Abstract: With reference to two different projects examining North American Christianities, this symposium contribution explores opportunities for critique when conducting fieldwork. Drawing from observations made by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, I suggest that critique is most productive when it uses the perspective and position of one’s interlocutors as its point of departure.
Abstract: Although human rights are often framed as the result of centuries of Western Christian thought, many English evangelicals are wary of the U.K.’s recent embrace of rights-based law. Yet this wariness does not preclude their use of human rights instruments in the courts. Drawing upon fieldwork with Christian lobbyists and lawyers in London, I argue that evangelical activists instrumentalise rights-based law so as to undermine the universalist claims on which they rest. By constructing themselves as a marginalised counterpublic whose rights are frequently ‘trumped’ by the competing claims of others, they hope to convince their fellow Britons that a society built upon the logic of equal rights cannot hope to deliver the human flourishing it promises. Given the salience of contemporary political conservatism, I call for further ethnographic research into counterpublic movements, and offer my interlocutors’ instrumentalisation of human rights as a critique of the inconsistencies of secular law.
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.
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.
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.
Abstract: Set in the town of Copan Ruinas, Honduras, this article describes the role of Pentecostal ‘Christians’ ontology in their broad support for the 2009 coup, which overthrew the left-leaning president, Manuel Zelaya. It draws on recent scholarship that considers how the political engagement of some indigenous movements in Latin America diverge from modern framings of “politics” in order to argue that Pentecostals similarly engage in a nonmodern mode of political action. Among other nonmodern elements, this mode of Pentecostal politics—which I term “spirit-filled geopolitics”—includes both an apocalyptic temporality and integrated “supernatural”/political domains. The article utilizes indigenous-focused scholarship as a framework for detailing how Pentecostal politics remain entangled with, but not reducible to, both the dynamics of neoliberalism and the practices and imaginaries of the secular nation state—especially in the Cold War geopolitics of the 1980s.
Abstract: This article reflects on one potential relationship the anthropological study of religion might enjoy with a critical orientation to religion. To do so, I highlight a burgeoning (but tenuous) dialog between anthropology and theology. Ultimately, I propose that a focus on religion and human flourishing provides one wavelength on which an anthropology–theology collaboration can thrive. I follow the observation that anthropologists and theologians are united by concern with shared problems. If human and social flourishing is one such problem, then what might a collaborative configuration look like? The example I consider is how ethnographic evidence of religion in public life can be mobilized to advance prophetic theological critiques of injustice.