Abstract: The discipline called the “anthropology of Christianity” began to gain traction in the early to mid-2000s when interested scholars focused on Christianity as an object of collaborative and comparative cross-cultural analysis. Along with several landmark works of Joel Robbins, one foundational text is Fenella Cannell’s edited volume The Anthropology of Christianity, published in 2006. In her introductory essay, Cannell poses a pointed question for the volume and the discipline itself: “What difference does Christianity make?” Bracketing the question of whether “difference” can or should be defined (Green 2014), several anthropologists have taken inspiration from Cannell, including Naomi Haynes (2014) in the concluding essay to a recent special issue of Current Anthropology, and myself and Debra McDougall (2013) in an edited volume on Christian politics in Oceania. Difference, as the criterion by which continuity and transformation are evaluated, is arguably the key concept for an effective anthropological engagement with Christianity.
Abstract: In the wake of the postsecular turn, we propose to reappraise both the religious as studied in anthropology and how anthropologists who have religious or spiritual interests can contribute to an emerging postsecular anthropology. Such an anthropology recognizes the failure of secularization theory to dissolve the dichotomy between the religious and the secular. We propose that as anthropologists we consciously occupy the ontological penumbra, an ambiguous and plural space in which we engage with various counterparts, both human and nonhuman. This means that we have to be open to the real possibility of the existence of gods, spirits, and other nonhuman entities. These should not only be treated as subjects of study, but also recognized as valid counterparts with whom we can engage in the ethnographic encounter. While this necessitates relinquishing the former privileged position of secular and Western epistemology, it opens up the discipline to a potentially unprecedented ethnographic productivity that is epistemologically and ontologically innovative. Without neglecting its secular heritage, such a theologically minded postsecular anthropology places anthropology in a better position to explore what it is to be human, especially in terms of understanding religious and spiritual experiences.
Abstract: Most scholarly discussions of autism and religion presuppose the absent self theory of autism. The theory holds that autistic persons lack a sense of self and anticipates that they will have trouble relating to a personal God and assigning religious meaning to their lives. I argue that the theory is untestable, which leaves scholars of religion with a choice: either we can say, with proponents of the absent self theory, that autistic persons lack a self, a choice that cuts religious studies off from the lived theologies of autistic persons of faith; or we can view autistic persons of faith as authority voices on their religious self-experience. As an example of what scholars of religion stand to gain by choosing the latter, I present an ethnography of autistic Christians in three web communities. These autistic Christians construct a distinctively Christian understanding of neurodiversity and a distinctively aspie understanding of God.
Abstract: The aim of this article is to examine Bible reading in the African context and the willingness and enthusiasm to embrace prosperity gospel in Africa. To achieve this objective, a discussion on the developments in biblical interpretation in Africa will first be presented. This will be done by examining three historical periods: colonial, independence and democratisation periods. This will be followed by an outline of migrations that have taken place from traditional religions to different versions of Christianity in different times in Africa. These migrations will be examined in connection with Bible translation. The relationship between prosperity gospel and African people in Africa will be discussed by considering the tools prosperity gospel uses to appeal to African people, namely the religio-cultural and socio-economic factors. The article will then provide its assessment of contextual reading in the prosperity gospel and a conclusion will follow.
Abstract: The prosperity gospel in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Hosanna Chapel, Helsinki, Finland, builds primarily on African indigenous worldviews rather than serving as a theological justification for capitalism. It is a contextual African interpretation of the gospel in a situation of tension between the expectations of extended families back home, those of the new society in which the immigrants find themselves, and the church. The African experience and heritage come to the fore especially in the strong emphasis placed on interpersonal relations, particularly with family members and God, as an essential part of prosperity. Naïve faith in the bliss of equal opportunities within capitalism is moderated by differentiation between realistic economic expectations and the special blessings that are endowed upon believers. When condemning the prosperity gospel wholesale, there is the risk of misinterpreting non-Western theologies and of morally castigating the weakest for their attempts to survive global capitalism instead of combating its oppressive structures.
By: Jörg Haustein (SOAS, University of London)
Wariboko’s book is an important contribution to the by now substantial array of studies on Nigerian Pentecostalism, and yet it is one of a kind. Instead of providing another historical, political, or socio-economic analysis of the “Pentecostal explosion” in Africa’s most populous country, Wariboko seeks to unlock its secrets from within, by producing a philosophical analysis of Nigerian Pentecostal spirituality and theology. His closest conversation partner is Ruth Marshall, whose influence is acknowledged at the outset and implicitly or explicitly engaged throughout the book.
Abstract: This article explores the limits of the debate surrounding Robert A. Orsi’s call for a “third way” in scholar-practitioner encounters in religious studies research. It argues that the debate has reached an impasse and that, as Joel Robbins suggests, an alternative approach might exist within theology—particularly, theological discussions of how the Christian is to relate to the non-Christian other. The article tests this notion by probing the writings of A. Kenneth Cragg, an Anglican theologian and Islamic Studies specialist who proposed the possibility of expanding the Christian canon within the context of interfaith encounters. The article concludes that although religious studies remains, as a field, unprepared to countenance the kind of hybridization toward which Cragg’s conception of the interfaith situation leads, his notion of “bi-scripturalism” has the potential nevertheless of opening up new questions for religious studies scholars concerned with alterity.
Abstract: Religious belief is a common human characteristic with 80 percent of the world’s population professing some religious affiliation. Indeed, global surveys report an increase in ‘religiosity’ across the globe in recent decades. Within Christianity, Pentecostalism has experienced considerable growth in contrast with the more traditional Christian churches. This growth is occurring across the globe, but is extremely evident within developing countries. Within development studies (both the theory and practice), religion has been negatively portrayed, misunderstood, or set aside as not being of importance to development outcomes. Such an approach towards religion is misguided and limits development effectiveness. While religion is certainly not the ‘answer’ to eradicating poverty or overcoming global injustices, authentic engagement by development actors with religion does provide important opportunities to enhance development outcomes. This paper will consider the basic tenets of development theory and practice and contrast those against Pentecostal theological teaching in order to determine where there exists common ground and where there exists misalignment of values and thus tension. Such assessment is important in order to enhance the religious literacy of the development sector to better understand how to authentically engage with communities expressing this belief.
Müller, Retief. 2015. The Zion Christian Church and Global Christianity: negotiating a tightrope between localisation and globalisation. Religion DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2014.992111 [pre-publication release]
Abstract: South Africa’s Zion Christian Church (ZCC) is a primary example of African Indigenous Christianity. This article discusses some of the ways in which a church such as the ZCC might be simultaneously understood as a localised indigenous group, a ‘constructed indigeneity’, as well as inherently belonging to a wider historical tradition of Global Christianity. The discussion proceeds alongside a critical engagement of the sociologist Robert Wuthnow’s deconstruction of the ‘Global Christianity Paradigm’, as well as an appropriation of the phenomenologist of religion, James Cox’s depiction of ‘indigenous religions’ as an empirically viable theoretical concept, which is demonstrated here as also useful for the purpose of elucidating the type of religiosity encountered in the ZCC. The article makes a plea for a wider acknowledgment of the value of normative approaches to the study of African Christianity and refers to the cultural impact of the theological idea of Incarnation to explain why.
King, Rebekka. 2014. The Anthropology of Christianity Goes to Seminary. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 5:255-260.
Excerpt: “I didn’t know that we were the repugnant other,” my student Tracy exclaimed as she entered the classroom and tossed her books on the table. “I didn’t know that anthropologists were interested in studying us at all!” “Yes, I imagine it comes as a surprise,” I responded as I finished mov- ing the classroom desks into a semi-circle that was intended to facilitate the creation of spaces marked by open dialogue and diversity—core pedagogical concerns of the institution at which I was teaching. It was the second day of class, and Tracy’s comments were in response to Joel Robbins’s (2003) article “What Is a Christian? Notes toward an Anthropology of Christianity.” His discussion of Susan Harding’s infamous ‘repugnant cultural other’, which Robbins describes as an “anomalous mixture of the similar and the different” (ibid.: 193), had hit a nerve. Tracy’s question about anthropological interests in the Christian subject was an expected one, given that I was leading a special topics seminar on the Anthropology of Christianity to master of divinity students at the Candler School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia…