Bjork-James, “Training the Porous Body”

Bjork-James, Sophie. 2018. “Training the Porous Body: Evangelicals and the Ex-Gay Movement.” American Anthropologist. 120(4): 647-658

In this article, I examine how US evangelical opposition to LGBT rights stems from a unique understanding of sexuality and the person. As my respondents explained to me in over sixteen months of field research, evangelical rejection of LGBT individuals and practices is rooted not simply in prejudice but also in a culturally specific notion of personhood that requires Christian bodies to orient themselves to the divine. In evangelical Christianity, the body, along with its capacity to feel and communicate, is understood as a porous vessel receptive to communication with God. In contrast to a dominant idea that sexual orientations shape individual identities, sexuality within this religious world instead facilitates the movement of moral forces across individual bodies and geographic scales. Sexual desires and sexual acts are broadly understood in evangelical cosmology as communicative mediums for supernatural forces. This understanding of sexuality as a central component of moral agency shapes widespread practices of ostracism of people who identify as LGBT within evangelicalism and often leads to anti‐LGBT political positions. Claiming an LGBT identity is seen as making one a distinct kind of person incommensurate with evangelical porosity.

Hackman, “Desire Work”

Hackman, Melissa. 2018. Desire Work: Ex-Gay and Pentecostal Masculinity in South Africa. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: In postapartheid Cape Town—Africa’s gay capital—many Pentecostal men turned to “ex-gay” ministries in hopes of “curing” their homosexuality in order to conform to conservative Christian values and African social norms. In Desire Work Melissa Hackman traces the experiences of predominantly white ex-gay men as they attempt to forge a heterosexual masculinity and enter into heterosexual marriage through emotional, bodily, and religious work. These men subjected themselves to daily self-surveillance and followed prescribed behaviors such as changing how they talked and walked. Ex-gay men also saw themselves as participating in the redemption of the nation, because South African society was perceived as suffering from a crisis of masculinity in which the country lacked enough moral heterosexual men. By tying the experience of ex-gay men to the convergence of social movements and public debates surrounding race, violence, religion, and masculinity in South Africa, Hackman offers insights into the construction of personal identities in the context of sexuality and spirituality.

Mayblin, “A Brilliant Jewel”

Mayblin, Maya. 2018. “A brilliant jewel: sex, celibacy, and the Roman Catholic Church. Religion. DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2018.1525774

Abstract: As clerical sexual abuse scandals hit the news and the crisis of vocations worsens each year, debate about the merits of mandatory clerical celibacy continues to grow. The fact remains, however, that supposedly celibate priests have been sexually active in significant numbers throughout history and that their sexual activity has barely affected the power of the Church. In this article, I focus on the ‘everyday’ nature of sexual ‘incontinence’ among a group of Northeast Brazilian priests and analyse the relative systematicity with which vow-breaking is accommodated. Such systematicity, I suggest, reveals an ongoing stable-instability at the heart of the Church as an institution; a dynamic which, if better understood, can help to explain the most characteristic (but often overlooked) feature of institutions more generally: their impressive longevity.

Coleman & Bowman, “Religion in Cathedrals”

Coleman, Simon and Bowman, Marion. 2018. “Religion in cathedrals: pilgrimage, heritage, adjacency, and the politics of replication in Northern Europe.” Religion. DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2018.1515341

Abstract: Much of this thematic issue emerges from work carried out for an AHRC-funded project, Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals, Past and Present Cathedrals (PEC). In this introduction, we explore the possibilities of developing a new sub-field oriented around exploring the shaping of belief and praxis in and by cathedrals. After noting the renewed popularity of these institutions in England, we provide a brief history of cathedrals within and beyond Europe, highlighting both particular periods of expansion and pilgrimage practices relating to them. We emphasize the significance of cathedrals in juxtaposing ‘sacred space’ with ‘common ground.’ This approach is complemented by a focus on how cathedrals both embody and encourage material and liturgical forms of ‘replication’—a theme that provides a useful comparative approach for historians and ethnographers alike. Potential for future research is also briefly discussed.

Hardin, “Faith and the Pursuit of Health”

Hardin, Jessica. 2018. Faith and the Pursuit of Health: Cardiometabolic Disorders in Samoa. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 

Publisher’s DescriptionFaith and the Pursuit of Health explores how Pentecostal Christians manage chronic illness in ways that sheds light on health disparities and social suffering in Samoa, a place where rates of obesity and related cardiometabolic disorders have reached population-wide levels. Pentecostals grapple with how to maintain the health of their congregants in an environment that fosters cardiometabolic disorders. They find ways to manage these forms of sickness and inequality through their churches and the friendships developed within these institutions. Examining how Pentecostal Christianity provides many Samoans with tools to manage day-to-day issues around health and sickness, Jessica Hardin argues for understanding the synergies between how Christianity and biomedicine practice chronicity.

Golomski, “Funeral Culture”

Golomski, Casey. 2018. Funeral Culture: AIDS, Work, and Cultural Change in an African Kingdom. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: Contemporary forms of living and dying in Swaziland cannot be understood apart from the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to anthropologist Casey Golomski. In Africa’s last absolute monarchy, the story of 15 years of global collaboration in treatment and intervention is also one of ordinary people facing the work of caring for the sick and dying and burying the dead. Golomski’s ethnography shows how AIDS posed challenging questions about the value of life, culture, and materiality to drive new forms and practices for funerals. Many of these forms and practices―newly catered funeral feasts, an expanded market for life insurance, and the kingdom’s first crematorium―are now conspicuous across the landscape and culturally disruptive in a highly traditionalist setting. This powerful and original account details how these new matters of death, dying, and funerals have become entrenched in peoples’ everyday lives and become part of a quest to create dignity in the wake of a devastating epidemic.

Tomlinson, “Repetition in the work of a Samoan Christian theologian”

Tomlinson, Matt. “Repetition in the work of a Samoan Christian theologian: Or, what does it mean to speak of the Perfect Pig of God?” History and Anthropology

Abstract: The Samoan Christian theologian Ama’amalele Tofaeono draws on diverse intellectual sources to articulate an ecological theology both distinctively Samoan and self-consciously Oceanic. I examine Tofaeono’s writings through the lens of recent work in linguistic anthropology on repetition and replication. By paying close attention to the ways texts and their original contexts, authorship, and intentions can be brought forward into new contexts, such anthropological work offers a useful perspective on Tofaeono’s theological arguments about creation and salvation. Tofaeono frames creation and salvation as actions that are necessarily ongoing—matters of repetition rather than rupture, a kind of continuity that depends not on fundamental durability but on repeated reengagement. An appreciation of Tofaeono’s articulation of time and repetition can in turn illuminate the anthropological study of social transformation and help develop productive interdisciplinary dialogue between anthropology and theology.

Praying with the Senses: Review Forum Response (Sonja Luehrmann)

Luehrmann, Sonja, ed. 2018. Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. 

By: Sonja Luehrmann (Simon Fraser University)

Politics and Aesthetics in Orthodox Prayers: A Response to the Review Forum

This is an extraordinarily thoughtful set of responses, and I feel grateful and humbled to read them. As Helena Kupari notes, Praying with the Senses is more than a compilation of essays, but the outcome of a research collaboration in which all contributors enriched each other’s understanding of the poetics and politics of Orthodox Christian prayer. The reviewers acknowledge the coherence and synergy of the volume, and hopefully this will be palpable for other readers as well.

I cannot answer all the rich remarks of the reviewers in this forum, but would like to pick up on some shared threads, one of which is a call for more explicit discussion of politics. Valentina Napolitano asks about “the wider role of the state and post-national formations that make religious spaces new important local and transnational modes of political aggregation.” Earlier in her post, she already notes that Orthodox prayer practices transcend the unhelpful distinction between private inner experience and public ritual practice. Simon Coleman asks about “forms of Orthodox mobility” such as migration, diaspora-formation, and mutual influences among national orthodoxies. These are questions about the political existence of prayer events and their grounding in national, denominational, or ethnic imagined communities.

In answer to this challenge to address the political dimensions of prayer, I am reminded that in the Orthodox church, community is constituted liturgically and collectively. Countering Western images of Orthodox churches as closely welded to particular monarchical or nation state formations (the infamous “caesaropapism”), Orthodox Christians often claim to keep politics out of religion by avoiding the unified transnational hierarchy of the Catholic Church in favor of the communion of equal patriarchs. As the recent severance of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople shows, these relationships are fraught with inequalities and competing interests; in other words, they are political in a secular sense.

However, for ordinary believers and clergy the split manifests in restricted possibilities of participation in worship, bringing into play a slightly different understanding of politics. When lay members of either side can no longer receive the eucharist in churches affiliated with the other, and priests can no longer celebrate liturgy together, what is at stake are not just relations among contemporary hierarchs, but a given Orthodox believer’s relationship to the church as a transtemporal community that spans past, present, and future generations. The immediate cause of the rupture is disagreement over the appropriate national church on Ukrainian territory: the Kiev Patriarchate (now recognized by Constantinople against the wishes of Moscow) or the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. In this dispute, one of the major markers of distinction and points of contention is who gets commemorated in the solemn intercessions during divine liturgy – Patriarch Kirill of Moscow or Patriarch Filaret of Kiev. In the absence of a unified transnational hierarchy, liturgical prayer is a major marker of allegiance that some lay participants listen for attentively, while others ignore it as they pursue health or blessing across the “Orthodox continuum” (Naumescu 2007).

Drawing on Sarah Bakker Kellogg’s (2015) wonderful work on liturgical community among the Syriac Christian diaspora in the Netherlands, one can say that this reliance on prayer and liturgy gives Orthodox communities a degree of independence from particular ethnic and state formations, and enables them to reproduce community in mobile forms. It also allows for different understandings of politics to intersect – one that is concerned with patronage and allegiance in quite worldly ways, and another one that is closer to what Nicholas Heron (2018) calls “liturgical power.” Liturgical power is vested in the figure of the minister as an instrument animated from elsewhere, and in prayer practices that reach beyond immediate location to saints who lived long ago but are still present, and places that are elsewhere but metonymically accessible through church namings and iconography (Heo 2018). If there is a politics of Orthodox prayer, it pushes against the dominant image of modern Orthodox churches as nation-bound, even as it is often implicated in Orthodox nationalisms.

Sarah Bakker Kellogg’s response calls attention to another dimension of politics in Orthodox worlds: the split between the so-called “Oriental” or non-Chalcedonian churches and those that derive from the state church of the Byzantine empire. Kellogg is justified in her critique of our volume as being mainly concerned with churches of Byzantine derivation; with the exception of Heo’s chapter on Egypt, Boylston’s on Ethiopia, and Bandak’s extended vignette on Syria, the Oriental churches get relatively short treatment. However, in reading Kellogg’s retelling of the “legacy of Orthodox Christianity’s historical relationship with empire, which has functioned to obscure other kinds of Orthodox worlds contained within it,” I am struck by how similar her articulation of the non-Chalcedonian position is to how Orthodox Christians in Russia and Eastern Europe articulate their predicament vis-à-vis Western Christendom: they, too, feel that dominant narratives of church history erase and orientalise them in relation to a West that is “heir to the imperial position,” in this case that of Rome.

Susan Gal’s (2002) concept of fractal distinction seems applicable here. A division among dominant and alternative strands of Christianity reproduces itself at various historical and geographical intersections, between “Hellenic” and “Semitic” Christians, “Rome” and “Byzantium,” logocentric Protestants and ritualistic Catholics/Orthodox, etc. At each juncture, one side is made to represent the forward movement of history while the other is relegated to a static past, to be recovered by sympathetic scholars (Hann 2012).

This is not to deny the important warning against an unthinking adoption of imperial histories. As Lars Hedegard Williams puts it, a focus on prayer as “aesthetic formation, discursive tradition, and skill” allows us to keep history and politics in view as we look at sensory practice in its personal and communal dimensions. Hopefully this framework will also prove useful in contexts that the volume leaves insufficiently illuminated.

References:
Gal, Susan. 2002. A Semiotics of the Public/Private Distinction. differences 13(1): 77-95.

Hann, Chris. 2012. Personhood, Christianity, Modernity. Anthropology of this Century 3, http://aotcpress.com/articles/personhood-christianity-modernity/

Heo, Angie. 2018. The Political Lives of Saints: Christian-Muslim Mediations in Egypt. Berkeley/L.A.: University of California Press.

Heron, Nicholas. 2018. Liturgical Power: Between Economic and Political Theology. New York: Fordham University Press.

Kellogg, Sarah Bakker. 2015. Ritual sounds, political echoes: Vocal agency and the sensory cultures of secularism in the Dutch Syriac diaspora. American Ethnologist 42(3): 431-445.

Naumescu, Vlad. 2007. Modes of Religiosity in Eastern Christianity: Religious Processes and Social Change in Ukraine. Berlin: Lit.

 

Lubanska, “‘We do it for health (za zdrave)’. Sensational Forms Related to the Cult of Healing Springs (ayazma) in Orthodox Christian Shrines in South-Western Bulgaria”

Lubanska, Magdalena. 2017.”We do it for health (za zdrave)”. Sensational Forms Related to the Cult of Healing Springs (ayazma) in Orthodox Christian Shrines in South-Western Bulgaria. Anthropology of East Europe Review 35(1): 19-38.  

Abstract: The article describes sensational forms connected with the cult of healing waters, as found in Orthodox Christian religious communities of southwestern Bulgaria. Referring to the concept of the porous self, I analyze how and why Orthodox Christian devotees in Bulgaria attribute a life-giving force (zhivonosna/zhivotvorna) to the healing springs (ayazma) found in the monastery, and how they use those for ablutions and drinking, thereby hoping to increase their personal vitality. The data is discussed from synchronic and diachronic perspectives. This is done to draw distinct cultural parallels between current practices at the healing springs at the monastery, the iconography of Bogoroditsa the Life-Giving Spring, and the cult established at the monastery of the Mother of God of the Spring (Zoodohos Pege) in Constantinople, attested since the medieval period. Rooted in an emic Orthodox Christian understanding of the concept of life-giving forces, this analysis is anthropologically significant in its demonstration that life- giving force is viewed as an underlying concept that manifests itself as divine power, grace or energy, all of which are key terms in the Orthodox Christian religious lexicon.

Verheyden & Kloppenborg, “The Gospels and Their Stories in Anthro Perspective”

Verheyden, Joseph & John S. Kloppenborg, eds. 2018. “The Gospels and their Stories in Anthropological Perspective.” Germany: Mohr Siebeck Tübingen.

Over the past decades, biblical scholars have gradually become more aware of the importance of the social sciences for their own field. This has produced a steady flow of studies informed by work that was done in the fields of group formation psychology, the sociology of emerging movements and the sociology of religion, and historical anthropology. This volume offers the proceedings of a conference that brought together a number of expert biblical scholars, specialists of ancient religious practices, and proponents of an anthropological approach to ancient Christian and Greco-Roman religious tradition. It was the explicit purpose not to focus exclusively on purely methodological reflections, but to explore and evaluate how methodological concepts and constructs can be developed and then also checked in applying them on specific cases and topics that are typical for understanding earliest Christianity.