Robbins, “Keeping God’s Distance”

Robbins, Joel. 2017. Keeping God’s Distance: Sacrifice, possession, and the problem of religious mediation. American Ethnologist 44(3): 464-475.

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.

McCloud, “American Possessions”

McCloud, Sean. 2015. American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States. New York: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Stories of contemporary exorcisms are largely met with ridicule, or even hostility. Sean McCloud argues, however, that there are important themes to consider within these narratives of seemingly well-adjusted people who attend school, go shopping, watch movies, and also happen to fight demons. American Possessions examines Third Wave spiritual warfare, a late twentieth-, early twenty-first century movement of evangelicals focused on banishing demons from human bodies, material objects, land, regions, political parties, and nation states. While Third Wave beliefs may seem far removed from what many scholars view as mainstream religious practice, McCloud argues that the movement provides an ideal case study for identifying some of the most prominent tropes within the contemporary American religious landscape. Drawing on interviews, television shows, documentaries, websites, and dozens of spiritual warfare handbooks, McCloud examines Third Wave practices such deliverance rituals (a uniquely Protestant form of exorcism), spiritual housekeeping (the removal of demons from everyday objects), and spiritual mapping (searching for the demonic in the physical landscape). Demons, he shows, are the central fact of life in the Third Wave imagination. McCloud provides the first book-length study of this influential movement, highlighting the important ways that it reflects and diverts from the larger, neo-liberal culture from which it originates.

Selka, “Demons and Money”

Selka, Stephen.  2014.  Demons and Money: Possessions in Brazilian Pentecostalism.  In Spirited Things: The Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions, Paul Christopher Johnson, ed.  Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Excerpt: “…this chapter explores interrelated understandings of spiritual and material possession – “possession by” and “possession of” – in the [Universal Church of the Kingdom of God] and similar neo-Pentecostal churches.  Spirit possession is central to Afro-Brazilia religions such as Candombé and Umbanda.  yet many Pentecostal Christians believe that the spirits that possess the practitioners of these religions are demons, and the practices of the [Universal church] in particular focus on liberating people from demonic influence.  This influence is seen as the cause of afflictions ranging from physcial illness to depression and of misfortunes such as divorce or unemployment.

In addition, some Pentecostal churches, especially third-wave or neo-Pentecostal ones, espouse what is often referred to derisively as the “theology of prosperity.”  Also know as the “health and wealth” gospel in North America, its proponents preach that the acquisition of material possessions is possible through faith.  The [Universal church] and similar neo-Pentecostal churches combine their promises of prosperity with an emphasis on deliverance from demons.  At first glance the relationship between these two kinds of possession might seem spurious, but they are closely connected.  In the most explicit formulation of this connection, as we see in the [Universal church], liberation from spiritual possession opens the way for the accumulation of material possessions.  That is, demonic control (possession by) impedes our realization of the prosperity (possession of) that God desires for human beings.”

Heuser, “Put on God’s Armour Now!”

Heuser, Andreas (2011) “‘Put on God’s Armour Now!’: the Embattled Body in African Pentecostal-type Christianity”  in Sebastian Jobs and Gesa Mackenthun, eds., Embodiments of Cultural Encounters. Munster: Wasmann Verlag. 

Excerpt: “Arjun Appadurai distinguishes “hard” from “soft” cultural forms by discussing processes of indigenization . . The argument that I have presented here is that the ‘theology of the embattled body’ in African Pentecostal-type Christianity has developed in to such a “hard cultural form.” . . .Pneumatology, the central theological dimension in African Pentecostal-style Christianity, reviles around the twin formula of an enacted demonology and an elaborated devil complex. . . As a hard cultural form, with all its moral, spiritual, and ritual virtues, the theology of the embattled body resist reinterpretation. In few of the gendered body politics in African Pentecostal-type churches, it changes those who are socialized in it more readily than it permits transformation of the established texture of the devil complex.  . . “

Di Bella, “Glossolalia and Possession among Pentecostal groups of the Mezzogiorno”

Di Bella, Maria Pia “Glossolalia and Possession among Pentecostal groups of the Mezzogiorno” (translated by Olga Koepping) in Elizabeth Koepping (ed.), World Christianity, London, Routledge (Critical concepts in Religious Studies), 2011, vol. 2, pp. 307-320.

Excerpt: “This study of the emergence of the new doctrine within a rural environment started at Accadia in Apulia, a centre for Oneness Pentecostalism, and later extended to other villages where this doctrine developed . . . Moreover, a comparison has been drawn with certain Trinitarian Pentecostal groups in the neighbouring Apulian towns of Anzano and Monteleone. The introduction of Pentecostalism and its development in a rural environment clearly followed the same pattern in these different locations. Three distinct phases could be discovered in the process, each marked by resistance to rural local values . . . “

Luedke “Intimacy and Alterity”

Luedke, Tracy (2011) Intimacy and Alterity: Prophetic Selves and Spirit Others in Central Mozambique Journal of Religion in Africa 41(2):154-179

Abstract: In the context of Mozambican prophet healing, spirit-host relationships unfold between intimacy and alterity. The interweaving of spirits’ and hosts’ biographies in possession is enacted bodily in the form of pains, postures, and punishments, and often pits their wills and well-beings against one another. Spirit possession is an intimate exchange, a bodily and social confluence that invokes the most familiar of interpersonal relationships (spouses, parents and their children). On the other hand, the natures, motives, and agendas of the spirits often remain opaque. As prophets struggle to make sense and make use of the spirits who possess them, the power of the spirits reveals itself in their unknowability and contrariness, the elusiveness and partiality of their profiles. These intimate others both threaten and succor their hosts, to whom they are both kin and strangers, and it is through this dialectic that their special vantage on human suffering comes into view.