Oliphant, “Beyond blasphemy or devotion: art, the secular, and Catholicism in Paris”

Oliphant, Elayne. 2015. Beyond blasphemy or devotion: art, the secular, and Catholicism in Paris. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 21(2):352-373.

Abstract: In this article I explore the relationship between the secular and ‘cultural’ Catholicism in France through the lens of a contemporary art exhibit displayed at a new project of the French Catholic Church. Visitors’ varied responses to the exhibit, I argue, ultimately reinforced the organizers’ claim that the activities that occur within this ‘non-religious’ space of the French church are self-evident aspects of a broadly recognizable and ‘secular’ French or European culture.

Bandak, “Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus”

Bandak, Andreas. 2014. Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus: Urban Space and Christian-Muslim Coexistence. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678409

Abstract: Christians in the Middle East have traditionally clustered around cities. As minorities in a Muslim majority context, difference manifests itself in many ways. In recent decades, the sounds of the city, in the form of calls to prayer from minarets and church bells, have increased, while green and blue lighting likewise crafts a plural setting that is not only audible but visible to all. In this article, I explore Christian ways of inhabiting the city in Damascus, Syria. The orchestration of space is intensifying as the region appears to be becoming an ever more vulnerable place to live for a Christian minority. I argue that an anthropological engagement with Christianity may do well to listen to the particular refrains that are formed in and of the city. Such an engagement attests to the ways in which Christianity is lived in particular locations but also how Christianity is continuously made to matter.

Merz, “A Religion of Film Experiencing Christianity and Videos Beyond Semiotics in Rural Benin”

Merz, Johannes. 2014. “A Religion of Film Experiencing Christianity and Videos Beyond Semiotics in Rural Benin.” PdD diss,. 

Excerpt: In 2002, Paul Eshleman of the American Jesus Film Project claimed that their flagship known as the Jesus Film was “the most-watched, and the most-translated film in world history” (2002: 69). Seven years later, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra (2009) declared Nigeria the “Christian movie capital of the world” in the influential American evangelical magazine Christianity Today. In more academic circles, New Testament scholar Adele Reinhartz speculated that “it may well be the case that more people worldwide know about Jesus and his life story from the movies than from any other medium” (2007: 1), while Asonzeh Ukah commented for Nigeria: “The medium of video has become one of the preferred channels for the communication of religious truth, hope, ideas and propaganda” (2003: 226).

These different observations indicate a trend in evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity towards an increasing use of films and videos. This raises the question, which I address as the overarching theme of this book, of whether we are witnessing a shift in certain forms of Christianity from a religion of the book towards a religion of film. Such a shift from text to film would have wide-ranging implications not only for Christians but also their wider socio-cultural settings, both on a local and global scale. I address the various factors that contribute to such a shift and discuss its implications for rural Benin. I propose that the best way to approach this theme is to study how contemporary Christians engage with audiovisual media. More specifically, I am interested in how people watch and experience Christian films, what they make of them and how these films become part of their lives and the world they live in. In order to grapple with such ques- tions and fully understand the results of my ethnographic research, I need to move beyond semiotics, which has been one of the foundational premises of Western science.

With Nigeria having become the world leader in the production of Christian video films, West Africa seems an ideal place to study this phenomenon. While obvious places may be cities in southern Nigeria or Ghana, such as Ibadan or Accra, I chose a less likely area for my research on Christian films, namely the rural Commune of Cobly in the northwest of the Republic of Benin. Cobly is often considered one of the remotest parts of the country and those Beninese from outside the region who have heard of it associate it with backwardness and as being steeped in tradition. State employees, such as teachers or policemen, resent being sent to work there and missionaries often consider it a difficult place to work given that its people are largely “unreached” (cf. Mayrargue 2005: 247), a current missionary euphemism for “pagans”. My knowledge of the area, on the other hand, made me realise that the Commune of Cobly would be a fascinating site for researching people’s experience of Christianity and video films. Especially during the last two decades, the younger generation have become increasingly interested in all things they consider modern, whether mobile phones, television sets, videos or Christianity, thereby participating in the trends of the wider region. Older people often stayed more sceptical towards these developments, promising an interesting mix of views and opinions in a society that is facing rapid and significant social and cultural changes.

In this book I discuss three Christian films that are all known in the Commune of Cobly and that have been used in evangelistic events and sometimes circulated on Video CD or DVD: Jesus (1979, produced by John Heyman) has been made in American evangelical circles with the goal of global evangelism; La Solution (The Solution, 1994, David Powers) was produced by American missionaries in Côte d’Ivoire; and Yatin: Lieu de souffrance (Yatin: Place of Suffering, 2002, Christine Madeleine Botokou) is a Beninese video production that has a direct link with the Nigerian Christian film industry.

I am particularly interested in how people watch and experience these films, focusing not only on their contents, but also, and maybe more importantly, on their materiality. I include what people make of television sets as material objects that are usually used to watch videos. Furthermore, it is important to discuss the history and backgrounds of the films and how they became popular in rural parts of Benin. This allows me to link my research with regional and global trends of Christianity and address my overarching question of whether Christianity is shifting its focus from Biblical texts to Christian films…

Hancock, “Short-term Youth Mission Practice and the Visualization of Global Christianity”

Hancock, Mary. 2014. Short-term Youth Mission Practice and the Visualization of Global Christianity. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief 10(2): 154-180. 

Abstract: This article examines the visual mediation of evangelical short-term mission and the theologically inflected global imaginary that these forms engender. Recent decades have seen the resurgence of long-term mission and the emergence of short-term mission among US Christians. The latter, combining evangelization, service, and tourism, is a staple within evangelical youth culture. I argue that it is used by Christians to constitute themselves as global formations, while also offering theological frames for global Christianity. Central to this global theological imaginary are visual representations of mission encounters with ethnic, sectarian, and racial Others, which illustrate the global scope of mission and missionaries’ understandings of their own efforts to engage and overcome those differences. Through an analysis of the visual content of four short-term mission agencies’ websites, I examine the mediation of global Christianity in contemporary mission and its recruitment of global Christian subjects.

Ajibade “‘Lady No Be So'”

Ajibade, Babson.  2012. ‘Lady no be so’: the image of women in contemporary church posters in Nigeria.  Visual Studies: 27(3): 237-247.

Abstract: There is no doubt that churches are proliferating in Nigerian cities and church-going has become a popular culture. Mostly male, pastors are sacrosanct and unaccountable, just as their living standards far outweigh those of their members. In their domination of the contemporary Church in Nigeria, male pastors reproduce and use popular but subjective social images of women to apprehend female pastors. In terms of publicity, printed posters are the most prolific media churches employ. Yet, on these same posters, male pastors differentiate themselves and subordinate female pastors by using graphic principles of layout and visual placement of women’s pictures vis-à-vis theirs. That the Church is male-dominated is clearly not in question. This paper interrogates how this domination is played out and the roles women are playing in re-presenting themselves in dominated church spaces. Using data from fieldwork, this paper analyses the image of women in Nigerian church posters, the vast collection of practices built around religious domination and the roles female pastors are playing in re-representing women in the Nigerian religious space.