Protestants mobilize objects such as ‘Holy Land’ flowers, Jordan River stones, vials of Dead Sea water, sand from Lake Tiberias, and Golgotha soil as potent metonymic resources, promising a kind of direct access to the scriptural past and its sacred stories. This article uses this case of biblical landscape items to reflect on the historic ambivalence that characterizes Protestant relations with religious materiality. Building on scholarship that has demonstrated the prolific role of religious materiality in Protestant ritual and everyday lifeworlds, the author extends this analysis by asking: under what conditions do Protestants experience materiality as untroubled and under what conditions is a more anxious disposition activated? To differentiate among conditions, the author proposes that it is helpful to conceptualize Protestant engagements with materiality vis-à-vis legitimized frames (e.g. pedagogy, devotion, evangelism, entertainment). Drawing together archival and ethnographic data, primarily among US Protestants, the article argues that when Protestants function within legitimized frames they are prone to embrace biblical landscape items, but when they find themselves out of frame, their engagement with this particular species of materiality becomes troubled.
Publisher’s Description: The Empty Seashell explores what it is like to live in a world where cannibal witches are undeniably real, yet too ephemeral and contradictory to be an object of belief. In a book based on more than three years of fieldwork between 1991 and 2011, Nils Bubandt argues that cannibal witches for people in the coastal, and predominantly Christian, community of Buli in the Indonesian province of North Maluku are both corporeally real and fundamentally unknowable.
Witches (known as gua in the Buli language or as suanggi in regional Malay) appear to be ordinary humans but sometimes, especially at night, they take other forms and attack people in order to kill them and eat their livers. They are seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The reality of gua, therefore, can never be pinned down. The title of the book comes from the empty nautilus shells that regularly drift ashore around Buli village. Convention has it that if you find a live nautilus, you are a gua. Like the empty shells, witchcraft always seems to recede from experience.Bubandt begins the book by recounting his own confusion and frustration in coming to terms with the contradictory and inaccessible nature of witchcraft realities in Buli. A detailed ethnography of the encompassing inaccessibility of Buli witchcraft leads him to the conclusion that much of the anthropological literature, which views witchcraft as a system of beliefs with genuine explanatory power, is off the mark. Witchcraft for the Buli people doesn’t explain anything. In fact, it does the opposite: it confuses, obfuscates, and frustrates. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia—an interminable experience that remains continuously in doubt—Bubandt suggests the need to take seriously people’s experiential and epistemological doubts about witchcraft, and outlines, by extension, a novel way of thinking about witchcraft and its relation to modernity.
Abstract: Despite its rituals of rupture and discourse of discontinuity, Pentecostalism does not always succeed in dislodging church participants from their pre-existing religious worlds. This paper connects the eclectic, everyday engagements of rank-and-file Pentecostals to a variety of concepts deployed in studies of religious pluralism (e.g. syncretism, hybridity, polyontology, bricolage, and especially the recently theorized butinage). Drawing on empirical evidence from Mozambique, while also glancing comparatively at Brazil, this paper aims to help open new questions regarding Pentecostal religious identity by arguing for the presence of pluralistic impulses within Pentecostalism itself.
Description: What does it mean for music to be considered local in contemporary Christian communities, and who shapes this meaning? Through what musical processes have religious beliefs and practices once ‘foreign’ become ‘indigenous’? How does using indigenous musical practices aid in the growth of local Christian religious practices and beliefs? How are musical constructions of the local intertwined with regional, national or transnational religious influences and cosmopolitanisms?
Making Congregational Music Local in Christian Communities Worldwide explores the ways that congregational music-making is integral to how communities around the world understand what it means to be ‘local’ and ‘Christian’. Showing how locality is produced, negotiated, and performed through music-making, this book draws on case studies from every continent that integrate insights from anthropology, ethnomusicology, cultural geography, mission studies, and practical theology. Four sections explore a central aspect of the production of locality through congregational music-making, addressing the role of historical trends, cultural and political power, diverging values, and translocal influences in defining what it means to be ‘local’ and ‘Christian’. This book contends that examining musical processes of localization can lead scholars to new understandings of the meaning and power of Christian belief and practice.
Description: The call to contemplative Christianity is not an easy one. Those who answer it set themselves to the arduous task of self-reformation through rigorous study and practice, learned through the teachings of monks and nuns and the writings of ancient Christian mystics, often in isolation from family and friends. Those who are dedicated can spend hours every day in meditation, prayer, liturgy, and study. Why do they come? Indeed, how do they find their way to the door at all?
Based on nearly four years of research among semi-cloistered Christian monastics and a dispersed network of non-monastic Christian contemplatives across the United States and around the globe, The Monk’s Cell shows how religious practitioners in both settings combined social action and intentional living with intellectual study and intensive contemplative practices in an effort to modify their ways of knowing, sensing, and experiencing the world. Organized by the metaphor of a seeker journeying towards the inner chambers of a monastic chapel, The Monk’s Cell uses innovative “intersubjective fieldwork” methods to study these opaque, interiorized, often silent communities, in order to show how practices like solitude, chant, contemplation, attention, and a paradoxical capacity to combine ritual with intentional “unknowing” develop and hone a powerful sense of communion with the world.
Abstract: Based on almost three years of ethnographic research living in Rio de Janeiro’s subúrbios, I consider how the senses comes to matter and how Pentecostalism, margins, smells, and soaps are put to work to construct new kinds of affective space. To do so, I track the way in which a fragrance composed of runoff waste from an international flavor and fragrance company has come to be understood as “pieces of grace,” or divinely given fragments of prosperity. I argue that the forms of racial and spatial governance that enable something like repurposed waste to become pieces of grace form part of a larger story of the sensorium of the subúrbios. In contending with Rio’s racialized urban landscape and how it is sensed and made sense of, I look to what I call the salvific sensorium, a kind of sensed space and territory that exists by engaging the senses with a divine alterity that reconfigures worth and temporality. It is affectively generative, if fleetingly so, and capacious enough to be open to both optimism and its cruelties.
Abstract: For men in the context of urban poverty in the Dominican Republic, Pentecostal conversion may lead to conditions of gender distress: frustration stemming from the challenges of reconciling the conflicting gender ideals of the church with those of the street. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with members of a Pentecostal community in the town of Villa Altagracia, I discuss how many young men come to experience the initial trials of conversion as tormenting spiritual assaults on their manhood in the form of alluring succubi. At the same time, male converts adopt newly inspired antagonisms with women familiars whom they blame for their illicit desires. Elsewhere I have discussed the strategies Pentecostal men deploy in order to mediate the conflict between barrio masculinity and evangelical Christianity; here I am concerned with illustrating how this conflict is given personal and cultural expression and how the attending experience of gender distress and its symbolic elaboration shapes masculine identity and male subjectivity in the church and local faith communities. By focusing on male converts and their struggles to remain manly, this article contributes to a richer understanding of gender dynamics in Pentecostal churches and offers useful insight into how gender is variously troubled, performed, and remade through conversion and religious practice more broadly.
Dawley, William. 2018. From Wrestling with Monsters to Wrestling with God: Masculinities, ‘Spirituality,’ and the Group-ization of Religious Life in Northern Costa Rica. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1).
Abstract: This piece explores the support group movement’s role in restructuring Latin American religion and contributing to the trans-denominational and trans-secular spread of the “reformation of machismo”—Elizabeth Brusco’s (2010) name for Latin American evangelicalism’s focus on transforming men and masculinity. Using ethnographic data from two years of fieldwork in an urbanizing area of northern Costa Rica and life history interviews with men from three churches and three men’s groups there, this paper argues that a region-wide popular discourse about a “crisis of masculinity/machismo” and a “crisis of the family” has broadened the appeal of efforts to transform men and masculinity—not only among most churches, but especially among a proliferating number of trans-denominational and non-religious men’s groups that are modeled implicitly on all-male Alcoholics Anonymous groups, which are extraordinarily popular throughout Latin America. This essay’s argument borrows from Wuthnow’s analysis of “the restructuring of [North] American religion” under the influence of the support group movement (1988, 1994a, 1994b, 1998), but it also employs an historiographic approach, exploring the origins of this restructuring of Latin American religion in the same “Methodist model” of social organization that has driven evangelical growth throughout the Americas (and men’s conversions especially) during times of social change and male social dislocation (Martin 1990). The conversion histories of two Catholic men are used to illustrate how it is participation in these groups, rather than formal conversion, that transforms many men’s lives, their gender identities, and their relationships with others. Finally, the possible contributions of this research to anthropological studies of religion, ethics, and morality are explored, in particular the role that models of social organization might play in the spread of new ethical practices, discourses, or identity models.
Hovland, Ingie. 2018. Beyond Mediation: An Anthropological Understanding of the Relationship Between Humans, Materiality, and Transcendence in Protestant Christianity. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 86(2): 425-453.
Abstract: How does a relationship come about between religious practitioners and supernatural beings? According to the mediation turn—which has recently taken hold in the material religion field and the anthropology of religion—religious communities use sensational forms to mediate the presence of an otherwise invisible transcendent. This article will apply the mediation framework to a case study of a particular Protestant group—namely world-renouncing, evangelical missionaries in nineteenth-century Southern Africa. I will argue that in this case the concept of mediation limits our understanding of the multiple God-human relationships involved. This raises questions concerning how and in which contexts the mediation turn can be analytically useful. In conclusion, the article will suggest that there is a dynamic range of modes of relating God and humans in Protestant Christianity, including modes that go beyond mediation.
Drawing on more than two years of participant observation in the American Midwest and in Madagascar among Lutheran clinicians, volunteer laborers, healers, evangelists, and former missionaries, Conversionary Sites investigates the role of religion in the globalization of medicine. Based on immersive research of a transnational Christian medical aid program, Britt Halvorson tells the story of a thirty-year-old initiative that aimed to professionalize and modernize colonial-era evangelism. Creatively blending perspectives on humanitarianism, global medicine, and the anthropology of Christianity, she argues that the cultural spaces created by these programs operate as multistranded “conversionary sites,” where questions of global inequality, transnational religious fellowship, and postcolonial cultural and economic forces are negotiated.
A nuanced critique of the ambivalent relationships among religion, capitalism, and humanitarian aid, Conversionary Sites draws important connections between religion and science, capitalism and charity, and the US and the Global South.