Pond-de Wit, Houtman, Exalto, Lieburg, Roeland, and Wisse, “Buildings and Bibles Between Profanation and Sacralization”

Abstract: Based on an ethnographic case study of three recently erected church buildings in the Dutch Bible Belt, this article demonstrates how orthodox Reformed congregations in the Netherlands define church buildings—especially the auditoria—and bibles as simultaneously profane and mediating the sacred. These at first glance ambivalent discourses are informed by a particular semiotic ideology, which maintains that material spaces and objects like these are sacralized if, and only if, individual believers can meaningfully relate them to their personal spiritual experiences. This ideology makes a primary attitude of profanization of material forms indispensable, because any preexistent sacredness of matter would precisely rule out these personal spiritual experiences.

Conference Dispatch: 2018 Preaching as Performance

2018 Preaching as Performance, October 26-28, Calgary, Alberta.

By: Kyle Byron (University of Toronto)

In October of 2018, the Department of Classics and Religion at University of Calgary, in conjunction with the biannual meeting of the Collectif d’Anthropologie et d’Histoire du Spirituel et des Affects, hosted an interdisciplinary conference titled Preaching as Performance. The goal of the conference was “to foster research on the anthropology and history of religious teaching and public communication by providing an occasion for the interdisciplinary and comparative analysis of preaching as a performance event,” focusing specifically on “the way preaching uses theatrical, material, sensory, linguistic, and affective resources to produce religious sentiment, form religious subjects, and transmit doctrinal messages.” The conference’s 28 presenters included anthropologists, historians, religious studies scholars, and dramatists. While the call emphasized that preaching as a form of performance cuts across religious traditions, roughly two-thirds of the conference’s presenters focused on the Christian tradition. Nonetheless, the conference was historically and geographically diverse, with presentations on preaching traditions in Canada, China, France, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Japan, Nigeria, and the United States.  Continue reading

Bjork-James, “Gender and Religion”

Bjork-James, Sophie. “Gender and Religion.” Oxford Bibliographies

Abstract: Gender is central to most religious orders. In turn, religions have a significant impact on gendered relations. The study of gender and religion stems from a broader interest in feminist anthropology, and multiple approaches to the study of gender and religion have been developed. An early approach explores the ways that religious practice influences male and female behavior. Studies in this vein explore changing gender norms attending conversion to new religions, or the ways that women’s and men’s roles are constrained and shaped by religious practice. More-recent work analyzes the ways that gender itself structures religious and spiritual ethics and practice. While patriarchal relations are central to many global religions, this is not a universal principle. Some religious orders emphasize cooperation and respect for women over hierarchy. Others may prioritize male leadership but indirectly provide women with types of ethical identities and spiritual positions that create spaces for women to practice their own agency and forms of power. The ethnographic record also demonstrates that there is often a significant difference between how patriarchal gender relations are prioritized in formal religious spaces and how they are practiced. Gender often shapes the religious meanings of space and materiality. Continue reading

Hardin, “Faith and the Pursuit of Health”

Hardin, Jessica. 2018. Faith and the Pursuit of Health: Cardiometabolic Disorders in Samoa. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 

Publisher’s DescriptionFaith and the Pursuit of Health explores how Pentecostal Christians manage chronic illness in ways that sheds light on health disparities and social suffering in Samoa, a place where rates of obesity and related cardiometabolic disorders have reached population-wide levels. Pentecostals grapple with how to maintain the health of their congregants in an environment that fosters cardiometabolic disorders. They find ways to manage these forms of sickness and inequality through their churches and the friendships developed within these institutions. Examining how Pentecostal Christianity provides many Samoans with tools to manage day-to-day issues around health and sickness, Jessica Hardin argues for understanding the synergies between how Christianity and biomedicine practice chronicity.

Golomski, “Funeral Culture”

Golomski, Casey. 2018. Funeral Culture: AIDS, Work, and Cultural Change in an African Kingdom. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: Contemporary forms of living and dying in Swaziland cannot be understood apart from the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to anthropologist Casey Golomski. In Africa’s last absolute monarchy, the story of 15 years of global collaboration in treatment and intervention is also one of ordinary people facing the work of caring for the sick and dying and burying the dead. Golomski’s ethnography shows how AIDS posed challenging questions about the value of life, culture, and materiality to drive new forms and practices for funerals. Many of these forms and practices―newly catered funeral feasts, an expanded market for life insurance, and the kingdom’s first crematorium―are now conspicuous across the landscape and culturally disruptive in a highly traditionalist setting. This powerful and original account details how these new matters of death, dying, and funerals have become entrenched in peoples’ everyday lives and become part of a quest to create dignity in the wake of a devastating epidemic.

Tomlinson, “Repetition in the work of a Samoan Christian theologian”

Tomlinson, Matt. “Repetition in the work of a Samoan Christian theologian: Or, what does it mean to speak of the Perfect Pig of God?” History and Anthropology

Abstract: The Samoan Christian theologian Ama’amalele Tofaeono draws on diverse intellectual sources to articulate an ecological theology both distinctively Samoan and self-consciously Oceanic. I examine Tofaeono’s writings through the lens of recent work in linguistic anthropology on repetition and replication. By paying close attention to the ways texts and their original contexts, authorship, and intentions can be brought forward into new contexts, such anthropological work offers a useful perspective on Tofaeono’s theological arguments about creation and salvation. Tofaeono frames creation and salvation as actions that are necessarily ongoing—matters of repetition rather than rupture, a kind of continuity that depends not on fundamental durability but on repeated reengagement. An appreciation of Tofaeono’s articulation of time and repetition can in turn illuminate the anthropological study of social transformation and help develop productive interdisciplinary dialogue between anthropology and theology.

Negotiating Respect: Book Review

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2016. Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

By: Ruthie Meadows (University of Nevada, Reno)

In 2016, I took an evening stroll through the small city of Baracoa, Cuba as the sun set against façades of brightly-painted, columned wooden homes. In a country internationally-renowned for its rich Afro-Cuban musical genres – rumba, Latin jazz, timba, reggaetón, batá – I was surprised to encounter an unexpected sound dominating the nighttime aural landscape: the songs of evangelical Christianity. Through open doorways and windows leading into private homes, passersby could see (and hear) groups of singers standing in circles singing evangelical hymns and praise songs, their proud harmonies spilling out from living rooms into the public domain of the streets. Incredibly, I re-encountered this scenario in home after home throughout my walk, passing by multiple groups as they intoned their own sets of praise songs and asserted – through sonic presence – the arrival and dominion of evangelical Christianity within Cuba’s post-atheist religious environment.

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Feller, “Portable Power, Religious Swag”

Feller, Gavin. “Portable Power, Religious Swag: Mediating Authority in Brazillian Neo-Pentecostalism.” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. 14(3). 

Abstract: This study is an ethnographic and conceptual analysis of religious objects, their uses, and mediation of authority within the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Universal Church) in Brazil. Drawing on scholarship within media studies, religion and media, and material religion, I distinguish between artifacts used to cement implicit contracts between Universal Church followers and their church community, which I call contractual media, or swag, and those that followers bring to meetings to be blessed and then take home to mediate both good and evil forces in family, work, and social life—these I call portable media. While portable object media are seen by their owners as powerful tools, contractual media, on the other hand, create implicit power relations that keep followers tied to the institutional church in a reciprocal exchange predicated upon expected prosperity as evidence of faithful attendance, fidelity, and personal sacrifice. The physical exchange of material goods in religious spaces constitutes a perpetuation rather than a disruption of institutional religious authority. As infrastructure, contractual object media establish and maintain conditions for otherwise mundane materials to mediate power on a daily basis. Through attention toward portable and contract object media, as part of what I am calling material microstructure, we can further complicate religious authority as it is mediated through objects, not just in one-way flows but as dynamic exchanges and trade-offs between personal empowerment and institutional control.

Malara, “The Alimentary Forms of Religious Life”

Malara, Diego. “The Alimentary Forms of Religious Life: Technologies of the Other, Lenience, and the Ethics of Ethiopian Orthodox Fasting.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology. 62(3): 21-41. 

Abstract: Focusing on the practice of fasting, this article traces the ethical efforts and conundrums of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians who take their religion seriously, but do not necessarily see themselves as disciplined believers. I argue that the flexibility and lenience of the Orthodox system allow for morally ambivalent disciplinary projects that, in order to preserve their efficacy, must be sustained by an array of intimate relationships with more pious individuals who are fasting for others or on others’ behalf. By examining this relational economy of spiritual care, its temporalities and divisions of labor, I ask whether recent preoccupations with ‘technologies of the self’ in the anthropology of religion might have overlooked the relevance of ‘technologies of the other’.

Reinhardt, “Discipline (and Lenience) Beyond the Self”

Reinhardt, Bruno. “Discipline (and Lenience) Beyond the Self: Discipleship in a Pentecostal-Charismatic Organization.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology. 62(3): 42-66.

Abstract: Lighthouse Chapel International (LCI) is a Ghanaian Pentecostal-charismatic organization with a transnational reach. In this article, I analyze the pedagogical system whereby this denomination has introduced converts into its ‘church planting’ mission. LCI leaders are keenly aware of both the necessity and the perils of discipline to the Christian life, exemplifying two stances of Pentecostal-charismatic ethics and politics: its quantitative concern with accessibility, and its qualitative concern with piety. Attempts to balance these relatively autonomous trends engender a gradational and distributive approach to discipline and leniency in LCI, which calibrates disciplinary demands according to converts’ level of ‘spiritual maturity’. This article takes the dialectics of discipline and lenience that characterizes LCI’s ecclesiology as an opportunity to reconsider religious subject formation beyond the dominant problem of ‘self-fashioning’.