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

Schermerhorn, “Walkers and their Staffs”

Seth Schermerhorn, 2016. “Walkers and their Staffs: O’odham Walking Sticks by Way of Calendar Sticks and Scraping Sticks,” Material Religion 12, 476-500.

Abstract: As archaeologist J. Andrew Darling and Akimel O’odham traditional singer and cultural preservation officer Barnaby V. Lewis have previously shown, scraping sticks encode geographical knowledge, while calendar sticks encode historical knowledge. Like these other sticks, the staffs of O’odham “walkers,” or pilgrims, to Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico, similarly contain both geographical and historical knowledge, evoking memories of past journeys in the present and the presence of Magdalena. Moreover, these staffs are spoken of and treated as people, or at least as an extension of O’odham walkers. For O’odham walkers with their staffs, or walking sticks, Magdalena, Saint Francis, and all of the blessings associated with them are never too far away. And the memories of these journeys that they have taken with their sticks and the stories that they together tell, inextricably link walkers and their sticks, sticks and stories, people and places, as well as the past and the present. Thus, Magdalena is palpably present in the everyday lives of the walkers who cannot help but be transported by their sticks to stories—whether told or untold—and memories made along the road to Magdalena as well as dreams of future journeys.

Blythe, “Emma’s Willow: Historical Anxiety, Mormon Pilgrimage and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa”

Christopher James Blythe, 2016. Emma’s Willow: Historical Anxiety, Mormon Pilgrimage and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa, Material Religion 12: 405-432.

Abstract: Religious institutions establish collective identities through the production of a usable past, and thereby provide adherents with a sense of heritage. This article examines how this process functions in a Mormon pilgrimage site, Nauvoo, Illinois, where not one but two competing institutions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and Community of Christ, have established alternative narratives of identity. I focus on the thousands of (almost exclusively) LDS pilgrims who visit the town each summer. I argue that the presence of multiple interpretations raises significant anxieties for many of these pilgrims. In an attempt to mediate these anxieties a vernacular religious site, a willow tree, is employed to point pilgrims to a Saint figure, Emma Smith, Joseph Smith Jr.’s widow, in order to fortify an alternative narrative existing outside of either official representation of Nauvoo’s past.

Kaell, “Can Pilgrimage Fail?”

Kaell, Hillary. 2016. Can Pilgrimage Fail? Intent, Efficacy, and Evangelical Trips to the Holy Land. Journal of Contemporary Religion 31(3): 393-408.

Abstract: Many scholars have debated the potential results of pilgrimage, but few have tracked how pre-trip goals actually relate to post-trip outcomes. Based on research with US evangelicals, this article argues that, despite being confronted with the possibility of disrupted meaning, nearly every pilgrim comes to see the trip as a success. To understand why, I draw on studies that frame Christian rituals as processes that are partial and in flux. Firstly, I explore how gendered notions of relationality affect perceptions of efficacy and lead to multiple goal-setting. Secondly, I show how the journey is couched within broader epistemologies that define a Christian life as incremental improvements, where one ‘grows’ with God. Thus the meaning making associated with pilgrimage is never fully complete, but is compelled into a future where further interpretations and presumed successes are inchoate. Ultimately, the belief in future meaning is as important—perhaps more so—than immediate ritual success.

Bielo, Replication as Religious Practice

Bielo, James. 2016. Replication as Religious Practice, Temporality as Religious Problem. History and Anthropology, DOI:10.1080/02757206.2016.1182522

Abstract: This article explores how religious communities actualize the virtual problem of temporality. Analysing two case studies from contemporary America, Mormon Trek re-enactment and a creationist theme park re-creating Noah’s ark, I argue that replication is a strategy for constructing a relationship with time in which a strict past–present divide is collapsed through affective means. This work contributes to comparative studies in the anthropology of religion and temporalizing the past.

Kaell, “Notes on Pilgrimage”

Kaell, Hillary. 2016. Notes on Pilgrimage and Pilgrimage Studies. Practical Matters Journal 9. 

Abstract: This article discusses some recent theoretical and methodological trends in studies of pilgrimage, a field that has grown significantly as of late. It begins by exploring how scholars might study failure during pilgrimage, and the difficulties therein. It moves on to discuss the fruitful, but also fitful, coexistence of scholars and practitioners who contribute to studies of pilgrimage. It ends by tracing some avenues for further research that would move beyond the confines of a subfield, creating the potential for work on pilgrimage to shape important conversations in multiple disciplines and areas of expertise.

Bielo, “Materializing the Bible”

Bielo James. 2016. Materializing the Bible: Ethnographic Methods for the Consumption Process. Practical Matters 9. 

Abstract: Throughout the world there are over 200 sites that materialize the Bible, that is, sites that transform the written words of biblical scripture into physical, experiential attractions. These sites are definitively hybrid, integrating religion and entertainment, piety and play, fun and faith, commerce and devotion, pleasure and education. Religious studies scholars and anthropologists have published insightful works about selected sites, but no genre-wide analytical appraisal exists. In this article, I focus on how religiously committed visitors approach and experience these sites. Framed in a comparative register with research in religious tourism and pilgrimage studies, I propose analytical and methodological frameworks for the ethnographic study of Bible-based attractions.

Feldman, “A Jewish Guide in the Holy Land: How Christian Pilgrims Made Me Israeli”

Feldman, Jackie. 2016. A Jewish guide in the Holy Land: how Christian pilgrims made me Israeli. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Publisher’s description: For many Evangelical Christians, a trip to the Holy Land is an integral part of practicing their faith. Arriving in groups, most of these pilgrims are guided by Jewish Israeli tour guides. For more than three decades, Jackie Feldman—born into an Orthodox Jewish family in New York, now an Israeli citizen, scholar, and licensed guide—has been leading tours, interpreting Biblical landscapes, and fielding questions about religion and current politics. In this book, he draws on pilgrimage and tourism studies, his own experiences, and interviews with other guides, Palestinian drivers and travel agents, and Christian pastors to examine the complex interactions through which guides and tourists “co-produce” the Bible Land. He uncovers the implicit politics of travel brochures and religious souvenirs. Feldman asks what it means when Jewish-Israeli guides get caught up in their own performances or participate in Christian rituals, and reflects on how his interactions with Christian tourists have changed his understanding of himself and his views of religion.

di Giovine and Picard (eds), “The Seductions of Pilgrimage”

Di Giovine, Michael A. and David Picard, eds. 2015. The Seductions of Pilgrimage: Sacred Journeys Afar and Astray in the Western Religious Tradition. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Publisher’s Description: The Seductions of Pilgrimage explores the simultaneously attractive and repellent, beguiling and alluring forms of seduction in pilgrimage. It focuses on the varied discursive, imaginative, and practical mechanisms of seduction that draw individual pilgrims to a pilgrimage site; the objects, places, and paradigms that pilgrims leave behind as they embark on their hyper-meaningful travel experience; and the often unforeseen elements that lead pilgrims off their desired course. Presenting the first comprehensive study of the role of seduction on individual pilgrims in the study of pilgrimage and tourism, it will appeal to scholars of anthropology, cultural geography, tourism, heritage, and religious studies.

Contents:

Foreword, Jas’ Elsner

Introduction: pilgrimage and seduction in the Abrahamic tradition, Michael A. Di Giovine and David Picard

Purity as danger? Seduction and sexuality at Walsingham, Simon Coleman

The seductions of guiding: Jewish-Israeli tour guides on the Christian Holy Land pilgrimage, Jackie Feldman

As if the road there is covered with honey’: inquiries into the seductiveness of a Greek orthodox monastery in Arizona for Russian orthodox parish pilgrims, Julia Klimova

The seductiveness of saints: interreligious pilgrimage sites in Hatay and the ritual transformations of agency, Jens Kreinath

The seduction of the past in new age pilgrimage, Jill Dubisch

Seduction in the ‘Gypsy pilgrimage’ at Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Ellen Badone

Seductions of suffering: stigmata, salvation and pilgrimage to the sanctuary of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, Michael A. Di Giovine

The seductions of the way: the return of the pilgrim and the road to Compostela as a liminal space, Eduardo Chemin

Up In God’s great cathedral’: evangelism, astronauts, and the seductiveness of outer space, Deana L. Weibel

Stadler, “Appropriating Jerusalem”

Stadler, Nurit. 2015. Appropriating Jerusalem through Sacred Places: Disputed Land and Female Rituals at the Tombs of Mary and Rachel. Anthropological Quarterly 88(3)

Abstract: Due to deep-seated political tensions and intermittent violence between various streams of the city’s three major religions, Jerusalem’s sacred landscape is in the midst of significant change. One of the most salient expressions of this phenomenon is the renaissance of female saint shrines, most notably the Tomb of Mary and the proximate Tomb of Rachel the Matriarch. At these sites, female symbols, imagery rituals, and materiality have become powerful tools for asserting political claims that pertain to land and belonging. I will take stock of this phenomenon through the lens of different ethno-religious groups in Israel/Palestine that are availing themselves of female symbols (such as fertility, suffering, and maternal care) to advance various objectives. I find that these symbols have charged valences within minority communities. For members of the country’s hegemonic denominations, Rachel is the Jewish people’s “eternal mother” as well as a national symbol of the “return of the exiles” to their homeland. At the same time, local Catholic and Orthodox Christians view Mary to be “the mother of minorities” who suffered on behalf of and continues to provide succor for the weak. As a minority, Christians in Israel/Palestine employ this image of the Virgin as part of their effort to struggle with their weakening grip over the territories. Viewing the Virgin as a protector of minority groups is a departure from the vast majority of the Christian world, where Mary constitutes a national symbol that reinforces social belonging. In sum, I show how, amid the ongoing religious struggle, both female icons and their respective sacred venues are mobilized by different groups for the sake of challenging the political order and reshaping the landscape.