Bialecki, “Anthropology and Theology in Parallax”

Bialecki, Jon. 2018. Anthropology and Theology in Parallax. Anthropology of This Century, Issue 22.

Abstract: Answering the question of the intellectual proximity of anthropology and theology is difficult, however. One way to do this would be to try to map how the entirety of things looks from each vantage, and then compare these sky-charts for matching patterns. Such a cataloging is a dizzying and exhaustive proposition, though, and not even those who have made the greatest investment of time and thought on this issue are suggesting that we are anywhere near the point of sufficient mastery of an anthropological/theological conjunction to engage in that work. As we will see, for the most part the theology/anthropology rapprochement is a project that is still in its formative stages, offering plenty of promissory notes instead of hard arguments. But still, this is a development that is still quickening, and so a comprehensive account of the overlaps in the views of both disciplines has to wait. A far more economical move might be to simply select a single book and use it to make what we might call taking a parallax measurement. We would ask how this book might appear from different vantage points, with each vantage point’s likely view of the text compared with the other to see how far apart the two standpoints are, i.e. to see how the book might appear to both non-theological and theological readers. As we will see, there are actually far more than two vantage points, however. The gradations and modes of theological engagement by anthropology go far beyond an easy binary, with theology either embraced or scorned. This may be an exercise in intellectual parallax, but once we look into the particulars of how theology and anthropology could relate it is also an exercise in the intellectually vertiginous.

Carroll, “Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven”

Carroll, Timothy. 2018. Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven. New York: Routledge.

Publisher’s Summary: Although much has been written on the making of art objects as a means of engaging in creative productions of the self (most famously Alfred Gell’s work), there has been very little written on Orthodox Christianity and its use of material within religious self-formation. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is renowned for its artistry and the aesthetics of its worship being an integral part of devout practice. Yet this is an area with little ethnographic exploration available and even scarcer ethnographic attention given to the material culture of Eastern Christianity outside the traditional ‘homelands’ of the greater Levant and Eastern Europe.

Drawing from and building upon Gell’s work, Carroll explores the uses and purposes of material culture in Eastern Orthodox Christian worship. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in a small Antiochian Orthodox parish in London, Carroll focusses on a study of ecclesiastical fabric but places this within the wider context of Orthodox material ecology in Britain. This ethnographic exploration leads to discussion of the role of materials in the construction of religious identity, material understandings of religion, and pathways of pilgrimatic engagement and religious movement across Europe.

In a religious tradition characterised by repetition and continuity, but also as sensuously tactile, this book argues that material objects are necessary for the continual production of Orthodox Christians as art-like subjects. It is an important contribution to the corpus of literature on the anthropology of material culture and art and the anthropology of religion.

Lofton, “Religion and Authority in American Parenting”

Kathryn Lofton; Religion and the Authority in American Parenting, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 84, Issue 3, 1 September 2016, Pages 806–841, 

Abstract: This article reimagines the history of parenting as a subject for the study of religion. Through a schematic description of parenting in the United States, I observe the expanded responsibilities and increased social expectations for parents in the formation of child identity. Focusing on the concept of parental authority, I argue that the relationship of authority between parent and child is an important document of religious history in a secular age, and encourage future scholars to explore parenting habits, prescriptions, and admonitions as an archive for religious studies.

Pedersen, “The Politics of Paradox”

Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2017. “The Politics of Paradox: Kierkegaardian theology and national conservatism in Denmark.” In Distortion: Social Processes Beyond the Structured and Systemic, edited by Nigel Rappaport, 84-106. London: Routledge

In the autumn of 2010, an article with the headline ‘DF [Dansk Folkeparti, Danish Peoples’ Party]: The Concept of Menneskesyn Does Not Exist’ was printed in the Danish centre-left newspaper Politiken. The piece begins with the journalist describing how one councillor for the Criminal Justice Department, a Louise Aagard Larsen, had visited a prison. Here, an inmate had asked her to explain the Danish Peoples’ Party’s (henceforth DF) menneskesyn (lit. ‘vision of humanity’, meaning general concept of humanity, including notions of whether humans are good or bad, and how they should treat each other). Realizing that she did not know how to answer, Ms Larsen sent an email to the press office of DF. ‘The reply surprised her’, explains the journalist, and then cites the email that Ms Larsen received from Kenneth Kristensen Berth, who presented himself as ‘an MA in sociology and history’, and as someone speaking on behalf of the press office of DF (Berth later ran for parliament and is now a Danish MP for DF):

The concept menneskesyn has been invented for the occasion to criticise the Danish Peoples’ Party for our position regarding foreigners and immigrants. The concept has been launched by the left and it is totally devoid of meaning, so one cannot answer your question.

Calder, “Bethlehem’s Syriac Christians”

Calder, Mark D. 2017. Bethlehem’s Syriac Christians: Self, nation and church in dialogue and practice. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press. 

Publisher’s Description: An anthropological study of Syriac Orthodox Christian identity in a time of displacement, upheaval, and conflict. For some Syriac Orthodox Christians in Bethlehem, their self-articulation – the means by which they connect themselves to others, things, places and symbols – is decisively influenced by their eucharistic ritual. This ritual connects being siryāni to a redeemed community or ‘body’, and derives its identity in large part from the Incarnation of God as an Aramaic-speaking Bethlehemite.

Montemaggi, “Compassion and Purity”

Montemaggi, Francesca. (2018) “Compassion and purity: the ethics and boundary-making of Christian evangelicals”. Religion. DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2018.1470117

Abstract: The paper explores the ethical attitude of Christian evangelicals in a church in Britain and how it affects boundary-making of their community. Evangelicals in the case study seek to be accepting of the person and to refrain from being judgemental. The paper distinguishes between the person-centred ‘ethic of compassion’and the norm-centred ‘ethic of purity’. The ethic of compassion consists in accepting another and recognising the dignity of another based on shared humanity. It is a frame of mind that combines moral intention with the emotions of empathy and sympathy. In contrast, the ethic of purity privileges adherence to the moral order of the group over considerations for the person. The ‘compassionate’ frame of mind weakens boundaries, while the ‘pure’ frame of mind reinforces them. The boundaries of a community result from the interplay of the two ethics.

Zwissler, “Religious, Feminist, Activist”

Zwissler, Laurel. 2018. Religious, Feminist, Activist: Cosmologies of Interconnection. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 

Publisher’s Description: In Religious, Feminist, Activist, Laurel Zwissler investigates the political and religious identities of women who understand their social-justice activism as religiously motivated. Placing these women in historical context as faith-based activists for social change, this book discusses what their activities reveal about the public significance of religion in the pluralistic context of North America and in our increasingly globalized world. Zwissler’s ethnographic interviews with feminist Catholics, Pagans, and United Church Protestants reveal radically different views of religious and political expression and illuminate how individual women and their communities negotiate issues of personal identity, spirituality, and political responsibility.

Political activists of faith recount adventurous tales of run-ins with police, agonizing moments of fear and powerlessness in the face of global inequality, touching moments of community support, and successful projects that improve the lives of others. Religious, Feminist, Activist combines religion, politics, and globalization—subjects frequently discussed in macro terms—with individual personalities and intimate stories to provide a fresh perspective on what it means to be religiously and politically engaged. Zwissler also provides an insightful investigation into how religion and politics intersect for women on the political left.

Kasselstrand, Zuckerman, Little, and Westbrook, “Nonfirmands”

Isabella Kasselstrand, Phil Zuckerman, Robert Little & Donald A. Westbrook (2018) Nonfirmands: Danish youth who choose not to have a Lutheran confirmation, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 33:1, 87-105, DOI: 10.1080/13537903.2018.1408283

Abstract: Most Danish youth participate in the traditional Lutheran ritual of confirmation. However, a growing minority does not. Based on survey data collected in 2011 from over 600 Danish pupils, this study examines the ways in which Danish ‘nonfirmands’ are different from their peers who participate in confirmation in relation to religious background, personal religious beliefs, intellectual engagement, and demographic factors. We further explore key motivations for ‘nonfirmation’ expressed by the nonfirmands in the sample. Broadly speaking, our findings highlight secular socialization and individual beliefs about God as key elements in understanding the nonfirmand and his or her reasons for opting out of confirmation. We expect confirmations to continue to decline in popularity as nonfirmation gains social acceptance, as nonfirmands raise their own children, and as Denmark becomes increasingly secular.

Irvine, “Our Lady of Ipswich”

Irvine, Richard D.G. 2018 Our Lady of Ipswich: devotion, dissonance, and the agitation of memory at a forgotten pilgrimage site. JRAI 24(2): 366-384.

Abstract: This article traces the social life of Our Lady of Ipswich, a statue taken to be destroyed during the English Reformation, and the possibility of pilgrimage in the context of dramatic urban change and loss of place memory. Arguing that iconoclasm is not an end‐point, we see that the life of the image is not extinguished on the pyre, but is set into motion by conflict surrounding its significance, efficacy, and survival. Indeed, it is not simply the act of iconoclasm that animates the statue; rather, such agonistic animation is an ongoing process which involves both those who reject and those who are devoted to the image. My argument is that the potency of contemporary images of Our Lady of Ipswich relies on an active cultivation of dissonance: the consciousness of religious schism; the disjuncture between Ipswich’s historical importance and the perceived failures of twentieth‐century development; and the juxtaposition between devotional pilgrimage destination and disenchanted shopping space.

Tiaynen-Qadir, “Glocal Religion”

Tiaynen-Qadir, T. Glocal Religion and Feeling at Home: Ethnography of Artistry in Finnish Orthodox Liturgy. Religions 2017: 8-23.

Publisher’s Abstract: This paper adapts a glocalization framework in a transnational, anthropological exploration of liturgy in the Orthodox Church of Finland (OCF). It draws on long-term ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with participants of liturgy from Finnish, Russian, and Greek cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The main argument of the paper is that generic processes of nationalization and transnationalization are not mutually exclusive in practitioners’ experiences of liturgy in OCF, but rather generate a glocal space that incorporates Finnish, Russian, Karelian, and Byzantine elements. Individuals artistically engage with glocal liturgy on sensorial, cognitive, social, and semantic levels. What is important for the participants is a therapeutic sense that comes from a feeling of ‘being at home’, metaphorically, spiritually, and literally. People’s ongoing, creative work constitutes Orthodoxy as their national and transnational home.