Interview with Melissa L. Caldwell

Melissa Caldwell’s most recent book is Living Faithfully in an Unjust World: Compassionate Care in Russia (California, 2016). It takes up themes about humanitarianism, insecurity, and religious intervention in contemporary Russia. Anthrocybib had the chance to ask her more about it over email.

Participants: Melissa Caldwell (UC Santa Cruz) and Hillary Kaell (Concordia University)

HK: You have done twenty years of fieldwork in Moscow. Tell me a bit about how the economic and social changes you have seen prompted this study.

MC: When I first began crafting my dissertation research in the early 1990s, I was interested in how Russia’s emerging capitalist economy was becoming realized in changing consumer practices, most notably the arrival and spread of Western food products, restaurant and grocery store cultures, and eating practices. By the late 1990s, the Russian economy was increasingly unstable, and there were shortages of both basic consumer goods – including food – and money. All of these changes were happening within a context in which the Russian state was ceding responsibility for social welfare to individual citizens and private organizations. Low-income Russians – especially the elderly, disabled, veterans, and single mothers – were especially affected. Charities, nonprofits organizations, religious communities, and development agencies increasingly stepped in to provide assistance. I became interested in how questions of need and deservingness were presented, and then in the ways in which ordinary people compensated for shortages and insecurity. Over time, I became fascinated by the ethics and practices of care and compassion that were intrinsic to assistance.

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Aparecida Vilaça (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), interviewed by Ashley Lebner (Laurier University)

In the conversation below, Ashley Lebner interviews Aparecida Vilaça about her most recent book, Praying and Preying: Christianity in Indigenous Amazonia (UC Press, 2016). Their discussion took place in English over email and has been edited only lightly for clarity.

AL: Hello Aparecida, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your recent book. My hope is that these questions will help draw out at least part of the fascinating story that your book recounts.

You have been working with the Wari’ since the 1980s. In your book you make clear that though the Wari’ had already lived as Christians for a period before you arrived, they had basically de-converted by the time of your first major fieldwork. It was only when, on a trip you made in the early 2000s (after not having been there for 6 years), that you realized a Christian revival had occurred. When did you realize that you were going to write an ethnography of the Wari’ conversion to Christianity? Was there a certain ‘ethnographic moment’ that inspired you?

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Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction.”

Richard Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction” Journal of Southern African Studies, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2018.1416978Excerpt: This Special Issue of JSAS explores the little-recognised, shifting importance of grassroots ecumenism in religious experience and public life. The cases that we present come from across southern Africa, from Rwanda to Angola, to Zambia and Botswana, to South Africa and Swaziland. We match this breadth with arguments that also draw widely, for an emerging area of interest in popular religious change, with contributions from anthropology, social history, theology and religious studies. Among the ecumenical changes we discuss are, perhaps most surprisingly, ones in which counterpublics are anti-establishment, transgressive, even disruptive, as they bring strangers together, with religious motives and moral passion, and oppose dominant publics in the making of public cultures.

Other articles in the special issue are relevant to anthropologists of Christianity. Follow the link above.

Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt: Book Review

Haynes, Naomi. 2016. Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Reviewed by: Casey Golomski (University of New Hampshire)

The key values Haynes describes in her innovative book about Pentecostals in a Zambian town are “moving” (ukusela in Bemba) and “moving by the spirit.” Moving means to be visibly, recognizably improving one’s lot, and it can be materialized or realized in growing up, having children, gaining weight, getting an education, or advancing professionally. Things move in a positive sense, and stagnate or regress in a negative sense. “Moving by the spirit” is the newer, Pentecostalized version of ukusela, with the religion offering new evaluative metrics and modalities of relating to others in the Copperbelt. Haynes’s use of vernacular concepts to illuminate anthropological theory was one of my favorite things about the book overall. I can easily envision, when teaching this book, writing the different concepts of “moving” and “moving by the spirit” on the board to illustrate Bantu (Bemba) grammatical structures and show students how local values are religiously reframed. Continue reading

Tomlinson, “Try the Spirits.”

Tomlinson, Matt. 2017. “Try the Spirits: power encounters and anti-wonder in Christian missions,” Journal of Religious and Political Practices 3(3): 168-182.

Abstract: Missionaries who attempted to convert Pacific Islanders to Protestant Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often engaged in public contests meant to demonstrate the power of Jehovah and the weakness of indigenous gods. These ‘power encounters’, as they came to be called, depended on a relationship between wonder and anti-wonder: missionaries were fully invested in the concept of wonder as radical alterity, as the success of their efforts depended on local populations’ willingness and capacity to open up to the previously unimaginable; but to make new encounters with wonder possible, missionaries had to challenge local expectations of spiritual efficacy, denying local sites’ original potential to evoke wonder. In this article, I begin by examining several cases of power encounters in Oceania, including Fiji, Tonga, and Solomon Islands. I then turn specifically to trees as spiritual sites that were prominent in old Fiji – and therefore the target of ax-wielding missionaries – but remain today as sites of a perceived fundamental, indigenous, land-based spiritual efficacy.

Bond and Timmer, “Wondrous Geographies and Historicity”

Bond, Nathan and Jaap Timmer. 2017. Wondrous Geographies and Historicity for State-Building on Malaita, Solomon Islands. Journal of Religious and Political Change 3(3): 136-151.

Abstract: Contemporary anthropological debates over the political implications of the global explosion of Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity frequently center on a ‘break with the past’ and reliance on the working of divine power. In this article, we intervene in this debate by exploring people’s wonder about new global geography and historicity and the ways in which this wonder is opening up a space for local state building by an Evangelical/Pentecostal movement on the island of Malaita, Solomon Islands. We present and discuss the origins of a particular theocratic impulse of this movement to show how the movement’s theology evokes and supports the institution of a form of governance. This challenges the widespread observation that Evangelical/Pentecostal believers are politically quiet.

 

Ikeuchi, “From ethnic religion to generative selves”

Ikeuchi, Suma. 2017. “From ethnic religion to generative selves: Pentecostalism among Nikkei Brazilian migrants in Japan,” Contemporary Japan, 1-16. Early online publication. DOI: 10.1080/18692729.2017.1351046

Abstract: Starting in the early 1990s, Brazil-derived Pentecostal denominations have flourished among Nikkei Brazilian migrant communities in Japan. While some researchers have characterized the phenomenon of Pentecostal conversion in this ethnographic context as a formation of ‘ethnic religion,’ the individuals often characterize themselves as primarily Christian. This article takes this apparent disconnect as the point of departure to investigate the relationship between ethnicity and religious identity. The concept of ethnic religion indicates an overlap between ethnic group and religious community, oftentimes prioritizing ethnic categories as the basic units of analysis. My ethnographic findings based on 14 months of fieldwork in Toyota, Japan, however, suggest that the very boundary of ‘ethnic group’ is fluid and unstable, which in turn shows that ethnicity cannot be taken as an analytical given. By tracing the varying narratives of four migrant converts, I detail the ways in which Pentecostalism in fact contributes to the proliferation of identities, both ethnic and non-ethnic. For example, migrant converts speak of Pentecostal ideas, practices, and networks as ‘Brazilian,’ ‘Japanese,’ and/or ‘just Christian,’ depending on the context. In conclusion, I argue that Pentecostal churches in this ethnographic context seem to give rise to generative selves rather than an ethnic religion.

de la Cruz, “To Which Earthly Categories Do Not Apply”

de la Cruz, Deirdre. 2017.”To Which Earthly Categories Do Not Apply: Spirit Photography, Filipino Ghosts, and the Global Occult at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Material Religion, 13(3): 301-328 .

Abstract: In this article I examine an album of spirit photographs published in Barcelona circa 1903. The album comprises two photograph collections, one of photos taken in a studio in Manila, the Philippines, another belonging to Dr. Theodore Hansmann, a German immigrant to the USA who was one of the country’s most ardent advocates and researchers of spirit photography. Apart from their overt share in a genre, it is unclear what connects these two collections and who exactly brought them together. I draw from this ambiguity in order to explore the tension between spiritism as a philosophy and practice that traveled via historically specific colonial routes and were localized to particular political and cultural contexts, and spiritism as a global occult movement founded precisely on the promise of transcending metaphysical and spatial boundaries.

 

Klaits, ed. The Request and the Gift in Religious and Humanitarian Endeavors

Klaits, Frederick, ed. The Request and the Gift in Religious and Humanitarian Endeavors (New York: Palgave Macmillan, 2017)

Publisher’s Description: This collection revisits classical anthropological treatments of the gift by documenting how people may be valued both through the requests they make and through what they give. Many humanitarian practitioners, the authors propose, regard giving to those in need as the epitome of moral action but are liable to view those people’s requests for charity as merely utilitarian. Yet in many religious discourses, prayers and requests for alms are highly valued as moral acts, obligatory for establishing relationships with the divine. Framing the moral qualities of asking and giving in conjunction with each other, the contributors explore the generation of trust and mistrust, the politics of charity and accountability, and tensions between universalism and particularism in religious philanthropy.

Tomlinson and Millie, eds. The Monologic Imagination

Tomlinson, Matt and Julian Millie, eds. The Monologic Imagination (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Publisher’s Description: The pioneering and hugely influential work of Mikhail Bakhtin has led scholars in recent decades to see all discourse and social life as inherently “dialogical.” No speaker speaks alone, because our words are always partly shaped by our interactions with others, past and future. Moreover, we never fashion ourselves entirely by ourselves, but always do so in concert with others. Bakhtin thus decisively reshaped modern understandings of language and subjectivity. And yet, the contributors to this volume argue that something is potentially overlooked with too close a focus on dialogism: many speakers, especially in charged political and religious contexts, work energetically at crafting monologues, single-voiced statements to which the only expected response is agreement or faithful replication. Drawing on ethnographic case studies from the United States, Iran, Cuba, Indonesia, Algeria, and Papua New Guinea, the authors argue that a focus on “the monologic imagination” gives us new insights into languages’ political design and religious force, and deepens our understandings of the necessary interplay between monological and dialogical tendencies.