Abstract: This article explores the tension between Pope Francis as a ‘trickster’ and as a much-needed reformer of the Catholic Church at large. He is an exemplar of the longue durée of an embodied ‘ Atlantic Return’ from the Americas to the ‘heart’ of Catholicism (Rome and the Vatican), with its ambivalent, racialized history. Through the mobilization of material religion, sensuous mediations, and the case of the Lampedusa crosses in particular, I engage with an anthropological analysis of Francis as a Criollo and the first-ever Jesuit pope. Examining Francis’s papacy overlapping racial and ethico-political dimensions, I identify coordinates around which the rhetorical, affective, and charismatic force of Francis as a Criollo has been actualized-between, most crucially, proximity and distance, as well as pastoral versus theological impulses. This article advances an understanding of Francis that emerges from a study of the conjuncture of affective fields, political theology, racialized aesthetics, and mediatic interface.
Cornelio, Jayeel and Ia Marañon. (2019) “A ‘Righteous Intervention’: Megachurch Christianity and Duterte’s War on Drugs in the Philippines. International Journal of Asian Christianity. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/25424246-00202005.
Abstract: Megachurches, which are among the fastest-growing religious organizations in the Philippines, have been apolitical towards Duterte’s war on drugs. In contrast to some influential religious groups, that they have not released any statement is glaring. At the same time, megachurches have adopted interventions that aim at the rehabilitation of drug-dependent individuals and the moral renewal of police officers. What accounts for these actions? For megachurch pastors, the war on drugs is a ‘righteous intervention’ on the part of a God-ordained administration. At the same time, addressing the proliferation of illegal drugs is ‘humanly impossible’. Thus responding to substance abuse can only be a spiritual matter. The task of the church is to treat it as a spiritual condition to which the answer is conversion and moral recovery. The article ends with a critical reflection on how these theological views ultimately reflect the interests of the class these megachurches represent.
It is with profound sadness that we post this memoriam after Sonja’s recent death. She had that rare combination of a seemingly boundless capacity to generate intellectual ferment, while also building true collegiality. She gave those gifts to us, her colleagues, while we were fortunate enough to know her. We celebrate her life by continuing to think alongside her, as we reread and circulate the work she left behind. To that end, we asked some of her colleagues to remember Sonja and reflect on a few of their favorite pieces of her work. It’s our small tribute to a scholar and friend who will be very sorely missed.
–Hillary Kaell, on behalf of the Anthrocybib curatorial team, with thanks to Candace Lukasik for posting and compiling links
The passing of Sonja is a tremendous loss for anthropology and religious studies at large, but will be felt especially acutely on the west coast. Sonja was an inspiring leader in these fields in British Columbia: advising students, providing critical feedback to colleagues, fostering collaborations, and complementing the traditional focus of west coast anthropology beyond the Pacific Northwest. After finishing her PhD at Michigan, she held a Killam post-doctoral fellowship at UBC from 2009 to 2011. She gave a very well received lecture at the University of Victoria in October 2010 titled “The lives of life: Remembering and forgetting in Russian Orthodox anti-abortion activism,” based on post-doctoral research she conducted in the former Soviet Union and parts of which can be found in her 2019 article in the journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. As her fellowship was nearing completion in 2011, she was offered (and accepted) a position in religious studies at Indiana University with a specialization in Orthodox Christianity. For a time, it looked like she would relocate to the Midwest. Fortunately for west coast anthropology, she was ultimately offered a tenure-track position in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Simon Fraser and chose to stay in British Columbia to continue her path-breaking research on Soviet and post-Soviet secularism and religion. She was a vibrant and visible presence in British Columbia anthropology and worked to facilitate cross-campus collaboration with scholars at the province’s other universities. Sonja’s all-too-early passing is a tragedy and she will be remembered with the greatest fondness.
–Daromir Rudnyckyj, University of Victoria, Canada
Sonja leaves us with a tremendous gap. She was a rare person, who inspired many of us with her ethnographic erudition, analytical clear sight, and methodological rigor. For me her studies of prayer and icons stood out as particularly compelling for invigorating a conversation of the role of the senses in Orthodox Christianity. Sonja was able to cover the complexity of lived religion and its legacies both in anthropological and historical terms. This legacy, I hope, will spur many to honor her by pushing on, where she all too early was forced to leave.
— Andreas Bandak, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
For me, paying tribute to Sonja involves recounting her extraordinary generosity as a colleague-mentor alongside her prolific talent. By the time I met her in 2003, when I was a prospective Ph.D. student, Sonja was already dispensing jewels of wisdom about graduate school life while preparing to publish her M.A. thesis on the Alutiq villages of Alaska. As I confronted a post-2008 job market at the AAA’s, Sonja covered for my hotel costs while putting the finishing touches on both her CA article on Soviet propaganda and ideological transmission and her inventive historical ethnography on Soviet atheism and post-Soviet religious revival. Finally, thanks to her formidable leadership on our SSRC collaborative grant, I along with six others traveled to Thessaloniki and Cluj to share the best of work and leisure, comparatively and collectively. At the young age of 44, Sonja had already gifted me with more than most would ever do for another’s career and scholarly formation. I mourn a profound example of unwavering friendship and intellectual vitality.
–Angie Heo, University of Chicago, USA
To celebrate Sonja honestly is to recall that intellectual rigor and personal integrity which demanded of her unvarnished frankness. And we, her erstwhile teachers, could feel her frankness sting like a whip. But that sting was always in the service of asking more of us, because she asked more of herself. To teach her was to enter into the most arduous debate. I have been reading through our voluminous email exchanges while she was studying for her prelims in 2004. At one point she pulled me deeply (far more than I was prepared for) into the problem of belief. Worrying that she was getting too anxious about her essays, I remarked that some arguments shed more heat than light. She replied: “What’s wrong with heat? The more I read of the so-called anthro of religion, the more I appreciate what a sign of deep intellectual engagement it was when Luther threw his ink pot at the devil. Compared to all the self-flagellant agonizing over sharing or not sharing the beliefs of one’s subjects – as if that would change anything…What this country needs is not anthropologists working on religion, but a tradition of considering religion as something worthy of intellectual effort at all.” Here she reveals not just her erudition, seriousness—and ironic humor—but also her fundamental challenge to the academy’s methodological atheism. For she was an unapologetic Lutheran, if not wholly identified with the Orthodox whom she studied, at least their fellow traveler. When again I urged her not to overwork, she wrote “I go to church Sunday mornings, so not working all day after that would be just too Puritan. One can’t always freely choose the external authorities one imposes upon oneself… Besides, it is also very interesting to discover how close I can get myself to going mad just by reading…Luckily, I’m also learning that a mind is not such an easy thing to get rid of.” And a few weeks later: “But I’ll survive, because I’m signed up to do the scripture readings in church on Sunday. The Lutheran equivalent of pledging to walk to Santiago de Compostela. Good to be a member of a rationalist religion.” Sting and stimulation both, what a voice we have lost.
–Webb Keane, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
I met Sonja during a conference at Max Planck Institute for Anthropology in Halle, Germany, in 2005, and since then we became colleagues, collaborators, and friends. She was a great writer, a sharp thinker, and a wonderful fieldworker. She did difficult ethnography among Russian-speaking Orthodox informants with the intellectual courage of a true professional and the deep empathy of a devoted person. Her own style of doing anthropology, a combination of intellectual sharpness and deep personal involvement, shapes many of her longer and shorter texts of which “God values intentions”: Abortion, expiation, and moments of sincerity in Russian Orthodox pilgrimage” is my favorite. She knew her way, and it is so painful for us who lost her that her earthly path was so short.
–Jeanne Kormina, Higher School of Economics University, St. Petersburg, Russia
Sonja’s passing was shocking despite the fact that she made no secret of her illness. She remained as committed to her work during the last couple of years as she had always been, writing, editing, giving talks and generously responding to invitations to review, join PhD committees, etc. This somehow made us hope that life would go on as usual as we continued to count on her dedicated presence, rigorous scholarship and generous intellect. Earlier this year she visited us in Budapest to give a workshop and a talk which raised interest across several departments at CEU. The texts she suggested for the workshop, Was Soviet Society Secular? Undoing Equations between Communism and Religion (2015) and Beyond Life Itself: The Embedded Fetuses of Russian Orthodox Anti-Abortion Activism (2018) complemented each other greatly but also offered a privileged insight into her longstanding interest in religion and secularism and the transition from Soviet to postsocialist Russia. This was Sonja at her best: sharp, thorough and engaging, even if tired and worried about her capacity to concentrate and respond to questions. I first met Sonja in 2005 at a conference in Halle that led to a groundbreaking volume on Eastern Christians in Anthropological Perspective (2010) to which we both contributed. This gave us the chance to start a meaningful conversation that continued and deepened over the years as we changed jobs, engaged in new research, became friends and collaborated on several projects. It reached its fullest during the Sensory spirituality project, a comparative study of prayer in Orthodox Christianity that lasted 3 years (2012-2014), giving us the chance to think, do research and write together—a rare treat in today’s academia. This was a formative experience for all of us, thanks to Sonja who steered the project with an intellectual maturity and unassuming presence that generated unexpected synergies as our collective volume Praying with the Senses (2017) testifies. This volume, alongside two of Sonja’s celebrated books, Secularism, Soviet Style (2011) and Religion in Secular Archives (2015) have shaped my own thinking about religion, history and secularism and I return to them often as I write about Orthodox Christians in Eastern Europe or South India. Precious memories now mix with glimpses of her creative mind as I come across more of her recent writings that were meant to turn into a book on anti-abortion activism in Russian Orthodoxy (God Values Intentions or Innocence and Demographic Crisis). These hidden gems testify to the breadth of her knowledge, her inquisitiveness and incredible potential that was curtailed too soon. Her life was marked by a quest for knowledge that escaped conventions and profound care for the other—she will be deeply missed for both.
–Vlad Naumescu, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
Sonja occupied a unique position in our disciplinary ecology, with her original work in the history and anthropology of Russian secularism and Orthodoxy. I was lucky to have begun a conversation with her in 2014 on a panel that Sonja organized for the AAA where she invited panellists to engage the work of historian Callum Brown, whose book “Religion and the Demographic Revolution” provocatively brought ideas of gender and sexuality to bear on the secularization hypothesis. We had a certain complicity at a distance since then, which I like to think was partially consolidated by the hilarity of eating our first-ever solo “professional” dinner at “Hot N Juicy Crawfish” where we had to eat our saucy shellfish with plastic gloves and bibs. Of course there were scholarly reasons for the complicity as well, and we were both looking forward to deepening our academic conversation. I was heartbroken to learn about her cancer in January, and I subsequently organized an AAA panel with her in mind, “What Does the Secular Mean for Anthropology? Interdicisplinary Perspectives on a Conceptual Relation.” I had dearly wanted her to be there, hoping that we would have another chance to exchange ideas in person. I had hoped that she would help us to expand on her work on Soviet social scientists, in which she urges us to seek more open ethnographic futures by learning about the histories and biases of secular social science. In November our panel plans to honour her memory and scholarship, which will inspire many of us for years to come.
–Ashley Lebner, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada
Sonja was also a tremendous supporter and contributor to Anthrocybib over the years. She was the inspiration for, and respondent to, our Praying with the Senses review forum in 2017 and she reviewed two books for our project, Negotiating Marian Apparitions (2015) and Blood: A Critique of Christianity (2014). We’ve also posted many of her articles over the years, including her co-authored piece on the nature of prayer in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion in 2018 and her article on the politics of prayer books in the Journal of Religious and Political Practice in 2015.
Abstract: In Jesus for Zanzibar: Narratives of Pentecostal (Non-)Belonging, Islam, and Nation Hans Olsson offers an ethnographic account of the lived experience and socio-political significance of newly arriving Pentecostal Christians in the Muslim majority setting of Zanzibar. This work analyzes how a disputed political partnership between Zanzibar and Mainland Tanzania intersects with the construction of religious identities. Undertaken at a time of political tensions, the case study of Zanzibar’s largest Pentecostal church, the City Christian Center, outlines religious belonging as relationally filtered in-between experiences of social insecurity, altered minority / majority positions, and spiritual powers. Hans Olsson shows that Pentecostal Christianity, as a signifier of (un)wanted social change, exemplifies contested processes of becoming in Zanzibar that capitalizes on, and creates meaning out of, religious difference and ambient political tensions.
Abstract: Inspired by Norget, Napolitano, and Mayblin’s suggestion that anthropologists attend more closely to the mechanisms of Catholicism’s worldwide spread, this article juxtaposes two organizations—the Holy Childhood Association and Unbound—to explore “paganism,” conversion, and its legacy among U.S. laypeople. In the process, it makes two major points. The first concerns the recourse to “culture” as a rhetorical and ideational hinge connecting the singularity of Christian universalism and new valuations of local multiplicity. The second focuses on the U.S. Catholic relationship to institutional structures of missionary work, which they both associate with positive attributes of a vibrant society, while also being much more critical than their Protestant counterparts of their own Church’s role abroad. It ends by noting how Unbound and its supporters contend with ongoing inequalities by cultivating an imagined global parity where Catholic people choose to send their “gifts” to each other.
Tambar, Kabir. 2019. “Professions of Friendship: Revisiting the Concept of the Political in the Middle East.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-7586775.
Abstract: This essay examines “professions of friendship”: efforts by populations who are targeted as enemies of the state to proclaim their historical fidelity to the state’s foundation and preservation. Such declarations often reinscribe a rigid and often violently statist narrative of politics. The essay argues that the retrenchment of this narrative, when reissued in the name of friendship, does not simply close down political options. It seeks to embolden sentiments of moral obligation across instituted lines of enmity. These solicitations of friendship are burdened by a particular historical task: to envision a past and a future of social cohabitation in a present where its possibilities have been violently undermined and morally devalued. The essay centers on two instances that bookend the past century: the first was delivered in Istanbul by an organization speaking on behalf of Armenians living in territories claimed by the Turkish nationalist movement in 1922; the second was issued by a Kurdish Peace Mother in Diyarbakır, as a plea for an end to state violence in late 2015.
Abstract: This article examines the rhetorical invocation of “secular ethnicity” among diasporic Syriac Orthodox Christian activists living in the Netherlands as they seek political recognition as an endangered, indigenous ethnoreligious group of the Middle East from the UN Human Rights Council, the Dutch state, and their local municipal government. In tracing how their efforts to stake a politically salient ethnic identity on the holy rites and rituals of the Syriac liturgical tradition are legible to some audiences while remaining illegible to others, I analyze how secularity intertwines with theologically informed ritual practices in geographically variable ways to shape how Syriac Christian kinship is reproduced in diaspora. I analyze these intertwined forms of legibility and illegibility through the notion of perforation, which I offer as an alternative to the one-dimensional metaphor of secular rupture, in order to show how diasporic Syriac Orthodox kinship is premised on the conviction that Christianity is an inherent, rather than an optional, dimension of human personhood. Ultimately, I argue that secular power and its effects are subsumed within other historical processes of division and reconciliation in a broader contest over the proper dispensation of political and ritual power throughout the history of Christianity.
Anthropologist Angie Heo’s first book, The Political Lives of Saints: Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt (2018), examines saintly intercession to explore the reconfiguration of religio-political imaginaries. Rather than seal off Coptic Christians and their religious tradition, she foregrounds the shared life between Copts and Muslims, as both transformed by the modern Egyptian nation-state and by geopolitical interests in the Middle East, particularly its Christians. Her book expands the terrain of the anthropology of Christianity, pushing the limits of the subfield’s conceptual foundations by offering new avenues of investigation. Below, in a four-part interview with AnthroCyBib co-curators Candace Lukasik and Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, Heo shares her insights on discipline, methodology, and the transnational and political stakes of global Christianity.
The Political Lives of Saints examines divine intercession to illuminate the ways Copts and Muslims in contemporary Egypt imagine the otherworldly and also how they imagine each other. As an anthropologist of Christianity, what concepts, methodologies, or frameworks guided your approach? How has the subfield of the anthropology of Christianity and/or Religious Studies shaped your work?
Christian-Muslim mediation is the overarching frame of my book. By examining how Coptic Orthodoxy mediates social relations between Christians and Muslims, I sought to avert the culturalist notion that Christian ideas and practices serve to reproduce and reinforce Christian identities. This notion is especially pervasive across studies of Egypt’s Copts, a group which frequently figures as a beleaguered minority battling to assert its religious identity in the throes of persecution. For theorizing about Christianity, the problem I found with this model of cultural assertion is that it leaves intact, even affirms, the sectarian structures of communal identity that end up ghettoizing Copts and Coptic Orthodoxy in the first instance. In other words, the position of Copts in the Egyptian state and society are always and already-given ones in the political analysis, with Christianity merely providing its cultural and ideological contents for expression. Christian-Muslim mediation was my strategy for specifying how Orthodox Christianity serves as an historically specific medium for generating structures of minoritarian authoritarianism as well as potentials for overturning them. While researching and writing, I discovered that Orthodox Christianity and its modern transformations offer thick insights into intersections of state and religion, which means for Copts, important sites of Christian-Muslim governance.
Intercession – that is, advocacy on behalf of another – is a key concept that grounded me in the material technics of religious mediation. In my book, I focus on intercession to analyze two tiers of Christian-Muslim mediation at once: institutional and imaginary. My inspiration came from an illustration that I encountered several times during my fieldwork. When I asked about how saints and their holy intercession works, many Copts would invoke the metaphor of “wasta”, the “who you know” or personal connections that work for you when you need something. The simple yet striking metaphor stuck with me. There is a lot written on how the Coptic Church has assumed an increasingly centralized institutional role as an arbiter of Christian-Muslim affairs nationwide. There is less written on how this new institutionalization of communal advocacy has relied on major shifts in everyday activity of divine mediation. Intercession allowed me to consider multiple genres of religious communication, with the aim of disaggregating institutions of state power into its various forms, acts, images, embodiments, ideologies. That is, breaking apart what seem like coherent institutional actors from the bottom up and inside out.
Lucky for me, anthropologists of religion had already been contributing to vibrant conversations in religion and media as I was first exploring intercession. Here, I am thinking about the anthropologies of Christianity and Islam in particular, both fields pursuing overlapping questions around language ideologies along with the secular and global nature of modernity. While pursuing a PhD in Anthropology at Berkeley, I also had the good fortune of studying with Bill Hanks, Charles Hirschkind and Saba Mahmood who each advanced my thought on semiotics, materiality, and technology in different ways. It is true that anthropologists of Christianity have spilled significant ink on Protestantism (and I will join them for the second project!). Having trained with an historically-oriented ethnographer of Catholicism and a leading expert in indexicality, I benefited from yet another perspective on the sensory dynamics of presence that helped my work on Orthodoxy’s visual and tactile elements. Anthropological work on Islam, and with Egypt as a decidedly fruitful location, has also been formative of my approach to media, tradition and authority. I cannot even imagine how my book would have turned out without these remarkable writings which deal with the contending publics and politics of Islam and which speak volumes about religion beyond the limits of Islam.
For your second project you have shifted your focus to Evangelical South Korea, to examine late capitalist development and the legacy of the Cold War. This project also takes a transnational shift, looking at the global linkages of political conservatism. Between the Middle East and the Asian Pacific Rim, and (Oriental) Orthodox Christianity and Evangelical Protestantism, what are some of the ways your conceptual engagements with and understandings of the anthropology of Christianity shifted between these two projects? Beyond theological or ritual differences, how is the study of Orthodox and Protestant forms of Christianity different in anthropological perspective? How do transnational linkages, migration, and global connection factor into your new analytic frames?
I find these questions especially stimulating because I have been thinking lately about what the term “global Christianity” both offers and obscures for interdisciplinary scholarship in religious studies. It is too often the case, unfortunately, that “global” signifies a geopolitical hierarchy in which the originary norms of a given tradition are presumed to lie in the U.S. and Europe, while phenomena like “global religions” or “world literature” lie in the Global South. Anthropologists of Christianity, I believe, can help push for more analytic clarity on what “global” and what “Christianity” mean, and what they mean together. Your line of questions pushes exactly for this clarity. Orthodoxy and Protestantism, as Christian traditions, both organize distinct orders of universalism and empire – we could even say competing orders. They also encounter shared forces of globalization – trade, media and migration – that shape their respective orders of growth and expansion. Work gets exciting when we think about the universalizing aspects of tradition and the globalizing dimensions of political economy, conjointly and comparatively.
What is unique to Orthodox Christianity is the intrinsic centrality of the ethnos or nation to its self-identity; that is, Coptic Orthodoxy is Egyptian Christianity. This imagined link between nation and Orthodoxy relies on traditional ideologies of origin, nativism and continuity, and this link also changes across historical contexts of anticolonial nation-building and ecumenical aspirations. Of all my book’s body chapters, the second one “Redemption at the Edge” most directly tackles various entanglements of Orthodox expansion with the modern nation-form. In it, I examine how Orthodoxy prescribes forms of pilgrimage and imaginings of Holy Land, and how religious boundaries and territorial borders are defined in the process. The whole chapter revolves around the question of what Holy Egypt is, what the Egyptian nation-state is, and how these two converge in the 1960s. Vatican II and the Arab-Israeli wars, I argue, are significant historical events that shaped the specifically Egyptian character of Coptic Orthodoxy (Arab nationalism + Christian-Muslim unity) and its counter-imperial forms. To make this argument, I had to engage the broader international and global frames that determined this dual status of Egypt’s image, and thus began with two imperial frontiers, Roman Catholic and Zionist.
So while imaginings of the ethnos or nation are central to Orthodoxy, this does not mean that Orthodoxy is bound to nationalism in any primordial or essential way. I think the intellectual project is to observe Orthodoxy’s changing definitions and attachments to the nation-form, and then, to analyze what it implies on a more global scale about national and religious belonging. In The Political Lives of Saints, I trace how international contours of post-WWII imperialism shaped Orthodoxy’s claim as a distinctively “national” religious tradition. Another angle at the global aspects of Orthodox Christianity embarks from transnational and diasporic displacements of national belonging (and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading both of your dissertations on this topic!). For the Orthodox American context, I also find the longer history of Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska fascinating for historicizing questions of diasporic migration and settlement during periods of U.S. and Russian rule. From recent conference invitations I’ve received, I’m gathering that there is also budding interest in Orthodoxy’s growth across the Far Eastern borderlands, near and inside Japan, China and North Korea. Here, I can’t resist giving another shout-out to Dominic Martin‘s forthcoming book on Old Orthodoxy in a former military zone for nuclear submarine repair near Vladivostok.
This brings me to my second book project on Cold War Christianity in the Asian Pacific Rim. My second book project more squarely examines the transnational and imperial impulses internal to Evangelical Protestantism, focusing on South Korea and the divided Koreas. As in Egypt, the historical setting of anticolonial nationalism was crucial to the making of national Christianity and its liberatory identity in South Korea. Protestant Christianity’s explosive growth during the Cold War additionally meant that American-allied ideologies of anticommunism and freedom were always part of the equation. For my work on Orthodoxy in Egypt, I devoted a lot of time to thinking about materiality, images, and the tradition’s deep ties to antiquity. In Korea, I’m finding that I am consistently asking questions about transnational religion alongside questions about political economy and fervently capitalist conditions. Development and globalization set the terms of rapid religious change in South Korea, in effect, a mass conversion to Protestant Christianity that unfolded over a couple quick and spectacular decades instead of the glacial pace of millennia. This historical fact, of course, has to change the way we approach the study of Christianity in Korea and East Asia more broadly (versus the Middle East) .
While Orthodoxy has been described by scholars and journalists alike as a “national” religious tradition, you’re asking us to defamiliarize this notion by looking to the historical contexts by which such a claim emerged—post-WWII imperialism, as well as postcolonial imaginaries of the nation. While transnational and diasporic displacements have decentered the nation over the past few decades—as Orthodox populations migrate, settle, and develop new notions of belonging—how does the current far-right iterations of nationalism and growing forms of political conservatism weigh upon Orthodoxy, in its many forms? For example, the renewed power of the Russian Orthodox Church and its intimate connections to President Vladimir Putin has reinforced the narrative of Orthodoxy as archaic and such majority Orthodox countries as antithetical to the promise of political secularism. Along these lines, how does the Coptic Orthodox context compare to, say, the Russian or Greek contexts? How do non-ethnic converts to these faiths trouble Orthodoxy’s perceived “nationalist” tendencies?
The rise of far-right nationalism and right-wing populism is, unfortunately, a current and global phenomenon. Considering the high value it places on origins, Orthodoxy may slide into ideologies of nativism, purity and authenticity, especially when allied with xenophobic strands of nationalism. This is where I think race, racism, and racial hierarchies become important issues to explore alongside Orthodoxy, especially as it is linked to various forms of growth such as assimilation or invasion. During my fieldwork, I also discovered that some of the most devout Copts were adherents of racial purity, and some measure of racism carried weight in their understandings of Arab Islam and Egyptian Orthodoxy. In the Coptic Orthodox tradition of saint veneration, we also find imaginary traces of racial difference, colonialism and globalization in figures like Moses the Black (also called “the Ethiopian”), and most recently, Matthew the African (the Ghanaian migrant laborer who was among the Libya Martyrs). On the question of comparison, I still have much to learn about contemporary movements in the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, but I am sure that their mission dioceses join the Coptic Orthodox’s abroad in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Examining Orthodoxy to specify the relationship between political conservatism and political secularism would make for a fascinating project. Isn’t it precisely the authoritarian impulses internal to liberalism that have inspired so many studies in critical secularism recently? And many of them have also looked closely at Protestantism for secular-liberalism’s shadows. I don’t believe there is anything intrinsic to Orthodoxy that overdetermines its alliances with far-right or extreme nationalist governments in any context. What I find really interesting, in fact, are the resources within Orthodoxy that allow for those moments when Orthodox churches assert their autonomy from their sponsoring states. These moments include Pope Shenouda’s break away from President Sadat, as the “Arab’s pope”, when it came to maintaining the pilgrimage ban after The Camp David Accords in 1978. They also include the post-Soviet churches seeking recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople rather than the Moscow Patriarchate in 1991. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the various Ukrainian Orthodox Churches especially after the 2018 schism which is directly related to the Russian military occupation of Ukraine. I am excited to read Jeanne Kormina and Vlad Naumescu‘s writings, for example, on how this topic plays out for the Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe for the next issue of Anthropology Today (Volume 35, Issue 4).
Building off of your earlier response to the term “global Christianity,” how has studying non-Western forms of Christianity been received in the American academy, within and outside of the discipline of anthropology? Many times, when scholars write and speak of Christianity, they tend to collapse all of Christianity into Western Christianity. What implications does this have for Eastern forms of Christianity that stem from different historical contexts and genealogies? To get more specific in relation to your work in The Political Lives of Saints, how has Orthodoxy been made legible in the study of Christianity and religion more broadly? What are the possibilities of disentangling Western Christianity and the global North from studies of Christianity, in all its diversity, within the academy?
How do we locate where the East and West are in any form of Christianity? For many postcolonial subjects of Christianity, the answers may lead to either alienation or emancipation. And then, how do we specify where the East and West are within Coptic Orthodoxy in Egypt, and in ways that distinguish them from where they are within Evangelical Protestantism in South Korea? I believe these are critical questions that all scholars of global Christianity – anthropologists, historians, theologians – need to be asking. I certainly understand why people call Coptic Orthodoxy an “Eastern tradition”, or Korean Protestantism an “Eastern” or “Asian” expression of a Western tradition. In some venues, it even makes sense to deploy shorthand for complex geopolitical relations. But there is also the danger of reifying the East and West in ways that aren’t very helpful for understanding religious ideas and practices if you want to go beyond identity claims.
I gave this little prelude of qualifiers about the limited use-value of East and West because I have heard these designations amply thrown around in Christianity studies. But I suppose my real answer begins here, since I actually hear your question asking something different. Anthropologists of secularism and Islam, like Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood, exercise the genealogical method to show how concepts are entangled in unequal relations of power. The West and non-West binary allows them to stage and expose an asymmetry between various traditions of thought and practice. This asymmetry is also one in which certain elements from Christianity in Western Europe and North America become hegemonic in academic scholarship and political institutions. Few think of Asad as an anthropologist of Christianity (on this note, I find Gil Anidjar’s exchange with him to be lively and interesting). But Asad is clearly examining not only Enlightenment Christian sensibilities in human rights’ regimes, but also medieval Christian forms of ritual discipline that informed pathbreaking work on submission and agency in Islam. In my view, the first step for disentangling Western Christianity from studies of Christianity is to identify what norms govern our notions of religion and how these norms are related to imaginaries of the East / West divide. Doing this can also broaden conversation between the anthropology of Christianity and other subfields in anthropology at large.
Abstract: This paper uses evangelical reflections on the meaning of “rights” to explore the juridification of religion in contemporary England. Drawing on sixteen months of participatory fieldwork with evangelicals in London, I argue that English evangelicals’ critiques of Christian-interest litigation reflect the interaction of local theologies with developments in the law’s regulation of religion, developments that have contributed to the relativization of Protestant Christianity even as historic church establishment is maintained. Through an exploration of the tension between the goals of (rights-based) individualism and (Christian) relationalism as they concern the law, I show how litigation can affect religious subjectivity even in the absence of a personal experience with the pageantry of the court.
Abstract: Samoan Pentecostal churches, ritualized friendships among women are an informal but essential relationship through which churches grow. The mentorship that women provide when a new convert is introduced to church life creates escalating forms of care and obligation, as well as an experience of urgency and acceleration. Converts learn how to construct rupture in their narratives and spiritual practices, which are modeled in peer socialization practices. This period of intense yet temporary mentorship creates a temporality of “repair”—embodied, linguistic, and social practices that restore the convert’s identity, which has been disrupted by conversion. This care work compels us to consider the temporalization of care as a future‐making endeavor.