Abstract: During the course of fieldwork at a Christian mission hospital in southern Zambia, I discovered that vernacular healers in the surrounding rural area were being visited by ‘angel spirits’ (bangelo) who offered them efficacious advice on how best to treat the patients under their care. According to the healers who encountered them, these angel spirits physically resembled white people (bakuwa), they dressed in white clothing, and their behaviour was inherently unpredictable. In this article, I consider what the presence of these angel spirits can tell us about moral attitudes towards humanitarian biomedicine in the region. But rather than focusing on these angel spirits alone, I situate them alongside a different non-human actor that has also been strongly identified with humanitarian biomedicine in southern Africa: the munyama or ‘vampire’. By describing the behaviour of the human and non-human actors who have been historically associated with medical humanitarianism in southern Zambia – vampires, angels, and European and American medical missionaries – I argue that it is possible to better understand why people in the region, from the mid-twentieth century to the present-day, have developed such a morally ambivalent attitude towards humanitarian biomedicine.
Abstract: The story of how the Lisu of southwest China were evangelized one hundred years ago by the China Inland Mission is a familiar one in mission circles. The subsequent history of the Lisu church, however, is much less well known. Songs of the Lisu Hills brings this history up to date, recounting the unlikely story of how the Lisu maintained their faith through twenty-two years of government persecution and illuminating how Lisu Christians transformed the text-based religion brought by the missionaries into a faith centered around an embodied set of Christian practices.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork as well as archival research, this volume documents the development of Lisu Christianity, both through larger social forces and through the stories of individual believers. It explores how the Lisu, most of whom remain subsistence farmers, have oriented their faith less around cognitive notions of belief and more around participation in a rhythm of shared Christian practices, such as line dancing, attending church and festivals, evangelizing, working in each other’s fields, and singing translated Western hymns. These embodied practices demonstrate how Christianity developed in the mountainous margins of the world’s largest atheist state.
A much-needed expansion of the Lisu story into a complex study of the evolution of a world Christian community, this book will appeal to scholars working at the intersections of World Christianity, anthropology of religion, ethnography, Chinese Christianity, and mission studies.
Steinert, Isidora Urrutia and Eduardo Valenzuela Carvallo. 2019. “Religiosity at the Roadside: Memorials, Animitas, and Shrines on a Chilean Highway.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 34(3): 447-468.
Abstract: Roadside memorials devoted to vehicle-related deaths are increasingly common across the globe. Scholars have generally emphasised their commemorative status—as sites where a private memory is publicly displayed—underestimating, however, their religious dimension. This article is based on research which involved the content analysis of photographs taken during multiple visits to the 94 roadside memorials existing in 2015 on Route 78, a major Chilean highway connecting Santiago (Chile’s capital city) and San Antonio (one of the country’s main sea ports). We argue that Chilean roadside memorials are not solely commemorative sites but primarily animitas that have a core (popular) religious component: they are privileged locations where salvific grace is dispensed, acting as mediators between the living and the divinity and connecting the sacred and profane worlds. Furthermore, we suggest that the tragic nature of the deaths they commemorate confers on them a miraculous efficacy which may transform the sites into shrines and the victims into folk saints.
Abstract: Although dance is a common religious expression, its place in the Christian tradition has been contested. In modern Protestant Norway, dance has mostly been considered irrelevant to church life or even sinful. In recent decades, however, dance has become increasingly common in Norwegian churches. The present analysis of empirical data on dance in Christian settings in contemporary Norway is based on participant observation and interviews. While younger dancers (born after 1990) consider it natural to dance in church, and are usually welcome to do so, older participants have met significant resistance. When dancing, dancers find personal meaning (wellbeing, processing emotions and life events), social meaning (communication, belonging), and religious meaning (contact with God, prayer, growth). Dance emerges as a part of lived religion that clearly highlights how bodies matter, and how spiritualities are gendered, in this contribution to understanding the embodied dimensions of religion.
Abstract: This article examines a series of spatial practices called ‘cross walks’ and ‘cross vigils’ undertaken by a Pentecostal Christian church in West Belfast, Northern Ireland. It discusses the ways in which cross walk and vigil participants used imitative practices to bring divine power to bear on the urban spaces and place-specific issues of the church’s local area. The article begins by discussing the church itself, and the ways in which participants understand themselves as situated within the ethno-political designations of ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ in Northern Ireland. It studies the various exemplars set up for the spatial practices in official discourse, and the ways in which these exemplars created a gendered narrative. Finally, it examines the links to Northern Ireland’s parading tradition and the church pastor’s suggested response to a local dispute over parade routes.
Kirby, Benjamin. 2019. “Pentecostalism, Economics, Capitalism: Putting The Protestant Ethic to Work.” Religion 49(4): 571-591.
Abstract: In recent years, academic interest in the nexus between Pentecostalism, economics, and capitalism has grown significantly. Notably, the vast majority of publications that have addressed this interface are to some degree conceptually framed by Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. In this article I consider what The Protestant Ethic might contribute to our understanding of the relationship between Pentecostalism and capitalism. First, I assess a particularly noteworthy attempt to draw Pentecostalism into Weber’s genealogical account which draws a series of parallels between Pentecostalism and ascetic Protestantism. Second, I discuss the merits of an approach that is not primarily genealogical but remains indebted to the concepts that Weber introduces, elaborating a new affinity between Pentecostalism and capitalism in its present iteration. With this article, I seek to comprehensively extend the scope and sharpen the conceptual underpinnings of future analysis and empirical work in this area.
Abstract: Pentecostalism is currently the fastest-growing Christian movement, with hundreds of millions of followers. This growth overwhelmingly takes place outside of the West, and women make up 75 percent of the membership. The contributors to Spirit on the Move examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community and access to power. Exploring a range of topics, from Neo-Pentecostal churches in Ghana that help women challenge gender norms to evangelical gospel musicians in Brazil, the contributors show how Pentecostalism helps black women draw attention to and seek remediation from the violence and injustices brought on by civil war, capitalist exploitation, racism, and the failures of the state. In fleshing out the experiences, theologies, and innovations of black women Pentecostals, the contributors show how Pentecostal belief and its various practices reflect the movement’s complexity, reach, and adaptability to specific cultural and political formations.
Abstract: In the 1990s, many evangelical Christian organizations and church leaders began to acknowledge their long history of racism and launched efforts at becoming more inclusive of people of color. While much of this racial reconciliation movement has not directly confronted systemic racism’s structural causes, there exists a smaller countermovement within evangelicalism, primarily led by women of color who are actively engaged in antiracism and social justice struggles. In Unreconciled Andrea Smith examines these movements through a critical ethnic studies lens, evaluating the varying degrees to which evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have addressed racism. Drawing on evangelical publications, sermons, and organization statements, as well as ethnographic fieldwork and participation in evangelical events, Smith shows how evangelicalism is largely unable to effectively challenge white supremacy due to its reliance upon discourses of whiteness. At the same time, the work of progressive evangelical women of color not only demonstrates that evangelical Christianity can be an unexpected place in which to find theoretical critique and social justice organizing but also shows how critical ethnic studies’ interventions can be applied broadly across political and religious divides outside the academy.
Abstract: Based on over two years of fieldwork with Faith Family Missionary Baptist Church, I illustrate how this congregation grounds their sense of place when place itself is impermanent. In the midst of poverty, unemployment, and violence, the community views their Christian calling in their mission to reshape the younger, disenfranchised generation into godly individuals. Congregants build fellowship by pooling their resources in an attempt to follow the call of God to do good, and to recruit and save the disenfranchised. I argue that this congregation’s sense of place is shaped by and grounded in this fellowship, i.e., the concrete relationships they form through such practices. Despite having few resources to generate a large impact in the broader city, the congregation acts as a system of support crucial to individuals in these neighborhoods. While the congregation’s location in the city is invisible to many outsiders due to their mobility, further attention should be paid to such alternate forms of civic participation and practice.
Abstract: Kenyan Pentecostals in London (re)frame their migration as a “mission” to bring the United Kingdom back into the Kingdom of God. Focusing on the case of one church founded in the diaspora, this article examines how the pastor and church members try to realize this mission by exploring the kind of place they imagine God’s Kingdom to be and their efforts to create it in London. The “spatial turn” in studies of religion has followed two general trajectories, broadly referred to as the politics and the poetics of space. Studies of Pentecostal placemaking in particular have examined how Pentecostals use church‐planting as a strategy of territorialization, by which they make their presence seen and felt in specific localities, as well as how they phenomenologically “do” space. This article contributes to these discussions by elucidating a particular form of sociality as an important aspect of religious placemaking. In doing so, I argue that Pentecostal projects of self‐making and placemaking converge in what I refer to as “socializing space.” At the same time, through its focus on an independent church, the article extends our understanding of African diasporic churches beyond the well‐studied and ‐resourced transnational African Pentecostal networks and megachurches.