Klaits, ed. The Request and the Gift in Religious and Humanitarian Endeavors

Klaits, Frederick, ed. The Request and the Gift in Religious and Humanitarian Endeavors (New York: Palgave Macmillan, 2017)

Publisher’s Description: This collection revisits classical anthropological treatments of the gift by documenting how people may be valued both through the requests they make and through what they give. Many humanitarian practitioners, the authors propose, regard giving to those in need as the epitome of moral action but are liable to view those people’s requests for charity as merely utilitarian. Yet in many religious discourses, prayers and requests for alms are highly valued as moral acts, obligatory for establishing relationships with the divine. Framing the moral qualities of asking and giving in conjunction with each other, the contributors explore the generation of trust and mistrust, the politics of charity and accountability, and tensions between universalism and particularism in religious philanthropy.

Opas, “Dreaming Faith into Being”

Opas, Minna. 2016. Dreaming Faith Into Being: Indigenous Evangelicals and co-acted experiences of the divine. Temenos 52(2): 239-260.

Abstract: This article examines the role of socio-moral space in people’s experiences of divine presence. More specifically, it addresses the questions of how social others influence people’s experiences of God and Satan among the indigenous evangelical Yine people of Peruvian Amazonia, and the consequences these interactions have for the individual believer and the collectivity. For the Yine dreams are a privileged site of human encounter with other-than-human beings, and they also feature centrally in their Christian lives. It is in dreams that they interact with angels and sometimes with the devil. By examining Yine evangelical dreams as mimetic points of encounter involving not only the dreamer but also transcendent beings and fellow believers as active agents, the article shows that Yine experiences of God’s presence cannot be conceptualised as an individual matter, but are highly dependent on the social other: they come to be as co-acted experiences of the divine.

Opas and Haapalainen, “Connected with God”

Opas, Minna and Anna Haapalainen. 2016. Connected with God: body, the social, and the transcendent. Temenos 52(2): 179-192.

Abstract: The special issue Connected with God: Body, the Social, and the Transcendent addresses the very topical question of the architecture of religious, especially Christian, experiences. Specifically, it examines the processes in which Christians experience the connection with, and gain knowledge of, God in and through the body, and, in particular, the role of social relatedness and morality in generating and informing these experiences. The issue challenges the view of an individual subjective relationship with God, and argues that Christian experiences of God’s presence are not solely a matter of an individual’s relationship with the divine but are very much made possible, guided, and conceptualised through corporeal relationships with social others – believers and other fellow-humans. Through detailed ethnographic and historical examination, the issue also addresses the question of whether and how the form of Christianity practised influences people’s experiences of divine presence.

Cornelio, “Being Catholic”

Cornelio, Jayeel Serrano. 2016. Being Catholic in the Contemporary Philippines: Young People Reinterpreting Religion. New York: Routledge.

Publisher’s Description: This book, based on extensive original research, examines the nature of Catholicism in the contemporary Philippines. It shows how Catholicism is apparently flourishing, with good attendance at Sunday Masses, impressive religious processions and flourishing charismatic groups, and with interventions by the Catholic hierarchy in national and local politics. However, focusing in particular on the beliefs and practices of young people, the book shows that young people are often adopting a different, more individualised approach to Catholicism, which is frequently out of step with the official position. It considers the features of this: a more personal and experiential relationship with God; a new approach to morality, in which right living is seen as more important than right believing; and a critical view of what is seen as the Catholic hierarchy’s misguidedness. The book argues that this reinterpreting of religion by young people has the potential to alter fundamentally the nature of Catholicism in the Philippines, but that, nevertheless, young people’s new approach involves a solid, enduring commitment and a strong view of their own Catholic, religious identity.

Quiroz, “The Dilemmas of Monogamy”

Quiroz, Sitna. 2016. The Dilemmas of Monogamy: Pleasure, Discipline and the Pentecostal Moral Self in the Republic of Benin. Religions 7(8):102-118.

Abstract: Based on ethnographic research in the Republic of Benin, this article explores how Pentecostal teachings on marriage and the management of sexual pleasure contribute to shaping converts’ moral selves. For Pentecostals, fidelity towards God, when single and fidelity between partners, once married, is presented as the ideal model of partnership to which every “Born-Again” should aspire. In the context where polygamous unions are socially accepted, Pentecostal pastors teach that a satisfactory sexual life restricted to marriage is the means of building successful monogamous unions. However, sexual satisfaction might not always guarantee marital success, especially when people face problems of infertility. The author suggests that the disciplinary regimes that these teachings promote contribute to shaping new modes of intimacy, which are compatible with societal changes but often contradict the extant social norms and ideals of reproduction. Moral dilemmas arising from this tension are the key to understanding how Pentecostal Christianity shapes the moral self. The article addresses how Pentecostals in Benin navigate and negotiate cultural continuities and discontinuities in relation to church authority and family life.

van Heekeren, “Hiding Behind the Church”

van Heekeren, Deborah.  2016. Hiding Behind the Church: Towards an Understanding of Sorcery in Christian Papua New Guinea. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 17(1): 1-16.

Abstract: This paper considers the assumption that the long-term success of the Christian Churches in some parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG) will eliminate or even regulate the magical practices that are nowadays commonly described as ‘sorcery’. Among the Vula’a of PNG men seeking prestige and influence turn to the Church, and some of them are said to be sorcerers who ‘hide behind it’. Most deaths continue to be attributed to sorcery, and fear of sorcery and the need to counter it with other sorcery eclipses Christian proscriptions. It is power – rather than the introduced concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ brought by Christian colonizers that dominates current discourse – that contributes to the persistence of sorcery albeit in a variety of new and introduced forms. Sorcery is effective because it creates a culture of fear. I conclude, then, by applying Heidegger’s analysis of fear to Vula’a sorcery to suggest that an anthropology of fear will contribute to a better understanding of sorcery in contemporary PNG.

Hackman, “A Sinful Landscape”

Hackman, Melissa. A Sinful Landscape: moral and sexual geographies in Cape Town, South Africa. Social Analysis 59(3): 105-125.

Abstract: ‘Spiritual mapping’ is a transnational Pentecostal ‘spiritual warfare’ practice that aims to identify and fight ‘territorial spirits’, or demons that possess specific places. It was unique in Cape Town, South Africa, at the beginning of democracy, because it was both racialized and sexualized. This article examines how Pentecostals in Cape Town employed spiritual mapping techniques to identify and police groups they understood as morally and spiritually ‘dangerous’: black and ‘coloured’ communities and gays and lesbians. I argue that South African spiritual mapping was a response to the material and physical insecurities of democracy, particularly the declining economy, failed promises of the African National Congress, and some of the highest rates of crime in the world.

Seaman, “Coffee and the Moral Order: Ethiopian Jews and Pentecostals against culture.”

Seaman, Don. 2015.Coffee and the moral order: Ethiopian Jews and Pentecostals against culture. American Ethnologist 42(4): 734-748. 

Abstract: For Ethiopian Jews and (formerly Jewish) Pentecostals in Israel, coffee (buna) is more than just a stimulant, a cultural symbol, or even a social lubricant. It is a material medium for disputes about the limitations of moral agency, the experience of kin relations that have been broken or restructured, and the eruption of dangerous—but also healing—potencies in the social world. Buna consumption has become a focal point for at least three different forms of moral compulsion (physical addiction; zar, or spirit, affliction; and kinship obligations) that are experienced as isomorphic with “culture” and from which freedom is sought. The decision to drink or to refrain from drinking buna has therefore emerged as a fulcrum of moral experience around which different Ethiopian groups in Israel negotiate the limits of “culture” and the quest for an elusive moral freedom.

Cox, “Israeli Technicians and the Post-Colonial Racial Triangle”

Cox, John.  2015. Israeli Technicians and the Post-Colonial Racial Triangle in Papua New Guinea.  Oceania.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Papua New Guinean imaginings of Israel as a potential development partner draw on Christian renderings of the Bible, but they also reflect an understanding of Israel as a modern, technologically advanced nation. As middle-class Papua New Guineans reflect on the failures of national development since gaining independence from Australia, they express ambivalence about the appropriateness of Western models of development for the Papua New Guinean context. However, the influx of Asian investment is also seen as lacking, or even threatening; therefore, Asian models of development also fail to offer an appealing hope for the future. In this paper, I argue that these racialised understandings of modernity represent a ‘post-colonial racial triangle’, a discursive field within which the moral implications of development are understood and debated. Within this triangle, Melanesians are thought to have ‘culture’ and (Christian) ‘morality’ but lack ‘development’. Australians or ‘whitemen’ are thought to have ‘development’ and ‘morality’ but to lack ‘culture’. ‘Asians’ are thought to have ‘development’ and ‘culture’ but to lack (Christian) morality. Taking this moral framing of race into account, Israel emerges as a possible aid donor with the credentials to reconcile these three positions as it is seen to be the possessor of ‘development’, ‘culture’, and ‘morality’.

Forbess, “Paradoxical Paradigms”

Forbess, Alice. 2015. Paradoxical Paradigms: moral reasoning, inspiration, and problems of knowing among Orthodox Christian monastics. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(s1):113-128.

Abstract: Whilst anthropological discussions of morality tend to be rooted in Aristotelian ethical theory, this paper highlights an alternative Christian moral reasoning rooted in Neoplatonist/Christian hybrids and visible in contemporary Eastern Orthodox monastic practice. The analytical move proposed here is to focus on the disjunctures between different ethical traditions within Christianity in order to show how they produce diverse forms of moral reasoning that rely on particular uses of exemplarity and exemplification. It is argued that the Aristotelian lens, with its stress on compliance, piety, obedience, and the daily practice of self-perfection, can produce impoverished accounts of ascetic life by excluding the more anarchic and idiosyncratic forms of spiritual training. Christianity has a long tradition of deploying paradox and perplexity to explode facile certainties, thereby carving out a space, at the limits of human knowing, where a divinity conceived as radically alter to the created world can be directly engaged with.