Oliphant, “Beyond blasphemy or devotion: art, the secular, and Catholicism in Paris”

Oliphant, Elayne. 2015. Beyond blasphemy or devotion: art, the secular, and Catholicism in Paris. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 21(2):352-373.

Abstract: In this article I explore the relationship between the secular and ‘cultural’ Catholicism in France through the lens of a contemporary art exhibit displayed at a new project of the French Catholic Church. Visitors’ varied responses to the exhibit, I argue, ultimately reinforced the organizers’ claim that the activities that occur within this ‘non-religious’ space of the French church are self-evident aspects of a broadly recognizable and ‘secular’ French or European culture.

van Klinken, “Gay rights, the devil, and the end times”

van Klinken, Adriaan S. 2013. Gay rights, the devil, and the end times: public religion and the enchantment of the homosexuality debate in Zambia. Religion 43(4): 519-540.

Abstract: This article contributes to the understanding of the role of religion in the public and political controversies about homosexuality in Africa. As a case study it investigates the heated public debate in Zambia following a February 2012 visit by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who emphasised the need for the country to recognise the human rights of homosexuals. The focus is on a particular Christian discourse in this debate, in which the international pressure to recognise gay rights is considered a sign of the end times, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN and other international organisations are associated with the Antichrist and the Devil. Here, the debate about homosexuality becomes eschatologically enchanted through millennialist thought. Building on discussions about public religion and religion and politics in Africa, this article avoids popular explanations in terms of fundamentalist religion and African homophobia, but rather highlights the political significance of this discourse in a postcolonial African context.

Heo, “The Bodily Threat of Miracles”

Heo, Angie. 2013. The Bodily Threat of Miracles: Security, Sacramentality, and the Egyptian Politics of Public Order. American Ethnologist 40(1):149-164.

Abstract: This article examines the political and public culture of Coptic Christian miracles through the circulation and reproduction of images and the mimetic entanglements of artifacts and objects. To understand the threat posed by one case of a woman’s oil-exuding hand, this study points to how semiotic orders of security and sacramentality intersect in the regulation of bodily miracles. It explores Coptic Orthodox Church and Egyptian state efforts to contain the activity of images and transform the public nature of truthful witness and divine testimony. In doing so, it suggests how the material structure of saintly imagination introduces bodily and visual challenges to an authoritarian politics of public order.

Engelke, “Angels in Swindon: Public religion and ambient faith in England”

Engelke, Matthew (2012) “Angels in Swindon: Public religion and ambient faith in England” American Ethnologist 39(1):155-170

Abstract: this article, I introduce the idea of “ambient faith” in an effort to clarify the stakes in long-standing debates about public and private religion. I take as my starting point the increasingly common recognition that conceptual distinctions between publicity and privacy are difficult to maintain in the first place and that they are, in any case, always relative. The idea of “ambient faith,” which I connect to work on the turn to a materialist semiotics, can serve as both a critique of and supplement to the ideas of “public” and “private” religion. Introducing ambience—the sense of ambience—allows one to raise important questions about the processes through which faith comes to the foreground or stays in the background—the extent to which faith, in other words, goes public or stays private. I use my research on a Christian organization in England, the Bible Society of England and Wales, to illuminate these points, discussing the society’s campaign in 2006 to bring angels to Swindon and its promotion of Bible reading in coffee shops. I also consider Brian Eno’s music and recent advertising trends for additional insights into the notion of “ambience.”

Englund (ed.), “Christianity and Public Culture in Africa”

Christianity and Public Culture in Africa is an edited volume published by Ohio University Press, edited by Harry Englund with contributions from: Harry Englund, James Pritchett, Marja Hinfelaar, Nicholas Kamau-Goro, Barbara Cooper, Ruth Prince, Damaris Parsitau, Birgit Meyer, Ilana Van Wyk, and Michael Perry & Kewku Okyerefo.

Christianity and Public Culture in Africa takes readers beyond familiar images of religious politicians and populations steeped in spirituality. It shows how critical reason and Christian convictions have combined in surprising ways as African Christians confront issues such as national constitutions, gender relations, and the continuing struggle with HIV/AIDS.

The wide-ranging essays included here explore rural Africa and the continent’s major cities, colonial and missionary legacies, and mass media images in the twenty-first century. They also reveal the diversity of Pentecostalism in Africa and highlight the region’s remarkable denominational diversity. Scholars and students alike will find these essays timely and impressive.

The contributors demonstrate how the public significance of Christianity varies across time and place. They explore rural Africa and the continent’s major cities, and colonial and missionary situations, as well as mass-mediated ideas and images in the twenty-first century. They also reveal the plurality of Pentecostalism in Africa and keep in view the continent’s continuing denominational diversity. Students and scholars will find these topical studies to be impressive in scope.