Christian love has historically been subject of extensive theological study but has rarely been studied within anthropology. Contemporary Coptic society receives growing attention over the last two decades as a minority in Egyptian Muslim majority society. An important bulk of this scholarship involves a discussion of the community’s sometimes self-defined and sometimes ascribed characterization as a persecuted minority. Particular attention has gone to how social and political dimensions of minority life lead to changes in Christian theological understandings. This paper builds on these insights and examines how Christian love is experienced, and shapes feelings of belonging, everyday morality and political sensibilities vis-à-vis Muslim majority society. It draws from ethnographic observations and meetings with Copts living in Egypt between 2014–2017. It focuses on three personal narratives that reveal the complex ways in which a theology of love affects social and political stances. An anthropological focus reveals the fluid boundaries between secular and religious expressions of Christian love. Love for God and for humans are seen as partaking in one divine love. Practicing this love, however, shapes very different responses and can lead to what has been described as Coptic ‘passive victim behaviour’, but also to political activity against the status-quo.
Abstract: This is the Prize winner Essay for the Inaugural Political Theology Network on New Directions in Political Theology. In this essay we invite those of us who work in political theology to listen to the Americas and to do so, insofar as possible, ethnographically.
2018 Preaching as Performance, October 26-28, Calgary, Alberta.
By: Kyle Byron (University of Toronto)
In October of 2018, the Department of Classics and Religion at University of Calgary, in conjunction with the biannual meeting of the Collectif d’Anthropologie et d’Histoire du Spirituel et des Affects, hosted an interdisciplinary conference titled Preaching as Performance. The goal of the conference was “to foster research on the anthropology and history of religious teaching and public communication by providing an occasion for the interdisciplinary and comparative analysis of preaching as a performance event,” focusing specifically on “the way preaching uses theatrical, material, sensory, linguistic, and affective resources to produce religious sentiment, form religious subjects, and transmit doctrinal messages.” The conference’s 28 presenters included anthropologists, historians, religious studies scholars, and dramatists. While the call emphasized that preaching as a form of performance cuts across religious traditions, roughly two-thirds of the conference’s presenters focused on the Christian tradition. Nonetheless, the conference was historically and geographically diverse, with presentations on preaching traditions in Canada, China, France, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Japan, Nigeria, and the United States. Continue reading
Abstract: Modern techniques of caring for the self through staying healthy rely on an ethic of choice, often evoking critiques of the (neo)liberal subject. This sense of choice has carried frequently overlooked Protestant commitments from Luther to Kant and Locke to 19th‐century American health reformers, premised on a refusal of ritual, mysticism, and the priest as the source of truth. This article explores how these implicit commitments shape the relation to other religious traditions in countries like Trinidad. Campaigns against chronic disease in Trinidad carried out in public health venues and churches echo multinational health projects in pronouncing, “We all want a healthy life.” The article draws on a Caribbean ironic sense of secularity to analyze the way that the threat to this “want” found in other religious traditions such as Pentecostal healing and Hindu ecstatic practices reveals Protestant commitments masked within a modern global “secular” care of the self.
Warner-Garica, Shawn Rachel. 2018. “Sex and Faith in Dialogue: Interdiscursivity and Academic Activism in Baptist Communities.” PhD Dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara.
What do we talk about when we talk about sex? …[S]exuality as a form of knowledge is made possible by the discursive processes that constitute it. Discourse is the field on which particular ideologies, structures, and desires surrounding sexuality get played out. In many ways, discourse holds a unique status in religious contexts: it can be constructed as a holy artifact or a means to salvation, and it is also vital for creating and disseminating religious tradition and identity…
Scholarly inquiry into these three veins – discourse, sexuality, and Christianity – has spanned a number of disciplines and has been marked by disparate methodologies and analytic frameworks. My dissertation seeks to bring many of these threads together to provide a meaningful account of the current discourses around sexual ethics among Christians in the United States. I focus in particular on the Baptist denomination of Christianity as a site of study, since its loose denominational structure gives rise to a wide variety of beliefs and practices around sexuality that are discursively negotiated in community spaces. Through a methodology I call event ethnography, I provide an in-depth examination of the 2012 [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant to capture the complexities of this singular event as situated within its larger cultural context. I analyze the constraints of the physical space of the event, how plenary speakers interdiscursively engage with many of the same Christian texts and traditions in radically different ways, and the emergent dialogicality of the audience’s engagement both in person and online through Twitter. My analysis of this event shows the ways in which social histories, institutional structures, and spatiotemporal realities both enable and constrain particular types of discourse. I also explore the ways in which my research has morphed from a traditional focus on discourse analysis to a more activist approach of community-engaged research. I discuss the various ways I am currently collaborating with Baptist leaders in the development of resources that promote healthier, more holistic conversations around sexuality. I argue that these forms of academic activism can help build more robust scholarship as well as bring about positive social change.
Conflicts over conversion often involve divergent logics about religious publicity and persuasion. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Sri Lankan Buddhists began expressing renewed hostility toward Christians, who are seen as “unethically” converting Sri Lankans away from their native religions. They see the material accoutrements of Christian grace as estranging Buddhists from righteous, karmic inheritances. Distinctive economies of religious persuasion are perceived to engender differences in the essential character of persons. Buddhist nationalists tend to take evangelical Christian economic and religio-moral inclinations (prosperity gospels, charitability, and expansionism) as malignant attributes of Christian personhood (greed, zeal, misguided forgiveness, fraudulent economic manipulation). Anti-conversion discourses paint conversion to Christianity as an insidious socialization process that threatens Buddhism and generates fraudulence and anti-nationalism. These anxieties over religious difference crystallized in allegations that a Sinhala convert to Christianity—a businessman and philanthropist—was culpable for the death of a prominent Buddhist monk. The iconic conversion of the alleged culprit, seen alongside prior conversion trends, makes evident a periodized history of “pragmatic” conversions (a) from Buddhism to Christianity (colonial era), (b) from Christianity back to Buddhism (decolonization), and (c) from Buddhism to charismatic Christianity (during “nationalization” of the economy amid global neoliberalization). Religio-economic affinities are split along partisan lines in Sri Lanka, thereby intensifying the conflictual interplay between evangelical conviction and nativist skepticism.
Abstract: Gender is central to most religious orders. In turn, religions have a significant impact on gendered relations. The study of gender and religion stems from a broader interest in feminist anthropology, and multiple approaches to the study of gender and religion have been developed. An early approach explores the ways that religious practice influences male and female behavior. Studies in this vein explore changing gender norms attending conversion to new religions, or the ways that women’s and men’s roles are constrained and shaped by religious practice. More-recent work analyzes the ways that gender itself structures religious and spiritual ethics and practice. While patriarchal relations are central to many global religions, this is not a universal principle. Some religious orders emphasize cooperation and respect for women over hierarchy. Others may prioritize male leadership but indirectly provide women with types of ethical identities and spiritual positions that create spaces for women to practice their own agency and forms of power. The ethnographic record also demonstrates that there is often a significant difference between how patriarchal gender relations are prioritized in formal religious spaces and how they are practiced. Gender often shapes the religious meanings of space and materiality. Continue reading
Abstract: Co-authored by three anthropologists with long–term expertise studying Pentecostalism in Vanuatu, Angola, and Papua New Guinea/the Trobriand Islands respectively, Going to Pentecost offers a comparative study of Pentecostalism in Africa and Melanesia, focusing on key issues as economy, urban sociality, and healing. More than an ordinary comparative book, it recognizes the changing nature of religion in the contemporary world – in particular the emergence of “non-territorial” religion (which is no longer specific to places or cultures) – and represents an experimental approach to the study of global religious movements in general and Pentecostalism in particular.
This paper offers a critique of affect theory using the analytical concept of scale that is made concrete through an ethnography of Pentecostal Christianity and an exploration of current neuroscientific thinking. Affect theory is one recent form of a Western philosophical concern about the loss of agency in modernity, what I call “agency-anxiety.” Affect theorists tend to privilege the sense of freedom gained by immediate and individual experience over the constraints of more extended experiences and collectivity. That is, affect theory often scales its analysis tightly. This paper responds with an ethnography of Pentecostal practice and exploration of work in neuroscience that describes an analytic space in which broader scales can be useful as well. Ethnography scaled beyond the instant reveals that the Pentecostal ideal of surrendering to God in a moment of abandonment often results from a “fake it until you make it” approach; in other words, from extended, effortful, willful practice. This practice leads to the formation of habits and dispositions that allow the attainment of spontaneous rupture. Likewise, neuroscience can scale out its analysis by focusing on dispositions, moods and habits, rather than simply a more immediate view. Further, “scale effects” and emergent properties in scale-to-scale relations undermine reductionism. Finally, because Pentecostals are generally right wing yet also exemplify ruptural practice, it seems that outside of a particular conjuncture, the tightly scaled eruptive moment of affect is by no means per se a productive or (politically) progressive formation. As such, making scale an explicit analytical category might help us to see agency, change, and structure more clearly.