Negotiating Marian Apparitions: Book Review

Halemba, Agnieszka. 2015. Negotiating Marian Apparitions: The Politics of Religion in Transcarpathian Ukraine. Budapest: Central European University Press.

By: Sonja Luehrmann (Simon Fraser University)

Catholic believers have been seeing the Virgin Mary appear for centuries, especially at times of crisis and social and ecclesiastical upheaval. In her book, Agnieszka Halemba argues that what is remarkable about these visions is not that they occur, but how some of them are embraced by a Church organization while others are not. Her ethnographic study deals with apparitions of Mary to two girls in Dzhublyk in Transcarpathian Ukraine that began in 2002. As with many apparitions, the official investigation about these has not yet been concluded, but local Greek Catholic communities have embraced the site and made it into a pilgrimage destination. Rather than focusing on the visionaries or pilgrims, Halemba looks at the organizational agents and processes in relation to which the apparitions gain lasting meaning and renown. In so doing, she creates a fascinating institutional ethnography of the Greek Catholic Church and its place in wider Christendom. Continue reading

Luehrmann, “The politics of prayer books”

Luehrmann, Sonja.  2015. The politics of prayer books: Delegated intercession, names, and community boundaries in the Russian Orthodox Church.  Journal of Religious and Political Practice.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Prayer is most easily conceived of as political speech when it is a spontaneous practice showing individual and group reactions to current events. Where prayer is a routinized activity involving the recitation of canonical texts, interpreters locate politics in the disciplining of bodies and acts of claiming space. This paper takes inspiration from ethnographies of oral ritual performance and Quranic recitation to include texts and the delegation of speech roles in the analysis of recited prayer. Most Russian Orthodox Christians either pray from a prayer book or order such prayers to be said by specialists. Focusing on the use of baptismal names as indexical elements in intercessory prayer, I argue that Orthodox Christian textual practices sustain a particular form of fractal social authority. Standardized prayer texts synchronize lay and delegated clerical voices, while individualizing responsibility for non-Orthodox kin and acquaintances. Through analyzing canonical and non-canonical intercessory formulae, one can see that part of the political force of prayer lies in constructing community boundaries while dynamically readjusting them.

Blood – A Critique of Christianity: Book Review

Anidjar, Gil. 2014. Blood: A Critique of Christianity. Religion, Culture, and Public Life. New York: Columbia University Press.

By: Sonja Luehrmann (Simon Fraser University)

I read most of this book in one of the contexts to which it speaks most deeply: during international air travel across North America, wondering how border guards and security officers might react if they were to inspect my bag and find a book whose title signalled a critical interrogation of Christianity combined with the idea of (shedding) blood. Over the winter of 2014/15, media commentary on terror attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris kept the question of the connection between religion and bloodshed on everyone’s mind, but it was Islam whose propensity for violence and potential for peace was under interrogation. As Gil Anidjar’s previous books remind us (2003; 2007), this intense dissection of Islam for violent properties is part of a long history of suspicion by western (post)Christians against significant religious others, from the blood libel – the myth that Jews slaughtered Christian children and used their blood in sinister rituals – to traditions of mocking the prophet Muhammad as a carnal and power-hungry impostor. In Blood, Anidjar turns the question around and examines Christianity for features that might explain such seemingly disparate violent histories as the Spanish inquisition, colonialism, the global spread of capitalism, and the war on terror.

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