Luehrmann, “Praying with the Senses”

Luehrmann, Sonja, ed. 2017. Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Publisher’s Description: How do people experience spirituality through what they see, hear, touch, and smell? Sonja Luehrmann and an international group of scholars assess how sensory experience shapes prayer and ritual practice among Eastern Orthodox Christians. Prayer, even when performed privately, is considered as a shared experience and act that links individuals and personal beliefs with a broader, institutional, or imagined faith community. It engages with material, visual, and aural culture including icons, relics, candles, pilgrimage, bells, and architectural spaces. Whether touching upon the use of icons in the age of digital and electronic media, the impact of Facebook on prayer in Ethiopia, or the implications of praying using recordings, amplifiers, and loudspeakers, these timely essays present a sophisticated overview of the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianities. Taken as a whole they reveal prayer as a dynamic phenomenon in the devotional and ritual lives of Eastern Orthodox believers across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Senses of Prayer in Eastern Orthodox Christianity / Sonja Luehrmann

Part I: Senses
1. Becoming Orthodox: The Mystery and Mastery of a Christian Tradition / Vlad Naumescu
A Missionary Primer / Ioann Veniaminov
2. Listening and the Sacramental Life: Degrees of Mediation in Greek Orthodox Christianity / Jeffers Engelhardt
Creating an Image for Prayer / Sonja Luehrmann
3. Imagining Holy Personhood: Anthropological Thresholds of the Icon / Angie Heo
Syriac as a lingua sacra: Speaking the Language of Christ in India / Vlad Naumescu
4. Authorizing: The Paradoxes of Praying by the Book / Sonja Luehrmann

Part II: Worlds
5. Inhabiting Orthodox Russia: Religious Nomadism and the Puzzle of Belonging / Jeanne Kormina
Baraka: Mixing Muslims, Christians, and Jews / Angie Heo
6. Sharing Space: On the Publicity of Prayer, between an Ethiopian Village and the Rest of the World / Tom Boylston
Prayers for Cars, Weddings, and Well-Being: Orthodox Prayers en route in Syria / Andreas Bandak
7. Struggling Bodies at the Crossroads of Economy and Tradition: The Case of Contemporary Russian Convents / Daria Dubovka
Competing Prayers for Ukraine / Sonja Luehrmann
8. Orthodox Revivals: Prayer, Charisma, and Liturgical Religion / Simion Pop

Epilogue: Not-Orthodoxy/Orthodoxy’s Others / William A. Christian Jr.

Loustau, “The Uncanny Self in Love”

Loustau, Marc Roscoe. 2018. The Uncanny Self in Love: Divorced Catholic Women Remember Abortion in Romania. Journal of Religious Ethics 46(1): 63-87.

Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.

Huang and Hu, “Becoming Christians”

Huang, Jianbo and Mengyin Hu.  2017. Becoming Christians: Prayers and subject formation in an urban church in China.  Approaching Religion 1(7): 46-54.

Abstract: Prayers in Christianity are often considered to be a theological or pastoral topic; while social scientific studies generally tend to reduce them, like prayers in other religious contexts, to the status of psychological responses bringing comfort to the practitioner, or a collective construction connected with social and cultural institutions. However, what prayer actually is, and what it means to Christians who practise it remains an open issue for further, more intensive and thorough study. Based on fieldwork in an urban church in China, this article provides some perspectives on contemporary Chinese Christians and their prayer life, attempting to elaborate its possible significance, especially in terms of subject-formation processes within these Christians. Meanwhile, this article argues that, in working towards a better understanding of Christians, it is more efficacious to take ‘Christians’ as those who are, rather than a given or acquired identity, or a status of being, engaged in a process of becoming through a practice, or set of practices, which in this case is prayer,. Moreover, in the case of this Chinese Christian church, the practise of prayer also indicates some reflections on the cultural and religious diversity of contemporary Chinese society.

Bandak, “The social life of prayers”

The social life of prayers – introduction” Religion: 1-18.

Abstract: In this introduction the theme of prayer is brought into an anthropological discussion. Attending to prayers and how they are performed and seen to intervene in a social world is a significant way to engage with matters close to people. As argued in this introduction, prayers are a way to map affect and affective relationships people hold in what they are oriented towards and care about. Here a social perspective on prayer taking its cue from Marcel Mauss is particularly relevant as it invites us to go beyond the individual and see how prayers always point to a broader landscape. The reason for honing in on the social life of prayers is that it entices a particular form of situated comparison of diverse forms of Christianity that thereby pushes the anthropology of Christianity to consider central questions of agency, responsibility and subjectivity. This introduction argues that attending to the social life of prayers can be seen as a way of mapping affect. Prayers in different ways attest to the implicatedness of human beings in a social world. Furthermore, prayer works as a didactic tool and is in itself an internal scale of comparison and evaluation in various Christian formulations

Reinhardt, “Praying until Jesus returns”

Bruno Reinhardt, “Praying until Jesus returns: commitment and prayerfulness among charismatic Christians in Ghana” Religion, published online 14 November 2016.

Abstract: Charismatic Christians in Ghana display heterogeneous intensities of personal piety, often mapped out by believers to levels of ‘spiritual maturation’. In this article, I examine the devotional routines of ‘committed’ Christians, individuals recognized as ‘prayerful’ subjects. Through Marcel Mauss’ incidental definition of prayer as an ‘expenditure of physical and moral energy’, I investigate ethnographically the methods whereby prayerfulness comes about. I argue that charismatic prayer is not a discernible object of inquiry, but an ongoing field of ethical problematization driven forward by two modes of physical and moral expenditure: habit and anticipation. From this angle, spiritual maturity indicates not a durable ethical asset, but a continuous effort to produce homeostatic balance between these embodied temporal forces. I conclude by stressing how attention to the internal goods of prayer allow us to integrate vulnerability within religious projects, instead of reducing it to an external causal force, as in most deprivation theories of religion.

McGowin, “Praying for More”

McGowin, Emily Hunter. 2016. “Praying for More: Motherhood in the American Quiverfull Movement.” In Angels on Earth: Mothering, Religion, and Spirituality. Vanessa Reimer, ed. 73-90. Bradford, Ontario: Demeter Press. 

Excerpt: I researched the lives of Quiverfull mothers through in-depth interviews from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2015. My aim was fairly simple: to allow Quiverfull mothers to tell the stories of their life’s work in their own words. I discovered that many families experience significant tensions within their patriarchal discourse because of the expanded practice of motherhood at work in the Quiverfull subculture.

Pop, ‘I’ve tempted the saint with my prayer!’

Simion Pop, ‘I’ve tempted the saint with my prayer!’ Prayer, charisma and ethics in Romanian eastern orthodox Christianity, Religion. Early online publication:

Abstract: Marcel Mauss’ perspective on prayer has the merit of revealing the complex relations between individual experience, sociality and efficacy of prayer. In this article I propose a particular ethical perspective on prayer and these complex relations and also a new ethnographic territory for studying situational, relational and personal practices of prayer. Considering the ethical orientation towards contemporary saints within the Romanian Eastern Orthodox revival milieu I introduce the notion of charismatic exemplar in order to open up the analytical space for studying prayer as ethical practice. I argue that relational ethics reveals that prayer practices work efficaciously within the everyday web of constitutive ethical relationships and are replete with ethical insights into these relationships’ concrete social and historical constitution. Within the Orthodox revival milieu the ethical capacities of engaging in social relationships are prayerfully shaped at the intersection of self-cultivation in terms of an authoritative tradition, charismatic authority/exemplarity and social-historical conditions.

Haynes, “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way”

Naomi Haynes, 2016. “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way: language and personhood on the Zambian Copperbelt,” Religion, early online publication:

Abstract: This article examines the role of prayer in the production of the Pentecostal person on the Zambian Copperbelt. While Pentecostal prayer is partly focused on private concerns, and therefore reinforces a classic Protestant notion of bounded, individualised personhood, success in this practice depends on a believer’s ability to incorporate the language of the Pentecostal community. Prayer is also therefore dependent on a model of personhood in which permeability has an important part to play. One of the implications of this latter element of Pentecostal prayer is that it turns individual believers into iconic representations of their communities.

Webster, “Praying for Salvation”

Webster, Joseph.  2016.  Praying for salvation: a map of relatedness.  Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: This article attempts to push Mauss’ work on the sociality of prayer (1909) to its fullest conclusion by arguing that prayer can be viewed anthropologically as providing a map for social and emotional relatedness. Based on fieldwork among deep-sea fisher families living in Gamrie, North-East Scotland (home to 700 people and six Protestant churches), the author takes as his primary ethnographic departure the ritual of the ‘mid-week prayer meeting’. Among the self-proclaimed ‘fundamentalists’ of Gamrie’s Brethren and Presbyterian churches, attending the prayer meeting means praying for salvation. Yet, contrary to the stereotype of Protestant soteriology as highly individualist, in the context of Gamrie, salvation is not principally focused upon the self, but is instead sought on behalf of the ‘unconverted’ other. Locally, this ‘other’ is made sense of with reference to three different categories of relatedness: the family, the village and the nation. The author’s argument is that each category of relatedness carries with it a different affective quality: anguish for one’s family, resentment toward one’s village, and resignation towards one’s nation. As such, prayers for salvation establish and maintain not only vertical – human-divine – relatedness, but also horizontal relatedness between persons, while also giving them their emotional tenor. In ‘fundamentalist’ Gamrie, these human relationships, and crucially their affective asymmetries, may be mapped, therefore, by treating prayers as social phenomena that seek to engage with a world dichotomised into vice and virtue, rebellion and submission, and, ultimately, damnation and salvation.

Bandak, “Repeated Prayers”

Bandak, Andreas.  2016. Repeated prayers: saying the rosary in contemporary Syria.  Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Mauss’ seminal doctoral thesis, On Prayer [1909], captured the social character of prayer, but he sidelined the rosary as a merely mechanical prayer of repetition. This article also finds repetition at play in the rosary, as it is performed in the shrine of Our Lady of Soufanieh, Damascus, in pre-2011 Syria. However, it argues that repetition need not be conceptualised as dulling and inhibiting for the devotee. Rather, repetition can be seen like a heartbeat: something alive and pulsating. The repetition of the prayers among the followers is seen as unforced, a voluntary response to a grace already bestowed upon them by the Virgin Mary and Christ. Prayers are a response to this grace and, in this sense, repetition is to be understood as re-petition. This re-petition is seen as modelling the individual in the image of the Virgin Mary and, by this, exemplifying the saintly character of the devout.