Elisha, “Proximations of Public Religion: Worship, Spiritual Warfare, and the Ritualization of Christian Dance”

Elisha, Omri. 2017. “Proximations of Public Religion: Worship, Spiritual Warfare, and the Ritualization of Christian Dance.” American Anthropologist. DOI: 10.1111/aman.12819

Abstract: This essay is about a group of neo-Pentecostal evangelists who decided to represent their church in the New York Dance Parade, which they regarded as an opportunity to promote worship as the true purpose of art and engage in spiritual warfare. Their participation was predicated on a distinction between “performance” and “ministry,” privileging the latter. I argue that upholding this distinction in the immersive context of a secular festival required a process of intensive ritualization, involving physical and spiritual preparations and symbolic boundary maintenance. I further argue that anthropological perspectives on such instances of public religion should seek to account for how ritual forms produce and are shaped by the effects of what I call proximation, a condition of “closeness” between categories of activity otherwise regarded as separate and autonomous (e.g., religion and the arts). The concept is a means to explore how religious ministries are influenced by ostensibly external factors and the need to manage them, and by the various opportunities, tensions, and moral associations that arise when ritual strategies evoke comparisons with secular genres and domains. The proximations of religion highlight the ethnographic significance of ideal-typical categories and spheres, including their potential to intersect, which is a byproduct of how they have been differentiated.

Elisha, “Saved by a Martyr”

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.

Elisha, “Personhood”

Elisha, Omri. 2015. “Personhood: Sin, Sociality, and the Unbuffered Self in US Evangelicalism.” In The Anthropology of Global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism. Simon Coleman and Rosalind I.J. Hackett, eds. 41-56. New York: NYU Press.

Ritual Textuality: Review Forum (Omri Elisha)

Tomlinson, Matt. 2014. Ritual Textuality: Pattern and Motion in Performance. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 

By: Omri Elisha (Queens College, CUNY)

 

I know I’m not alone when I say that my love of anthropology began with the study of ritual. As an undergraduate I was enchanted by the subject, captivated by all the drama, symbolism, and effervescence of the concentrated cultural tinderbox that was “Ritual.” My first anthropology professor, a master storyteller and something of an ethnographic traditionalist, introduced me to a rich lineage of dissecting ritual anatomies and signs, and of theoretical models revealing hidden patterns and intrinsic functions. Continue reading

Meneses et. al., “Engaging the Religiously Committed Other: Anthropologists and Theologians in Dialogue”

Meneses, Eloise, Lindy Backues, David Bronkema, Eric Flett, and Benjamin L. Hartley. 2014. Engaging the Religiously Committed Other: Anthropologists and Theologians in Dialogue. Current Anthropology. Preprint – issue, volume, page not available. 

Abstract: Anthropology has two tasks: the scientific task of studying human beings and the instrumental task of promoting human flourishing. To date, the scientific task has been constrained by secularism, and the instrumental task by the philosophy and values of liberalism. These constraints have caused religiously based scholarship to be excluded from anthropology’s discourse, to the detriment of both tasks. The call for papers for the 2009 meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) recognized the need to “push the field’s epistemological and presentational conventions” in order to reach anthropology’s various publics. Religious thought has much to say about the human condition. It can expand the discourse in ways that provide explanatory value as well as moral purpose and hope. We propose an epistemology of witness for dialogue between anthropologists and theologians, and we demonstrate the value added with an example: the problem of violence.

Elisha, “Time and Place for Prayer”

Elisha, Omri. 2013. The Time and Place for Prayer: evangelical urbanism and citywide prayer movements. Religion 43(3): 312-330.

Abstract: This article explores a recent trend in evangelical revivalism known as ‘citywide prayer,’ a movement organized around prayer networks and public rituals that highlight religious concerns deemed specific to cities and metropolitan regions. Building on research that includes ethnographic fieldwork in Knoxville, Tennessee, and focusing on the discourse and practical strategies of citywide prayer, the article argues that advocates of this movement promote a style of evangelical urbanism in which prayer serves as a key medium for reimagining one’s sense of place, against the disorientation and alienation associated with urban life. Moreover, prayer is presented as a medium for marking time in non-secular terms, as is demonstrated in the use of technologies of religious discipline such as annotated prayer calendars, which invite participants to inhabit multiple coexisting temporalities. It is further suggested that when enacted this evangelical urbanism constitutes a form of urban praxis, enabling projects of emplacement that respond to larger forces that are seen otherwise to limit grassroots agency. Among the wider implications of this discussion is the observation that evangelical revivals, despite their well-known emphasis on individual salvation and millennialist fervor, are oriented toward and engaged with situated social realities of the ‘here and now,’ including the rhythms of daily life in modern cities.

Elisha, “Prayer”

Elisha, Omri (2012) “Prayer.” Freq.uenci.es: A Collaborative Genealogy of Spirituality.

Excerpt: “I lied to a dying man, although I meant every word. It’s a strange thing, to say you intend to do something that you don’t really intend to do, yet feeling as though the words themselves are embraced in such uncompromised truth that they actually exceed their indexical meaning. If there is spirituality in promises, prayers, and praise, can there also be spirituality in the excellence of the lie?”

Elisha, “Moral Ambition”

Elisha, Omri (2011) Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches, Berkeley: University of California Press

Publisher’s Description: In this evocative ethnography, Omri Elisha examines the hopes, frustrations, and activist strategies of American evangelical Christians as they engage socially with local communities. Focusing on two Tennessee megachurches, Moral Ambition reaches beyond political controversies over issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and public prayer to highlight the ways that evangelicals at the grassroots of the Christian Right promote faith-based causes intended to improve the state of social welfare. The book shows how these ministries both help churchgoers embody religious virtues and create provocative new opportunities for evangelism on a public scale. Exploring aspects of evangelical life that are largely overlooked in existing studies, Elisha challenges conventional views of U.S. evangelicalism as narrowly individualistic. Instead he elucidates the inherent conflicts and contradictions that activists face in their efforts to reconcile religious conservatism with a renewed interest in compassion, poverty, racial justice, and urban revivalism.