Reviewed by: Annie Blazer (College of William and Mary)
Katherine Dugan provides a window onto the lives of a small group of devout Catholic millennials. These young Catholics enthusiastically share their vision of a personally rewarding religious life that need not require isolation from popular culture. While much contemporary scholarship on young Catholics focuses on why young people are leaving the faith, Dugan asks: for those who stay, what does Catholicism mean to them? She ends up with an insightful picture of the vanguard of youth Catholicism that carries implications for the future of the tradition in the US. Continue reading
Reviewed by: Brendan Jamal Thornton (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Depending on what you are looking for, the title of Jessica Johnson’s 2018 volume from Duke University Press may be a bit misleading: you need not be home alone or draw the curtains closed in order to crack the spine of this thoughtful text which is based on a decade of comprehensive ethnographic research on Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and its shock jock pastor Mark Driscoll. From 1996 to 2014, Driscoll built an evangelical empire whose quick ascent to national prominence was matched only by its precipitous fall from grace following a series of scandals that would topple the church and sully its reputation. Distinguishing himself as a provocateur through controversial teachings on marriage and relationships, Driscoll’s relatively novel brand of mondo evangelical theology won him both celebrity and notoriety among white middle-class Americans who found his signature sermonizing on sex to be as compelling as it was titillating. According to Johnson, Driscoll’s appeal lay in his rhetorical talents and “gift” for hyperbole, skills that for over a decade routinely seduced audiences who were at once stirred and troubled by his unorthodox preaching on “biblical oral sex,” and other salacious topics. Continue reading
By: Timothy Carroll (University College, London)
In A Diagram for Fire, Jon Bialecki draws upon his ethnographic field research amongst Vineyard churches – principally in Southern California – to lay the groundwork for ‘a kind of commonality’ (p. xviii) not only to Vineyard religiosity, and wider evangelical charismatic and Pentecostal movements, but even (in the conclusion) Christianity and religion more broadly. Most of the pages, however, focus on specific case studies of miracle accounts, small group discussions on hearing from God, prayer circles and other examples of charismatic religiosity in order to advance, explicate, and problematize Bialecki’s concept of ‘the diagram for fire’. It is a long review, longer than most on this blog. For those not interested in a long review, I offer an abbreviated synopsis:
tl;dr: It is a rich, insightful, and at times dense and highly nuanced anthropological argument about the event moment, and how this moment is situated and becomes recognised as a miracle. Probably best for advanced UG or research students as well as professionals interested in charismatic Christianity or a more structuralist/frameworks approach (as opposed to an epistemological or concepts approach) to ontology. If you’ve only time for one chapter, read Chapter 3.
If you’ve read Diagram, skip the outline, and go straight to the Discussion, below. The Outline offers a summary of the chapters, and provides a context for the discussion at the end. Continue reading
Dulin, John. 2017. Transvaluing ISIS in Orthodox Christian–Majority Ethiopia: On the Inhibition of Group Violence. Current Anthropology 58(6): 785-804.
Abstract: In anthropological works on collective violence, the term transvaluation refers to a process in which a particular conflict is reimagined on a higher scale, giving the conflict a general significance that can lead to wide-scale group violence. This article argues that by taking into account the varied iterations of transcendence and evaluation in transvaluative reframings, a reformulated concept of transvaluation can be used to understand the forces that influence collectivities to commit violence and to abstain from violence in a volatile situation. It provides an ethnographic account of collective reactions in northwest Ethiopia to a film released by ISIS in 2015 that documents the massacre of dozens of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian migrants in Libya. Using a reworked concept of transvaluation, it elucidates how actors framed the event within different imaginative scales and in reference to different values. These framings, I argue, have implications for whether collectivities anticipate that violent action will receive a positive or negative evaluation. While some Orthodox Christians privately equated ISIS with Ethiopian Muslims, which could have motivated collective scapegoating and violence, all the public transvaluations in this case worked to delink ISIS from Ethiopian Muslims and converged in casting a judgmental gaze on retributive violence. The article addresses how different transvaluations—religious, subversive, and nationalistic—compete and converge to make sense of destabilizing events and shape collective action in response to them.
Publisher’s Description: The Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.
Read an e-version for free courtesy of luminosoa!
Publisher’s Description: How do people experience spirituality through what they see, hear, touch, and smell? Sonja Luehrmann and an international group of scholars assess how sensory experience shapes prayer and ritual practice among Eastern Orthodox Christians. Prayer, even when performed privately, is considered as a shared experience and act that links individuals and personal beliefs with a broader, institutional, or imagined faith community. It engages with material, visual, and aural culture including icons, relics, candles, pilgrimage, bells, and architectural spaces. Whether touching upon the use of icons in the age of digital and electronic media, the impact of Facebook on prayer in Ethiopia, or the implications of praying using recordings, amplifiers, and loudspeakers, these timely essays present a sophisticated overview of the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianities. Taken as a whole they reveal prayer as a dynamic phenomenon in the devotional and ritual lives of Eastern Orthodox believers across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.
Table of Contents:
Introduction: The Senses of Prayer in Eastern Orthodox Christianity / Sonja Luehrmann
Part I: Senses
1. Becoming Orthodox: The Mystery and Mastery of a Christian Tradition / Vlad Naumescu
A Missionary Primer / Ioann Veniaminov
2. Listening and the Sacramental Life: Degrees of Mediation in Greek Orthodox Christianity / Jeffers Engelhardt
Creating an Image for Prayer / Sonja Luehrmann
3. Imagining Holy Personhood: Anthropological Thresholds of the Icon / Angie Heo
Syriac as a lingua sacra: Speaking the Language of Christ in India / Vlad Naumescu
4. Authorizing: The Paradoxes of Praying by the Book / Sonja Luehrmann
Part II: Worlds
5. Inhabiting Orthodox Russia: Religious Nomadism and the Puzzle of Belonging / Jeanne Kormina
Baraka: Mixing Muslims, Christians, and Jews / Angie Heo
6. Sharing Space: On the Publicity of Prayer, between an Ethiopian Village and the Rest of the World / Tom Boylston
Prayers for Cars, Weddings, and Well-Being: Orthodox Prayers en route in Syria / Andreas Bandak
7. Struggling Bodies at the Crossroads of Economy and Tradition: The Case of Contemporary Russian Convents / Daria Dubovka
Competing Prayers for Ukraine / Sonja Luehrmann
8. Orthodox Revivals: Prayer, Charisma, and Liturgical Religion / Simion Pop
Epilogue: Not-Orthodoxy/Orthodoxy’s Others / William A. Christian Jr.
Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.
Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.
Abstract: The image of a violated social contract has long held a distinctive place in African American Christian thought about injustice. This essay discusses the efforts made by members of Pentecostal churches in Buffalo, New York, to enter into forms of contract with God that supersede the broken social contracts they see as devaluing their lives. These believers listen to God’s words as expressed in prophetic utterances for “confirmation” of the significance of events. In their view, “catching the word” through faithful listening enables them to create social commitments on their own terms, whereas their creative capacities are liable to be alienated from them if they listen improperly. Applying David Graeber’s revisionist treatment of “fetishism” as a form of social creativity, this essay explores how believers create their blessings within a dialogic space involving themselves, God, the devil, and pastor- prophets with exceptional abilities to listen to and convey the terms of the divine contract.