Schultz, “The Christian Fetish”

Schultz, Callan. (2019) ‘The Christian Fetish: Modernity, Whiteness and the Christian Imaginary in Malaysia’. Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.1626467.

Abstract:  The 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) scandal and 2018 elections brought the corruption and nepotism of Malaysian politics to international attention. For my Christian Dusun interlocutors in the Ranau hinterlands of Sabah, Malaysia, one effect of corruption, as well as state-driven ‘Islamisation’, is that many people no longer trust their government, the moral failings of which are viewed as unchristian. Crucially, Western liberal democracies are often imagined as being both Christian and white, stimulating optimistic interpretations of racial whiteness. In this article, I employ theories of the fetish to unveil the inspired ‘cultural criticism’ that emerges at the interface of two social worlds (Spyer, Patricia. 1988. Introduction. In Border Fetishisms: Material objects in unstable spaces, edited by Patricia Spyer, pp. 1–12. Psychology Press; Graeber, David. 2005. Fetishism as Social Creativity or, Fetishes are Gods in the Process of Construction. Anthropological Theory, 5(4):407–438). The affective relations between people, images and ideas in postcolonial Ranau contributed to the construction of my embodied racial identity, orang putih (white person), which was fetishised by Christian Dusun as a ‘container’ (Newell, Sasha. 2014. The Matter of the Unfetish: Hoarding and the Spirit of Possessions. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4(3):185–213) of hope for their own Christian future.

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