Negotiating Marian Apparitions: Book Review

Halemba, Agnieszka. 2015. Negotiating Marian Apparitions: The Politics of Religion in Transcarpathian Ukraine. Budapest: Central European University Press.

By: Sonja Luehrmann (Simon Fraser University)

Catholic believers have been seeing the Virgin Mary appear for centuries, especially at times of crisis and social and ecclesiastical upheaval. In her book, Agnieszka Halemba argues that what is remarkable about these visions is not that they occur, but how some of them are embraced by a Church organization while others are not. Her ethnographic study deals with apparitions of Mary to two girls in Dzhublyk in Transcarpathian Ukraine that began in 2002. As with many apparitions, the official investigation about these has not yet been concluded, but local Greek Catholic communities have embraced the site and made it into a pilgrimage destination. Rather than focusing on the visionaries or pilgrims, Halemba looks at the organizational agents and processes in relation to which the apparitions gain lasting meaning and renown. In so doing, she creates a fascinating institutional ethnography of the Greek Catholic Church and its place in wider Christendom. Continue reading

Heo, “The Virgin Between Christianity and Islam”

Heo, Angie. 2013. The Virgin Between Christianity and Islam: Sainthood, Media, and Modernity in Egypt. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81(4): 1117-1138.

Abstract: This article investigates what it means for the Virgin Mary to be a common figure between Christianity and Islam. Departing from approaches which emphasize the textual biography and personality of figural saints, it explores the Virgin as a contested image of divine intercession among Muslims and Christians on the ground. Beginning with lived contexts of everyday mediation, it thus situates the “commonness” of the Virgin within the thick practical realities of modern communication and imagination. More specifically, it probes one ethnographic case of a Marian apparition which occurred in Giza in 2009, producing eyewitness observation and critical reflection. My aim is to show how the historical phenomenon of “collective apparitions” provides a distinctive visual-cultural platform for evaluating the communicatively public aspects of saintly mediation. In doing so, this study concretely traces how growing cults of the Virgin Mary shape newly widespread practices of religious identification and differentiation among contemporary Orthodox, Protestants, and Muslims in Egypt.

Jansen and Notermans, eds.,”Gender Nation and Religion in European Pilgrimage”

Jansen, Willy and Catrien Notermans, eds. (2012) Gender Nation and Religion in European Pilgrimage. Surrey: Ashgate Press.

Publisher’s Description: Old pilgrimage routes are attracting huge numbers of people. Religious or spiritual meanings are interwoven with socio-cultural and politico-strategic concerns and this book explores three such concerns of hot debate in Europe: religious identity construction in a changing European religious landscape; gender and sexual emancipation; and (trans)national identities in the context of migration and European unification. Through the explorations of such pilgrimages by a multidisciplinary range of international scholars, this book shows how the old routes of Europe are offering inspirational opportunities for making new journeys.

Coleman, “Encountering the archive”

Coleman, Simon (2012) “Encountering the archive.” The Immanent Frame. http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2012/08/24/encountering-the-archive/ (accessed August 24, 2012).

Excerpt: Where on earth to begin with the rich but deeply disturbing material presented to us on BishopAccountability.org? (For an example, see the documents relating to the Province of St. Barbara.) How to confront the archive’s huge volume but also the extent of its moral charge?

I also have a number of questions about what we are, or should be, looking at—the proper boundaries of the object of our inquiry.

Is this a particularly American phenomenon? After all, clerical sexual abuse has been reported in many parts of the world, even if nation-wide inquiries have been instituted in just a few places, such as the U.S. and Ireland. And is this an exclusively Christian (or even Catholic) phenomenon? In fact, a Chicago Tribune story from 2011reported the laxity of control over Buddhist monks who engage in sexual abuse in the U.S., though interestingly the tenor of the story implies that the problem was the lack of central control of such priests, whereas in the cases we’re looking at here there are clear problems with the center itself.

But can we even say that this is an exclusively or an especially religious phenomenon and be sure that the levels of abuse we’ve witnessed in the archive greatly exceed those in society at large? That last question has to be asked, even if the answer seems likely to be in the affirmative.

A more historical question relates to the framing and trajectory of the issue in the archive itself and whether, for instance, we can discern a shift away from an exclusively spiritual framing of behavior by church officials towards one where both legal and psychiatric languages are being brought in, if sometimes also conspicuously ignored.

Thinking about the archive in terms of the history of Christianity prompts another question for me. I wonder about the extent to which invoking history suggests both causality and context. In other words, does locating these sexual acts in the context of the history of Christianity or Catholicism either explain them or explain them away? The answer to both of these questions should, I think, be “no,” but we still need to look for patterns and shifts in the trajectories of opinion or activity that we might deem to be significant. In what follows, I use different histories to show how they inflect my readings of the archives, though I do not attempt to connect these four historical fragments in a systematic way . . .

 

Hermkens, “Circulating Matters of Belief: Engendering Marian Movements during the Bougainville Crisis”

Hermkens, Anna-Karina (2012) “Circulating Matters of Belief: Engendering Marian Movements during the Bougainville Crisis” in Lenore Manderson, Wendy Smith, & Matt Tomlinson (eds) Flows of Faith: Religious Reach and Community in Asia and the Pacific (Springer, New York).

Abstract: This chapter focuses on the circulation and appropriation of transnational Marian objects and beliefs during the Bougainville conflict (1989-1999). I show how circulation drove the formation of new religious movements, and how ritual elements were appropriated into secessionist protests and practices of resistance, as well as in local peace efforts. By following these paths of circulation, the fluidity of religious beliefs across boundaries of nation state and community come to the fore, providing insight into how the appropriation of religious objects informs both nationalism and communitas.

Stadler, “Between Scripture and Performance”

Stadler, Nurit (2011) “Between scripture and performance: cohesion and dissent at the Feast of Mary’s Dormition in Jerusalem,” Religion [advance copy – volume, issue, & page to be announced later]

Abstract: In contrast to popular Marian rites throughout the world, the Jerusalem Dormition Feast is held on a canonical route that includes the purported sites of some of the key moments in the Virgin’s life. The festival boasts an ancient liturgical order consisting of utterances and customs that are assiduously preserved by Jerusalem’s Greek-Orthodox Church. Drawing on Engelke’s distinction (2007) between scriptural authority and religious performance and numerous scholarly analyses of cohesion and dissent at assorted Marian shrines (e.g., Eade and Sallnow [1991]), this article explores the reactions to the local ceremonial on the part of various participants. While the clergy strives to impose its particular reading of the Scriptures on all the attendees, the different lay groups insist on performing rituals that give expression to their own knowledge of the canon and their own understanding of the Virgin’s nature. All told, their reactions range from rigid obedience to creative practices and heated dissent. The event ultimately splinters off into several factions and the host’s orderly script is compromised.