Publisher’s Description: The Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.
Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.
Abstract: In this work I analyse the ethnographic case study of the icon of Our Lady of the Wall as establishing a unique ritual landscape among the cement slabs of the Israeli-Palestinian Wall separating Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Although the Wall has been widely described as a technology of occupation on one side and as a device to ensure security on the other, through Latour’s concept of assemblages I unearth its agency in developing a Christian shrine. Through a decade of weekly recitations of the Rosary along the Wall near Checkpoint 300, the Elizabethan nuns of the Caritas Baby Hospital have been invoking Mary’s help to dismantle the Wall. This weekly ritual represents both political dissent against the bordering action enacted by the Wall, as well as giving visibility to the plea of the Palestinian Christian right to live in this territory in the face of their status as an ethnoreligious minority.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.