Abstract: Much contemporary work in the anthropology of religion explores how human experience of the divine is mediated. One question rarely asked, however, is why people distance the divine from themselves in the first place, such that complex practices of mediation are necessary to make it present. An answer to this question is provided by Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss in their book Sacrifice, which I read as a key precursor to current work on religious mediation. Hubert and Mauss focus on how religious mediations model and shape social mediations. I demonstrate the usefulness of an approach to mediation that draws on their work by examining a shift from sacrifice to possession as forms of mediation among Pentecostal converts in Papua New Guinea. I also show that this approach can help us further develop broader anthropological theories of mediation and social life.
Elisha, Omri. 2016. Saved by a Martyr: Evangelical Mediation, Sanctification, and the “Persecuted Church.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfw016 [Early Pre-publication release]
Abstract: This article examines the significance of mediation in the public program- ming and activism of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an organization that offers international aid and advocacy to Christians identified as victims of persecution. Focusing on VOM’s efforts to rally Westerners, especially evangelical Protestants, I argue that the antipersecution movement urges supporters to share the mantle of martyrdom by engaging in purposeful acts of religious mediation, including the consumption and circulation of martyrological media. I explore a related tendency among evangelicals to valorize non-Western Christians in precarious circumstances as exemplars of self-sacrificing piety, whose suffering represents and inspires conditions of sanctification. Drawing on media analysis and fieldwork, I explore how practices of mediation, as forms of “witness,” invite evangelicals to embody otherwise elusive virtues and modes of agency associated with Christian martyrs, while reflecting ambiguous modern conceptions of the nature of embodied suffering and the relationship between vulnerability and power.
Publisher’s Description: Over the past thirty years, Italy—the historic home of Catholicism—has become a significant destination for migrants from Nigeria and Ghana. Along with suitcases and dreams of a brighter future, these Africans bring their own form of Christianity, Pentecostalism, shaped by their various cultures and religious worlds. At the heart of Annalisa Butticci’s beautifully sculpted ethnography of African Pentecostalism in Italy is a paradox. Pentecostalism, traditionally one of the most Protestant of Christian faiths, is driven by the same concern as Catholicism: real presence.
In Italy, Pentecostals face harsh anti-immigrant sentiment and limited access to economic and social resources. At times, they find safe spaces to worship in Catholic churches, where a fascinating encounter unfolds that is equal parts conflict and communion. When Pentecostals watch Catholics engage with sacramental objects—relics, statues, works of art—they recognize the signs of what they consider the idolatrous religions of their ancestors. Catholics, in turn, view Pentecostal practices as a mix of African religions and Christian traditions. Yet despite their apparently irreconcilable differences and conflicts, they both share a deeply sensuous and material way to make the divine visible and tangible. In this sense, Pentecostalism appears much closer to Catholicism than to mainstream Protestantism.
African Pentecostals in Catholic Europe offers an intimate glimpse at what happens when the world’s two fastest growing Christian faiths come into contact, share worship space, and use analogous sacramental objects and images. And it explains how their seemingly antithetical practices and beliefs undergird a profound commonality.
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.
Abstract: The Lisu of south-west China were evangelised a hundred years ago by missionaries from the China Inland Mission and adopted Christianity in a people movement that permeated nearly their entire society. The missionaries recognised that the Lisu were a singing people, and translation of a hymnbook proceeded apace together with translation of the New Testament. Further, many Western hymns were translated using Lisu poetic forms. These translated Western hymns not only became the centrepiece for worship, but were also part of the daily rhythm of life for Lisu Christians. Though the missionaries departed more than seventy years ago, the hymns, still sung a capella in four-part harmony, have remained. While the bible remains somewhat out of reach for the vast majority of Lisu peasant farmers with low reading and writing skills, the hymnbook is well-known and well-worn, its contents easy to find and many of its most familiar hymns memorised. 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. In the everyday arena, in the practical living out of what it means to be a Christian for a communal and still largely oral-preference people such as the Lisu, the Lisu Christian hymns are the centrepiece of worship and devotion, prayer and penitence.
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.
Abstract: Based on long-term ethnographic research, this paper examines therole of material culture (objects, souvenirs, art and built structures) in the contemporary Catholic cult of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, particularly how it iscreated, contextualised, contested, and consumed by pilgrims at Pio’s shrine of San Giovanni Rotondo. The shrine’s managers have frequently been criticised for its commercialism and invasive nature. While some critiques are warranted, this paper argues that they fail to consider deeper meanings of these objects. In particular, they are conceived of as relics – social and spiritual mediators – that connect the pilgrim with the saint and with other devotees; they are alsoidentity markers whose employment by diverse groups within the cult bothindex and construct deeply held cosmological notions of their relationship to Pio and the supernatural. The examination of these factors, therefore,ultimately provides a valuable look at the discourses and practices during theformation of a major saint’s cult.
Klassen, Pamela and Kathryn Lofton. 2013. “Material Witnesses: Women and the Mediation of Christianity.” In Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges, edited by Mia Lövheim, 52-65. New York: Routledge.
Excerpt: “Christian identity is inextricable from gender identity. Throughout Christian history, determining how individuals incarnate divine authority has been critical to the communication and legitimation of Christian testimonies. What can the words emanating from a particular physical body signify for the broader social movements that have fuelled Christianity? Evaluating such testimony might even b3e understood as the original practice of Christianity, insofar as the witness of a single male, Jewish body provided its genesis as a sectarian movement, and insofar as disagreements over subsequent witnesses and their ecclesiastical legitimacy became the grounds for nearly every denominational discord, theological innovation and mystical experimentation with that diverse tradition. Whether it was Peter appraising Mary Magdalene, Hilarianus adjudicating Perpetua, or John Winthrop assessing Anne Hutchinson, refereeing a witness’s testimony has been a primary task of (male) ecclesial authorities. Knowing whether (and how) you, as a particular embodied witness, have the right to speak about God (and what it means when you do) has encouraged the grand diversity of Christian expression . . . In this chapter, we consider how women have utilized various media to channel and articulate their testimonies in twentieth- and twenty-first-century North American contexts, paying specific attention to the connection between mediation and materiality. We argue that there seems to be a particularly comfortable connection between the material witness of women and the intimate commodification of their living scripts.”
Excerpt: A pivotal moment in the technological history of prayer occurred when Oral Roberts introduced the motion picture camera into the charismatic atmosphere of his massive “tent cathedral.” Through the medium of television, millions of Americans experienced performances of Pentecostal healing prayer for the first time. More than this, however, the motion picture film significantly altered the enthusiastic environment of the healing tent while organizing new sensorial and performative possibilities within the practice of prayer itself. From the first telecast in 1955, it is as if the mechanical eye of the camera gradually insinuated itself into the actions of the prayer line, drawing ever-closer to the intimate tactile contact between the patient and the healer. Through the zooming capacities of the cinematic eye, members of the television audience got an intimate view of the performance of healing prayer, including the vigorous gesticulations, bodily contact, and ecstatic countenances enlivened through this curative technique.
Excerpt: “While an analytic focus on the semiotic techniques whereby media produce immediacy is crucial to analyzing the social processes by which those media are themselves made invisible in experience, such an analysis only goes so far in elucidating the “creativity and control of human subjects” that Eisenlohr argues is erased in such processes. Therefore, in this article, I emphasize the discipline and disciplining work as well as the ethical practices that make such cultural and social processes possible. I do so through an analytic emphasis on what I call the labor of immediacy, that is, the practices whereby human subjects discipline themselves and rehearse the necessary actions that allow the mediated nature of immediate religious experiences to disappear. I argue that the perceived spontaneity of musical performance as well as the practical techniques through which religious sound artifacts are performed in new contexts in order to produce connections and circulate values, all rest on this labor of immediacy.
More specifically, in this article, I examine the labor of immediacy that underlies the use of sound recording and playback technology in facilitating and enhancing religious experiences and worship practices for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Ayọ ni o Church in Lagos, Nigeria. The Ayọ ni o Church is a branch of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church Movement—a form of Yoruba independent Christianity. This movement began in colonial Nigeria, when early Yoruba Christians broke away from mission churches to establish congregations of their own. The Cherubim and Seraphim emphasized healing through prayer, Holy Spirit baptism, and charismatic forms of worship that featured the extensive use of music and dance. The Ayọ ni o Church is located in a large compound at the edge of Surulere, a predominantly Yoruba, middle-class suburb of Lagos. Each Sunday more than three thousand people attend worship services at the Ayọ ni o Church, many of them attracted by the church’s reputation for including spiritually powerful and emotional musical performances in their worship. This musical reputation was enhanced by the Ayọ ni o choir’s commercially produced and distributed recordings, along with the music videos and other promotional materials that support their recordings.
More than thirty albums have been recorded by the Ayọ ni o Choir since 1978. These recordings reproduce and circulate aesthetic values central to producing religious belonging and ethical forms of personhood. As I discuss in more detail below, the recordings thus play an important role in the everyday religious practices of church members. However, the recordings did not replace live musical performance during worship services. While worship without instruments—no guitars, keyboard, or even drums—was acceptable, worship without singing was inconceivable. The idea that there were living people in the same space as oneself, participating in a shared musical ritual, was important for ensuring the success of worship both in terms of its ability to provoke appropriate emotional responses from the congregation as well as in terms of attracting the Holy Spirit to enter the worship space. Therefore, while the songs on the recordings played an important role in church worship, they were always represented in the form of live performance.
In order to analytically detail the labor of immediacy that underlies and produces religious musical experiences for church members, I explore here how the recordings are used by choir musicians in their everyday lives, in individual musical practice, and in rehearsals. I describe how through the musical labor of training, practice, and rehearsal the choir members engage with the recordings in order to regulate affective and emotional responses and expressions during church worship. Their recontextualization of previously recorded songs does important spiritual work for church members by creating links between aesthetic and religious values and allowing those values to be recirculated through the community. While such performances may seem spontaneous in the context of church worship, in order for the recontextualization of a previously recorded song to be successful in achieving the spiritual goals of the congregation, a great deal of planning and work takes place.
In this article, I explore how the work of choir musicians during practice and rehearsals makes possible the recontextualization of recorded sounds during Yoruba Christian worship. Through disciplinary practices of listening and music-making that make use of the recordings, church musicians attune themselves to particular modes of behavior and produce appropriate forms of emotionality. These emotional responses can then be summoned contextually by church members in relation to a given situation. As I suggest in the conclusion of this article, these disciplined forms of emotion and embodiment are seen as necessary to survive and thrive in the midst of the uncertainty provoked by the political and economic transitions taking place in contemporary Nigeria.”