Bielo, “Replicating the Holy Land in the U.S”

Bielo, James. 2015. “Replicating the Holy Land in the U.S. (a ‘Materializing the Bible’ Road Trip).” Material Religions. 30 December.

Abstract: James S. Bielo analyzes a practice of religious replication: re-creations of Holy Land sites in the United States. Such replications invite visitors into an experience of sensorial and imaginative immersion, marshaling indexical techniques for materializing the Bible. Replicating the Holy Land is a strategy for actualizing the virtual problem of authenticity, a problem that animates any and every lived expression of Christianity. To explore this phenomenon, we indulge another national tradition: the great American road trip. This essay emerges from a larger project, Materializing the Bible, curated by Bielo.

Heo, “The Divine Touchability of Dreams”

Heo, Angie. 2014. “The Divine Touchability of Dreams.” In Sensational Religion, edited by Salley M. Promey. Yale: Yale University Press.

Excerpt: “In Port Said, a city between Egypt’s Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, an icon of the Virgin Mary exudes holy oil …. [s]ince 1990, year after year the image had attracted thousands of Coptic Christian pilgrims to the Church of Saint Bishoi, where it is housed. Unlike other surrounding icons in the sanctuary, painted and consecrated by priestly hands, this one is an ‘autoconsecrating’ poster replica. It produces and reproduces holy oil by itself. This oil leaves behind worn paper traces in its liquid trail as it travels from the Virgin’s outstretched hands to the plastic canopy that captures the oil beneath her feet. From there, the priests of the church collect and distributes the oil as a form of remembrance …..

Devotees understand the origin of the icon’s miraculous activity to reside in the drama of one women’s dream. On the evening of February 20, 1990, the Virgin Mary (by way of saintly visitation) healed Samia Youssef Badilious of breast cancer. Samia dreamed that the Virgin, assisted by three other saints, preformed surgery on her. Within the space of the dream, Samia lay down on a white table as the saints held her hands. Then the Virgin touched the cancerous breast. Startled by a burning bolt of sensation that rushed through her body, Samia pulled her right hand away. The Virgin grabbed it back and held her hand. When Samia awoke, she discovered that she had been healed….”

Heo, “The Divine Touchability of Dreams”

Heo, Angie. 2014. “The Divine Touchability of Dreams.” In Sensational Religion, edited by Salley M. Promey. Yale: Yale University Press.

Excerpt: “In Port Said, a city between Egypt’s Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, an icon of the Virgin Mary exudes holy oil …. [s]ince 1990, year after year the image had attracted thousands of Coptic Christian pilgrims to the Church of Saint Bishoi, where it is housed. Unlike other surrounding icons in the sanctuary, painted and consecrated by priestly hands, this one is an ‘autoconsecrating’ poster replica. It produces and reproduces holy oil by itself. This oil leaves behind worn paper traces in its liquid trail as it travels from the Virgin’s outstretched hands to the plastic canopy that captures the oil beneath her feet. From there, the priests of the church collect and distributes the oil as a form of remembrance …..

Devotees understand the origin of the icon’s miraculous activity to reside in the drama of one women’s dream. On the evening of February 20, 1990, the Virgin Mary (by way of saintly visitation) healed Samia Youssef Badilious of breast cancer. Samia dreamed that the Virgin, assisted by three other saints, preformed surgery on her. Within the space of the dream, Samia lay down on a white table as the saints held her hands. Then the Virgin touched the cancerous breast. Startled by a burning bolt of sensation that rushed through her body, Samia pulled her right hand away. The Virgin grabbed it back and held her hand. When Samia awoke, she discovered that she had been healed….”

Gunther Brown, “Feeling is Believing”

Gunther Brown, Candy.  2014.  “Feeling is Believing: Pentecostal Prayer and Complementary and Alternative Medicine.”  Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 14(1): 60-67.

Excerpt: Sensory experience is pivotal to postmodern culture. A globalized world seems newly interconnected, yet individuals may feel more isolated than ever before. Scientific technologies and modern medicine have achieved remarkable triumphs and exhibited devastating limitations that leave people unsatisfied and searching for “more.” Modernization has not resulted in secularization, but sources of religious knowing—revealed Scripture, inherited tradition, institutional authority—have become unsettled. Postmoderns want more than intellectual certainty; they long for direct experiences of what is really real. In the United States and globally, many postmodern Christians combine “scientific” medicine with diverse touch-oriented “religious” and “spiritual” healing practices to find healing, reassurance that God is present with them personally, and hope for their future lives on earth and in the world to come.

This essay draws on ten years of ethnographic research, in the United States and across globally diffuse social networks, on Christian prayer for divine healing and participation in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). I argue that touch-oriented healing practices attract adherents by promising sensory experience of the sacred. Bodily experiences in turn shape religious perceptions and may open a revolving door between religious world-views.

Stoller, “Cultivating the Inner Senses”

Stoller, Paul. 2013. Cultivating the Inner Senses. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 365-68.

Excerpt: In 1988 I traveled to the town of Tillaberi in the Republic of Niger, West Africa to attend the funeral of my teacher, Adamu Jenitongo, a sorcerer of great repute. During an apprenticeship that spanned seventeen years, he challenged me to tune my senses to the spirit world. It was a difficult challenge. In the black of night, I would often awake to watch him converse with his ancestors—all great sorcerers in their time. I could clearly hear his voice, but did not have the capacity to hear those of his forbearers. At the time I knew that no one could ever replace my teacher but I did want to continue my education in Songhay sorcery. Several days after the funeral, I went to Niamey, Niger’s capital city, to seek out the master herbalist, Soumana Yacouba. I wanted to become his student. I had known Soumana Yacouba for ten years. During that time, we would spend many days sitting behind a mat at one of Niamey’s main markets. Each day he would display his medicinal plants on the mats, and between client consultations we would talk about herbal medicine. In time we developed a rapport but never established the kind of master-apprentice relationship I had shared with Adamu Jenitongo. When I asked to become his student, he didn’t give me an immediate answer. “Come to my house. My wife will feed us lunch and then we’ll see what happens.”

We took a taxi to what was then the outskirts of Niamey and walked to a dusty compound of three grass huts encircled by a three-foot fence fashioned from dried millet stalks. We slipped into Soumana’s hut and sat on palm frond mats. His wife brought us a bowl of rice smothered with a chunky meat sauce, which we ate with gusto. After the meal Soumana looked at me.

“So you want to study with me?” he asked.
I nodded.
“It’s not my decision.”
I stared at him in confused silence.
“Because I am a do (master Niger River waters and plants) I must ask the ancestors if they accept you.”
He then engaged in a ten minute give-and-take with his ancestors. He described my history with Adamu Jenitongo and said positive things about my trustworthiness. I, of course, could not hear the voices of his ancestors, who, after some cajoling
from Soumana, gave their consent.
“They like you,” Soumana told me. “They think I should teach you about plants and about the river.”
“But,” I said, “I couldn’t hear their voices, couldn’t hear what they said.
“Of course not,” Soumana said with a broad smile on his face. “You need to learn how to listen before you can hear the voices of the ancestors.”
* * *
Uttered in a dusty straw hut in 1988, Soumana Yacouba’s comment underscores a major premise in Tanya Luhrmann’s wonderful new book, When God talks back. How can a person, she wonders again and again throughout the pages of her illuminating text, claim to hear the voice of God? How could Soumana Yacouba or, for that matter, Adamu Jenitongo claim to have conversations with ancestors?

Brahinsky, “Cultivating Discontinuity”

Brahinsky, Josh. 2013. Cultivating Discontinuity: Pentecostal Pedagogies of Yielding and Control. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 44(4): 399-422.

Abstract: Exploring missionary study at an Assemblies of God Bible college through ethnography and training manuals demonstrates systematic pedagogies that cultivate sensory capabilities encouraging yielding, opening to rupture, and constraint. Ritual theory and the Anthropology of Christianity shift analytic scales to include “cultivation,“ a “third term“ enabling simultaneous apprehension and consolidating of the oppositions (experience–doctrine, revival–church, or spontaneous rupture–restrained continuity) internal and central to Pentecostalism. Further, cultivation complicates valorizations of the disjunctive “event“ as militant radical icon.

Bakker, “Fragments of a Liturgical World”

Bakker, Sarah. 2013. Fragments of a Liturgical World: Syriac Christianity and the Dutch Multicultural Debates. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California-Santa Cruz.

Abstract: This dissertation explores the reconfiguration of Syriac Orthodox liturgical tradition among Aramaic-speaking Christian refugees in the Netherlands. Under the pressures of Dutch integration policy and the global politics of secular recognition, the Syriac liturgy is rapidly losing its significance as the central axis of social life and kinship-relations in the Syriac Orthodox diaspora. As such, it has become a site for debate over how to be religiously, culturally, and ethnically distinct despite the narrative binary of Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East that dominates Dutch multiculturalism discourse. Every week, young Syriac Orthodox women and men congregate at their churches to practice singing the liturgy in classical Syriac. What they sing, and how they decide to sing it, mediates their experiments in religious and ethical reinvention, with implications for their efforts at political representation. Singers contend not only with conditions of inaudibility produced by histories of ethnic cleansing, migration, and assimilation, but also with the fragments of European Christianity that shape the sensory regime of secular modernity. Public debates over the integration of religious minorities illuminate this condition of fragmentation, as well as the contest over competing conceptions of ethical personhood inherent in the politics of pluralism in Europe.

Brahinsky, Josh (2012) “Pentecostal Body Logics: Cultivating a Modern Sensorium”

Brahinsky, Josh. 2012. Pentecostal Body Logics: Cultivating a Modern Sensorium. Cultural Anthropology. 27(2):215-238.

Abstract

Pentecostals put intensive study into bodies, texts, practices and their interrelationships so as to effectively cultivate a sensory culture – sensorium – and invite authoritative religious experience. This ethnographic study follows a Pentecostal sensorium from its crucial institutionalization in early Assemblies of God practice to more contemporary manifestations at Bethany University and among the Promise Keepers. It traces the historical mutations of what I call the body logics – or portable sensory dynamics – that are central to Pentecostal pedagogies of conversion and commitment, especially in their relatively easy transposition to new contexts and ambivalent but productive relationship to modern secularity. Further, it argues that religiously inflected sensory aptitudes, and perhaps even mind-body dynamics, emerge through a process of careful cultivation and nurturance.

de Witte, “Touched by the Spirit”

de Witte, Marleen. 2011. Touched by the Spirit: Converting the Senses in a Ghanian Charismatic Church. Ethnos 76(4): 489-509.

Abstract: This article discusses the bodily mass reproduction of divine touch in Ghanaian charismatic Pentecostalism and argues for an understanding of conversion as an ongoing bodily process that ‘tunes’ the senses to specific sensory experiences. Presenting a case study of the International Central Gospel Church in Accra, it asks how the church’s explicit appeal to the body relates to its strong suspicion of bodily mediation and its ideology of conversion as an inner transformation of the spirit and only secondarily of the body. It shows that the learning of the church doctrine that grounds born-again subjectivity in spontaneous and immediate experiences of being touched by the Holy Spirit goes together with repeated performance and gradual embodiment of sensory and bodily ‘formats’ that evoke such experiences, but also raise concerns about their authenticity.