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.

Haynes, “The Benefit of the Doubt”

Haynes, Naomi. (2019) ‘The Benefit of the Doubt: On the Relationship Between Doubt and Power’. Anthropological Quarterly. 92(1): 35-57.

Abstract: Anthropological studies of doubt have typically highlighted its productivity, pointing to the space that doubt opens to question established frameworks. This article builds on these observations by exploring an instance of doubt that I argue is unproductive. For Pentecostals on the Zambian Copperbelt, the fact that they do not receive the extravagant riches promised by the prosperity gospel—a Christian movement that is central to their faith—is not usually a problem. Most Pentecostal believers are able to reinterpret small gains in terms of a locally redefined prosperity, and therefore manage the doubts that their lack of wealth produces. For the poorest and most socially marginal believers, however, this kind of productive engagement with doubt is not possible. The productivity of doubt is therefore more an expression of structural factors than of the nature of doubt itself. This suggests that doubt—or at least the ability to mobilize doubt effectively—is a key index of power. This article provides an ethnographic exploration of the failure of the prosperity gospel while also expanding anthropological understanding of what makes doubt productive.

Bielo, “Where Prayers May Be Whispered”

Bielo, James S. (2019) ‘”Where Prayers May Be Whispered”: Promises of Presence in Protestant Place-Making’. Ethnos. DOI:10.1080/00141844.2019.1604559

Abstract: This article examines themes of religion tourism, presence, devotional labour, and place-making from the vantage point of a ‘forgotten’ Christian attraction in the United States. I integrate archival, oral history, and ethnographic data to analyze the accumulations throughout the 60-year life course of the Garden of Hope, a site in northern Kentucky (USA): from distinctly Protestant and distinctly Catholic material features, more ambiguous theological features, stories of supernatural intervention and stories of human ingenuity, competing claims to authority and authenticity, choreographed rituals, and multiple forms of devotion. I argue for an interpretation of the Garden that accounts for the ways in which Christian engagements with the problem of presence accumulate promises of presence: the expectation, anticipation, and potentiality that a desired spiritual intimacy will be actualised. In particular, I highlight the devotional labour of custodians and visitors as integral for defining, narrating, and maintaining this promise.

Tsintjilonis, “The past is a promise to the future”

Tsintjilonis, Dimitri. (2019) “‘The past is promise to the future’: stories, persons, and the devil in Greece.” JRAI. 25(1): 148-165.

Abstract:  Drawing on ethnography from central Greece, this article is about the way people narrate their encounters with the devil. Although it echoes the idea that life as told and life as lived are structured in the same way, it takes the argument a step further by suggesting they are structured through a narrative plot wherein the present and the future of the story-tellers pre-date the past of which their stories tell. It also foregrounds the link between this structure and a particular kind of morality which replicates the narrative logic of the stories, giving rise to an inherently relational personhood – a personhood that, just like the way in which its narration destabilizes the logic of before and after, destabilizes the distinction between self and other. Lastly, contextualizing the current economic crisis in the lives of such persons, the article suggests we need to think of it in relation to the devil and the stories people tell of him.

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.

Bialecki, “Christianity”

Bialecki, Jon. 2018. “Christianity”. International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. DOI: 10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea2249

Abstract: The relationship between Christianity and anthropology is complex. At one level, Christianity has deeply affected anthropology, both through the wider intellectual tradition from which anthropology developed and through the religious practices and imaginations of particular leading historical figures. At the same time, there has been animus both toward Christian anthropologists and toward the study of avowedly Christian populations qua Christians. Anxiety over this reluctance to focus on Christian populations has led some anthropologists to establish a self‐consciously comparative “anthropology of Christianity”; the resulting conversation has made contributions to anthropological debates about temporality, language use, economy and exchange, and personhood. While scholars working in this area have tended to focus on Pentecostalisms outside Euro‐America, and on politically conservative activist religion in Euro‐America, increasingly other forms of Christianity, such as Catholicism and Orthodoxy, are receiving attention as part of an “anthropology of Christianity” as well.

Bielo, “Ark Encounter”

Bielo, James S. 2018. Ark Encounter: The Making of a Creationist Theme Park. New York: New York University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Opened to the public in July 2016, Ark Encounter is a creationist theme park in Kentucky. The park features an all-timber re-creation of Noah’s ark, built full scale to creationist specifications drawn from the text of Genesis, as well as exhibits that imagine the Bible’s account of life before the flood.  More than merely religious spectacle, Ark Encounter offers important insights about the relationship between religion and entertainment, religious publicity and creativity, and fundamentalist Christian claims to the public sphere.

James S. Bielo examines these themes, drawing on his unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the Ark Encounter creative team during the initial design of the park. This unique anthropological perspective shows creationists outside church contexts, and reveals their extraordinary effort to materialize a controversial worldview for the general public. Taking readers from inside the park’s planning rooms to other fundamentalist projects and diverse Christian tourist attractions, Bielo illuminates how creationist cultural producers seek to reach both their constituents and the larger culture.

The “making of” this creationist theme park, Bielo argues, allows us to understand how fundamentalist culture is produced, and how entertainment and creative labor are used to legitimize creationism.  Through intriguing and surprising observations, Ark Encounter challenges readers to engage with the power of entertainment and to seriously grapple with creationist ambitions for authority. For believers and non-believers alike, this book is an invaluable glimpse into the complicated web of religious entertainment and cultural production.

Bubandt, “The Empty Seashell”

Bubandt, Nils. 2014. The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Publisher’s DescriptionThe 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.