The pinnacle of the Christian year and the telos of Christ’s earthly ministry, Easter Sunday is the celebration of Christ’s “trampling down death by death” as an Orthodox hymn poetically proclaims. For liturgically grounded churches like the Eastern Orthodox or the Armenian Apostolic, one of the ancient Christian churches that are together known as the Oriental Orthodox Churches, that heightened theological experience can only be secured through liturgical participation: keeping the Holy Thursday vigil, processing with the tomb on Good Friday, and finally, receiving Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. What then, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic forcing people to remain at home, could the experience of Easter and all of Holy Week preceding it have been for such liturgically dependent Christian denominations? What can liturgy and its quintessential activity of Holy Communion look like under quarantine?
Among the broad religious spectrum of the Levant, the figure of Saint George/Al-Khader stands out. As the patron saint of Palestine, Saint George is one of the most popular saints among Palestinian Christians. Traditionally, the popular Saint George veneration has been associated with phenomena such as Canaanite rituals, shared shrines, blood sacrifices, and rural culture. This centuries-old practice survived and is still widely alive among local Palestinian Christians. Based on a critical study of textual sources and twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in the West Bank, this article provides an ethnographic-theological account on the Palestinian Saint George veneration, focusing on the controversial political uses and the spiritual meaning of this figure in the Palestinian context. I argue that this popular faith expression has transformed from a cult focused on human flourishing to a platform for grassroots theological ideas, mainly concerning themes like martyrdom, liberation, and belonging to the land.
This article examines the recent ‘schism’ in Eastern Orthodoxy to show how religion and politics are strongly intertwined in disputes over territory and sovereignty. It argues that two logics are at play in this conflict: one grounded in the theological‐political concept of ‘canonical territory’, the other in the notion of ‘communion’ at the basis of the Christian fellowship. The first is deployed in claims for national sovereignty as well as imperial domination, while the latter can make or break communities of faith. Drawing a parallel between the post‐socialist revival of religion in Ukraine and the current mobilization on the ground, it shows how these contradictory logics shape the fate of people, churches and states.
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.