Luehrmann, “The politics of prayer books”

Luehrmann, Sonja.  2015. The politics of prayer books: Delegated intercession, names, and community boundaries in the Russian Orthodox Church.  Journal of Religious and Political Practice.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Prayer is most easily conceived of as political speech when it is a spontaneous practice showing individual and group reactions to current events. Where prayer is a routinized activity involving the recitation of canonical texts, interpreters locate politics in the disciplining of bodies and acts of claiming space. This paper takes inspiration from ethnographies of oral ritual performance and Quranic recitation to include texts and the delegation of speech roles in the analysis of recited prayer. Most Russian Orthodox Christians either pray from a prayer book or order such prayers to be said by specialists. Focusing on the use of baptismal names as indexical elements in intercessory prayer, I argue that Orthodox Christian textual practices sustain a particular form of fractal social authority. Standardized prayer texts synchronize lay and delegated clerical voices, while individualizing responsibility for non-Orthodox kin and acquaintances. Through analyzing canonical and non-canonical intercessory formulae, one can see that part of the political force of prayer lies in constructing community boundaries while dynamically readjusting them.

Humphrey, “Schism, Event, and Revolution.”

Humphrey, Caroline. 2014. Schism, Event, and Revolution: The Old Believers of Trans-Baikalia. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678476

Abstract: This paper discusses historical dynamics in the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church, in particular among the groups known as Old Believers. Seeing itself as the only true continuation of ancient Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy has been more concerned with continuity and institutional authority than with conversion into the faith, and therefore schism was regarded as a matter of utmost significance. The Great Schism of 1666 split the reforming central religious authorities from the plethora of Old Believers, so-called because they remained faithful to the truth of the old ways. Over later centuries the excommunicated Old Believers would themselves scatter and splinter repeatedly, in each case erecting boundaries around a newly defined (yet seen as ancient) righteous way of life, while also protecting it from the state law and external authority. In this paper I suggest that these schismatic decisions to adopt the stance of messianic “rightness,” and the willingness of martyrs to struggle for it, can be related to the moral-social basis of the Russian Revolution, especially if revolution is understood not simply as a political event but also as the forging of new and “true” meaning, accompanied by the rejection of wrongful thinkers.

Herbal, “Turning to Tradition”

Herbal, (The Rev.) D. Oliver.  2014.  Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Recent years have seen increasing numbers of Protestant and Catholic Christians converting to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In this book D. Oliver Herbel examines Christian converts to Orthodoxy who served as exemplars and leaders for convert movements in America during the twentieth century. These convert groups include Carpatho Rusyns, African Americans, and Evangelicals.

Religious mavericks have a long history in Americaa tradition of being anti-tradition. Converts to orthodoxy reject such individualism by embracing an ancient form of Christianity even as they exemplify it by choosing their own religious paths. Drawing on archival resources including Rusyn and Russian newspapers, unpublished internal church documents, personal archives, and personal interviews, Herbel presents a close examination of the theological reasons for the exemplary converts’ own conversions as well as the reasons they offered to persuade those who followed them. He considers the conversions within the context of the American anti-tradition, and of racial and ethnic tensions in America. This book offers the first serious investigation of this important trend in American religion and the first in-depth investigation of any kind of African-American Orthodoxy.

Hein, “The Semiotics of Diaspora”

Hein, Emily Jane Carter. 2013. The Semiotics of Diaspora: Language Ideologies and Coptic Orthodox Christianity in Berlin, Germany. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Abstract: The dissertation is based on field research in Coptic Orthodox Church congregations in Germany, where Copts are living after emigration from Egypt. The data for the study are drawn from participant-observation, interviews, and recordings in these communities and include analysis of texts collected during fieldwork. The focus is on Copts’ ideologies of language in the diaspora, where their linguistic repertoires – Coptic (sacred language of religious texts), Arabic (most community members’ first language, spoken within the home or with other Copts), and German (language of the new location) – are being reconfigured. The dissertation has these main arguments: (1) in the liturgy and in its textual representations, the three languages are being interpreted as in a temporal progression, in which Arabic – devalued for its association with Islam and Arabs– is to be replaced by German, although there are some tensions surrounding this as yet incomplete process; (2) Copts are making a rhetorical effort, and (in effect) sociological project, to be identified with whites, Europe, and Christendom (seen as overlapping categories), thus evading German anti-immigrant prejudice and becoming part of the majority. This identification entails a semiotics of temporality as well, in the assertion that Christ came “out of Egypt” (as, more recently, did the Copts) – thus Egypt is to be included as the root domain of Christianity, rather than excluded from it because of its Muslim majority. This narrated past is part of Copts’ claim to inclusion in the (future) ecumene of Christianity. The author contends that the temporal progression implicit in the language shift in progress (1) can be seen as part of this wider semiotics of temporality (2). The present work contributes to debates on diaspora and the narrative construction of time and space. Its central themes of language ideologies, code repertoires, and textuality and performance are important topics in linguistic anthropology, the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of the Middle East and Europe. Detailing how Copts in the diaspora bring to life a dead language, while enthusiastically shifting to German, the dissertation is an ethnography of language contact and language shift.

Review Essay: Orienting the East

Orienting the East: Notes on Anthropology and Orthodox Christianities

Tom Boylston (London School of Economics)

If this blog testifies to the efflorescence of the anthropology of Christianity, anthropological and ethnographic work on Eastern and, especially, Oriental Orthodoxies remains somewhat sparse and scattered at the time of writing. To some extent this is a matter of academic time lag: anthropologists have recognised a lacuna and a good amount of research is now underway and beginning to show fruit. Since a majority of anthropologists working on Orthodox Christianities are now at PhD or early career level, we can expect a substantial growth in the literature in the coming years. Rather than lament the lack of anthropological attention to Orthodoxy, people are getting on with the work of producing it.

With this in mind, I would like to use this post to begin asking: what can Orthodox Christianities do for the anthropology of Christianity, and what can an anthropology of Christianity do for the study of Orthodox Christianities? In the spirit of starting a conversation rather than a systematic review, I will suggest some areas of particular interest emerging from existing work, and outline some conceptual challenges that an anthropology of Orthodoxy raises for a broader anthropology of Christianity.

Continue reading

Matsuzato & Danielyan, “Faith or Tradition”

Matsuzato, Kimitaka, and Stepan Danielyan. 2013. Faith or Tradition: The Armenian Apostolic Church and Community-Building in Armenia and Nagorny-Karabakh. Religion, State and Society 41(1) pp. 18-34

Abstract: It is no secret that the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) is closely connected with Armenian nationality and Armenian states (Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh). Previous studies have concentrated on surveying the privileges granted to it by these Armenian states. This study goes further by elucidating complementary relations between the AAC and these states in community-building. These states are suffering from the incompetence of local governments created by radical municipal reforms and the decollectivisation of agriculture during the 1990s. They need the help of the AAC, which is potentially able to mobilise rural intellectuals via church (parish) councils. The AAC wishes to reinforce its position, which it sees as endangered by various ‘sectarian’ challenges. Its weak appeal to faith (insufficient evangelisation) gives Protestant ‘sectarians’ abundant room for proselytism, against which the AAC intends to struggle ‘from below’ by its deeper involvement in community-building.

Naumescu, “Learning the ‘Science of Feelings'”

Naumescu, Vlad. 2012. Learning the ‘Science of Feelings’: Religious Training in Eastern Christian Monasticism. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, Volume 77: Issue 2. Special Issue: Learning Possession

Abstract:

In Eastern Christianity novitiate is a period of learning to experience the presence of God in one’s life and the world. Novices follow the hesychast prayer, a mystical tradition that leads them to an experiential knowledge of God. In this paper, I argue that novitiate should be regarded as a complex learning process involving specific assemblages of contextual, cognitive, body-sensory and emotional aspects. By educating their attention and emotion novices learn to see beyond and within reality and thus discover the potentiality of people and things ‘in the likeness of God’. Religious transmission happens not only through embodied practice and the active acquisition of religious knowledge but, more importantly, through the work of the imagination. Novices’ orientation towards the transcendent requires an expansion of the imaginative capacities beyond their ‘routine’ functioning. Imagination could be thus seen as a key cognitive capacity through which they learn to experience God.

Naumescu, “Old Believers’ Passion Play”

Naumescu, Vlad. 2013. Old Believers’ Passion Play: The Meaning of Doubt in an Orthodox Ritualist Movement. In Ethnographies of Doubt: Faith and Certainty in Contemporary Societies, ed. Mathijs Pelkmans. New York: Palgrave, 85-118.

Volume Description: Religious and secular convictions have powerful effects, but their foundations are often surprisingly fragile. New converts often come across as stringent believers precisely because they need to dispel their own lingering doubts, while revolutionary movements survive only through the denial of ambiguity. This book shows that a focus on uncertainty and doubt is indispensable for grasping the role of ideas in social action. Drawing on a wide range of cases, from spirit mediums in Taiwan to Maoist revolutionaries in India, from right-wing populists in Europe to converts to Pentecostalism in Central Asia, the authors analyse the ways in which doubt is overcome and, conversely, how belief-systems collapse. In doing so, Ethnographies of Doubt provides important insights into the cycles of faith, hope, conviction and disillusion that are intrinsic to the human condition.

Kostarelos, “Short-Term Missions in the Orthodox Church”

Kostarelos, Frances. 2013. Short-Term Missions in the Orthodox Church in North America. Missiology 41(2):179-186.

Abstract: This article examines beliefs, institutions, and social changes shaping short-term missions in the Orthodox Church. It directs attention to key theological principles guiding short-term missions. The article provides a descriptive account of short-term mission activity informed by Orthodox perspective. It frames questions to guide future study of short-term missions in the Orthodox Church.

Leichtman, “From the Cross”

Leichtman, Mara A. 2013. From the Cross (and Crescent) to the Cedar and Back Again: Transnational religion and politics among Lebanese Christians in Senegal. Anthropological Quarterly 86(1):35-75.

Abstract: This article examines the changing relationship between religion, secularism, national politics, and identity formation among Lebanese Christians in Senegal. Notre Dame du Liban, the first Lebanese religious institution in West Africa, draws on its Lebanese “national” character to accommodate Lebanese Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians in Dakar, remaining an icon of “Lebanese” religion, yet departing from religious sectarianism in Lebanon. As such, transnational religion can vary from national religion, gaining new resonances and reinforcing a wider “secular” ethno-national identity.