contexts. Part III discusses other types of restriction, such as land ownership, harassment, granting permits, and media use and access. Part IV focuses on the plight of traditional or indigenous African religions in relation to religious freedom. Part V links the manipulation of religious freedom issues to public and policy debates regarding customary law in Uganda and Kenya.”