Dengah, “Examining Costly Religious Rituals”

Dengah, H.J. Francois II. 2017. Being Part of the Nacao: Examining Costly Religious Rituals in a Brazilian Neo-Pentecostal Church. Ethos 45(1): 48-74.

Abstract: Neo-Pentecostalism is notable for its emphasis on “prosperity theology,” the belief that economic prosperity is available to the faithful. Members give monetary offerings in exchange for later blessings of financial prosperity. Despite the faith’s rapid growth worldwide, the influence of prosperity theology on believers’ lives is still being understood. This mixed-method study examines Brazilian neo-Pentecostal rituals through the dual paradigms of religious signaling and cognitive dissonance theory. Signaling theory posits that costly behaviors, such as giving significant sums of money, are honest signs of an individual’s intent toward group cooperation. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that individuals will justify the costly signals required by overvaluing membership in the group. The integration of these two approaches provides a comprehensive model for costly ritual participation by addressing both social and individual motivating factors. This study furthers our understanding of neo-Pentecostalism by examining how prosperity theology rituals influence behaviors, cognitions, and the psychological well-being.

Elisha, “Proximations of Public Religion: Worship, Spiritual Warfare, and the Ritualization of Christian Dance”

Elisha, Omri. 2017. “Proximations of Public Religion: Worship, Spiritual Warfare, and the Ritualization of Christian Dance.” American Anthropologist. DOI: 10.1111/aman.12819

Abstract: This essay is about a group of neo-Pentecostal evangelists who decided to represent their church in the New York Dance Parade, which they regarded as an opportunity to promote worship as the true purpose of art and engage in spiritual warfare. Their participation was predicated on a distinction between “performance” and “ministry,” privileging the latter. I argue that upholding this distinction in the immersive context of a secular festival required a process of intensive ritualization, involving physical and spiritual preparations and symbolic boundary maintenance. I further argue that anthropological perspectives on such instances of public religion should seek to account for how ritual forms produce and are shaped by the effects of what I call proximation, a condition of “closeness” between categories of activity otherwise regarded as separate and autonomous (e.g., religion and the arts). The concept is a means to explore how religious ministries are influenced by ostensibly external factors and the need to manage them, and by the various opportunities, tensions, and moral associations that arise when ritual strategies evoke comparisons with secular genres and domains. The proximations of religion highlight the ethnographic significance of ideal-typical categories and spheres, including their potential to intersect, which is a byproduct of how they have been differentiated.

Schmalz, “Authority, Representation, and Offense”

Schmalz, Mathew. 2016. Authority, Representation, and Offense: Dalit Catholics, Foot Washing, and the Study of Global Catholicism. Journal of Global Catholicism 1(1): 117-129.

Abstract: In reflecting on a sharp scholarly exchange at a conference, this article explores issues of authority, representation, and offense in global Catholic and South Asian Studies. Focusing on the act of foot washing by Dalit Catholics, the article examines how scholarly offense is linked to particular claims of representational authority. The article also puts this discussion within the context of contemporary debates about Western portrayals of Indian culture and society.

Thomas, “Tying of the Ceremonial Wedding Thread”

Thomas, Sonja. 2016. The Tying of the Ceremonial Wedding Thread: A Feminist Analysis of “Ritual” and “Tradition” among Syro-Malabar Catholics in India. Journal of Global Catholicism 1(1): 104-116.

Abstract: This article presents a feminist analysis of patriarchy persisting in Catholicism of the Syro-Malabar rite in Kerala. The article specifically considers the impact of charismatic Catholicism on women of the Syro-Malabar rite and argues that it is important to interrogate this new face of religiosity in order to fully understand how certain rituals are allowed to change and be fluid, while others, especially concerning female sexuality, are enshrined as “tradition” which often restricts the parameters for women’s empowerment and may reinforce caste and patriarchal hegemonies preventing feminist solidarity across different religious- and caste-based groups.

Mkallyah, “Indigenous Tanzanian Music in Christian Worship”

Mkallyah, Kassomo. 2016. Affects and Effects of Indigenous Tanzanian Music Traditions in Christian Worship in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Ethnomusicology 60(2): 300-328.

Abstract: This paper explores specific musical and cultural attributes that make indigenous Tanzanian music traditions effective in church worship in Dar es Salaam, the foremost metropolis in this East African nation. Based in empirical evidence, it argues that the power of indigenous Tanzanian music traditions, in heightening the religious experience of believers, is inherent in musical attributes – melody, harmony, and rhythms – as well as cultural aesthetics that facilitate the believers’ identification with such local music. Specifically, the article shows how the power of indigenous Tanzanian music to arouse deep and demonstrable emotions among church members is attributable to the characteristics of traditional music and its cultural usage. Indeed, as the article affirms, the strength of these culturally-rich indigenous Tanzanian music traditions can be traced to their African origins and the traditional attributes and aesthetics that make them deeply religious and powerful in generating emotions.

Redden, “‘Boil them Hearts’: The Role of Methodist Revivalist Piety in Indigenous Conversion and Evangelization in Late Nineteenth-century Coastal British Columbia”

Redden, Jason. 2016. “‘‘Boil them Hearts’’: The Role of Methodist Revivalist Piety in Indigenous Conversion and Evangelization in Late Nineteenth-century Coastal British Columbia.” Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses DOI: 10.1177/0008429816660883

Abstract: This paper addresses the academic conversation on Protestant missions to the Indigenous peoples of coastal British Columbia during the second half of the nine- teenth century through a consideration of the role of revivalist piety in the conversion of some of the better known Indigenous Methodist evangelists identified in the scholarly literature. The paper introduces the work of existing scholars critically illuminating the reasons (religious convergence and/or the want of symbolic and material resources) typically given for Indigenous, namely, Ts’msyen, conversion. It also introduces Methodist revivalist piety and its instantiation in British Columbia. And, finally, it offers a critical exploration of revivalist piety and its role in conversion as set within a broader theoretical inquiry into the academic study of ritual and religion.

Hardin, “Challenging Authority”

Hardin, Jessica. 2016. Challenging Authority, Averting Risk, Creating Futures: Intersectionality in Interpreting Christian Ritual in Samoa. Journal of Contemporary Religion 31(3): 379-391. 

Abstract: This article explores how prayer group leaders manage and interpret risk-in-ritual during a home-based Pentecostal intercession. The group was formed in an office setting and led by three female managers. They interceded together during their lunch hour for over a year. The intercession was the one time the prayer group moved from the office to the home of one of the female leaders. This transition sparked a number of problems associated with group unity, which indicated risks-in-ritual. Managing risk was focused on managing forms of social difference such as age, gender, rank, and denomination. I draw from the feminist theory of intersectionality to argue that in the process of translating social differences of gender, age, rank, and denomination into spiritual differences in ritual, future ritual agendas are created. This future-creating capacity of ritual reinforced the authority of those who adjudicated and interpreted those risks-in-ritual. My example is taken from 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Samoa between 2011 and 2012.

Hoenes del Pinal, “A Ritual Interrupted”

Hoenes del Pinal, Eric. 2016. A Ritual Interrupted: A Case of Contested Ritual Practices in a Q’eqchi’-Maya Catholic Parish. Journal of Contemporary Religion 31(3): 365-378.

Abstract: Although Q’eqchi’-Maya Mainstream Catholics and Charismatic Catholics in the Guatemala highlands share many of the same physical and social spaces, the relationship between them is a tense one due to their differing modes of ritual practice. Although this conflict rarely comes to a head directly, on one particular occasion a highly ranked member of a Mainstream congregation, and indeed an outspoken critic of the Charismatics, entered the village chapel during the latter’s weekly service and proceeded openly to criticize their ritual practices, leaders’ religious knowledge, and relationship to the larger institutional Catholic Church. This article analyzes this event as a means of furthering our understanding of what happens when unexpected circumstances threaten the integrity of a religious group’s ritual. How do participants try to circumvent, mitigate or otherwise manage such an occurrence? Examining the spoken and embodied actions taken by both the speaker criticizing the congregation and his intended audience sheds light on the interactive strategies each used to manage their social and ethical standing during the uneasy interaction. This article draws critical attention to the way adherents to two related but distinct forms of Christianity establish and contest their modes of religious authority through language, discourse, and bodily behavior. By investigating an episode in which two modes of Christian practice came into direct confrontation with each other, we can better understand how differing ways of being Christian are dialogically constituted.

Golomski, “Risk, Mistake, and Generational Contest”

Golomski, Casey. 2016. Risk, Mistake, and Generational Contest in Body Rituals of Swazi Jerikho Zionism. Journal of Contemporary Religion 31(3): 351-364. 

Abstract: This article situates an approach to ritual efficacy and risk by focusing on bodily rituals of the Swazi Zionist Jerikho church in socio-historical context. The Jerikho church distinguishes itself by the use of purgative hallucinogenics and a circular march-run, both of which are meant to invoke the embodiment of holy spirits. This article analyzes the risk inherent in the procedures of rituals and how risk manifested in two cases in 2010 and 2011, which challenged bodily and social wellbeing and ritual knowledge for both church members and the broader public. I show how harmful ritual mistakes were explained away and enveloped within co-existing systems of religious and socio-medical knowledge by way of the intergenerational social relations through which the rituals were produced. Church elders attributed mistakes to youthful incompetence, which reaffirmed the organizational and cultural practice of the Jerikho church and elided with a public moral discourse about risky youth and HIV/AIDS.

Loustau, “Risking a Miracle”

Loustau, Marc. 2016. Risking a Miracle: Transcendentally Oriented Improvisation and Catholic Charismatics’ Involvement in a Transylvanian Canonization. Journal of Contemporary Religion 31(3): 335-350.

Abstract: Anthropologists have begun to challenge the consensus that sainthood is not an operative factor in Charismatic Christianity, opening up space to re-examine how ritual and narrative shape habitual religious sensibilities. Through an ethnographic study of Transylvanian Catholic Charismatics’ search for miracles to aid a deceased Bishop’s canonization, I argue that canonization is driven by a form of adaptive ritualization and storytelling, which I call ‘transcendentally oriented improvisation’. In this mode, ritualization and storytelling are existential strategies by which subjects extrapolate styles of action and discourse into new situations to transcend disordered being-in-the-world. By engaging in improvisation, my acquaintances renewed a sense of existential potentiality put at risk. Studying transcendentally oriented improvisation draws attention to risk and indeterminacy as central aspects of the lived experience of canonization and other divine mediations. Transylvanian Charismatic Catholics’ involvement in canonization is also evidence that the global Charismatic movement is now integrating into mainstream Catholicism. Movement, memorialization, authority, and religious experience are the central points of contention shaping the outcome of this process.