Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction.”

Richard Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction” Journal of Southern African Studies, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2018.1416978Excerpt: This Special Issue of JSAS explores the little-recognised, shifting importance of grassroots ecumenism in religious experience and public life. The cases that we present come from across southern Africa, from Rwanda to Angola, to Zambia and Botswana, to South Africa and Swaziland. We match this breadth with arguments that also draw widely, for an emerging area of interest in popular religious change, with contributions from anthropology, social history, theology and religious studies. Among the ecumenical changes we discuss are, perhaps most surprisingly, ones in which counterpublics are anti-establishment, transgressive, even disruptive, as they bring strangers together, with religious motives and moral passion, and oppose dominant publics in the making of public cultures.

Other articles in the special issue are relevant to anthropologists of Christianity. Follow the link above.

On Knowing Humanity: Book Review

Meneses, Eloise and David Bronkema, eds. 2017. On Knowing Humanity: Insights from Theology for Anthropology. London and New York: Routledge.

Reviewed By: Leanne Williams Green (University of California, San Diego)

On Knowing Humanity: Insights from Theology for Anthropology contributes to several current projects and proposals in which the disciplines of anthropology and theology engage one another. Several of these endeavors aim to make each discipline speak to the other in particularly foundational ways (see Lemons et al. forthcoming, or Banner 2013 for an approach from moral theology). These emerging projects are situated where the significant growth in anthropological studies of Christianities has opened up space not only to make Christianity in its diverse and global manifestations a focus of anthropological interest, but also to account for the intellectual heritage of anthropology itself and its association with Christian visions of humans and of the world. In his elegant tracing of the faith commitments of several early anthropologists, Timothy Larsen (2014) has pointed out the ways this kind of engagement has already been evident historically in the work of individual scholars. In the examples he describes, the interaction between theology and the subject matter of these anthropologists is categorical, going beyond merely a faith stance from which each operates as ethnographer and analyst. While other singular efforts like those of John Milbank (1990) sought to take theology as social theory, a larger shared project did not emerge within anthropology. Continue reading

Gibson, “Pentecostal Peacefulness”

Gibson, Ian. 2017. Pentecostal Peacefulness: virtue ethics and the reception of theology in Nepal. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12700

Abstract: The anthropology of Christianity has struggled to theorize the place of theology in Christian social life. Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre’s account of virtue ethics, in particular his concepts of practice, narrative, and moral tradition, I explore the reception of Pentecostal theology in the Nepali city of Bhaktapur. I show how local Christians have drawn on Pentecostal eschatology to develop a pacifistic ethics, allowing them to negotiate local social and religious conflicts. The belief that Christ has decisively defeated evil spirits allows local Christians to detach themselves from cycles of aggression connected with witchcraft accusations, providing a space of security in which to cultivate distinctive practices of care. Connecting this local theology with a wider tradition in Pentecostal moral thought, I argue that MacIntyre’s virtue ethics provides a powerful tool for interpreting the relationship between local circumstance and extra-local theology, and for studying cross-cultural patterns of theological reception.


L’anthropologie du christianisme a rencontré quelque difficulté à théoriser la place de la théologie dans la vie sociale chrétienne. À partir de l’histoire des vertus retracée par Alasdair MacIntyre, et en particulier de ses concepts de pratique, de narration et de tradition morale, l’auteur explore la réception de la théologie pentecôtiste dans la ville népalaise de Bhaktapur. Il montre comment les chrétiens locaux ont exploité l’eschatologie pentecôtiste pour développer une éthique pacifiste, qui leur permet de négocier les conflits sociaux et religieux locaux. La croyance que le Christ a remporté une victoire décisive sur les mauvais esprits permet aux chrétiens locaux de se détacher des cycles d’agression liés aux accusations de sorcellerie et de se créer un espace de sécurité dans lequel ils peuvent cultiver des pratiques distinctes d’attention envers les autres. En reliant cette théologie locale à une plus large tradition de la pensée morale pentecôtiste, l’auteur avance que l’éthique des vertus de MacIntyre offre un outil puissant pour interpréter la relation entre circonstances locales et théologie venue de l’extérieur, ainsi que pour étudier différents schémas culturels de réception théologique.

Carroll, “Theology as an Ethnographic Object”

Carroll, Timothy.  2017.  Theology as an Ethnographic Object: An Anthropology of Eastern Christian Rupture.  Religions 8(7): 114.

Abstract: This paper draws upon over three years’ research among Eastern Orthodox (principally Antiochian and Greek) communities in London and Mount Athos, Greece. This research came to engage theology quite heavily as part of the ethnographic facts of the fieldsites. This paper reviews some of the existing ways that theology (as both discipline and practice) relate to ethnographic enquiry, particularly as it has arisen in the dialogue with the Anthropology of Christianity and frames this in light of the historical development of Anthropology and its relationship to theology and Christianity. The paper then advances a methodological argument, in favour of further means of relation, specifically in terms of theology as a cultural artefact. Drawing on local practices of liturgical theology and Eastern Orthodox forms of allegorical interpretation, I argue for the inclusion of theological insight and practice within the social scientific study of religion. Working in an Orthodox setting requires the investigation of liturgical theology and brings to light important aspects of the relationship between temporal and sempiternal domains of action. Particularly as it relates to liturgical theology and the practices of interpretation, ethnographic enquiry into Orthodox theology asks for a reconsideration of social scientific methods of analysis and representation.

Tomlinson, “Christian Difference”

Tomlinson, Matt. 2017. “Christian Difference: A review essay.” Comparative Studies in Society and History. 59(3):743-753.

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.

Merz and Merz, “Occupying the Ontological Penumbra”

Merz, Johannes and Sharon Merz. 2017. Occupying the Ontological Penumbra: Towards a Postsecular and Theologically Minded Anthropology. Religions 8(5):80-97.

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.

Bustion, “Autism and Christianity”

Bustion, Olivia.  2017. Autism and Christianity: An Ethnographic Intervention.  Journal of the American Academy of Religion.  Early online publication.

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.

Cezula, “Reading the Bible in an African Context”

Cezula, Ntozakhe. 2015. Reading the Bible in the African context: Assessing Africa’s love affair with prosperity Gospel. Stellenbosch Theological Journal 1(2): 131–153.

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.

Vähäkangas, “The Prosperity Gospel in the African Diaspora”

Vähäkangas, Mika.  2015. The Prosperity Gospel in the African Diaspora: Unethical Theology or Gospel in Context? Exchange 44(4): 353-380.

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.

Nigerian Pentecostalism: Book Review

Wariboko, Nimi.  2014.  Nigerian Pentecostalism. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

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.

Continue reading