Scherz, “Enduring the Awkward Embrace”

Scherz, China. 2017. Enduring the Awkward Embrace: Ontology and Ethical Work in a Ugandan Convent. American Anthropologist 120(1): 102-112.

The first phase of anthropology’s turn toward ethics called our attention to freedom, evaluative reflection, and projects of intentional self‐cultivation. While the inclusion of such moments of intentionality and freedom provided a helpful corrective to overly determinist frameworks for the study of morality and social life, we lost sight of other aspects of ethical life and personhood that are less easily controlled. Drawing on an ethnographic case that might otherwise be considered exemplary of a Foucauldian “care of the self,” this article draws on texts from Africanist anthropology and Franciscan theology to explore how members of a community of Ugandan, Kenyan, and Tanzanian Franciscan nuns living and working at a residential home for orphans and children with disabilities in central Uganda understand and engage with the uncertain potential of moral transformation.

Bielo, “Flower, soil, water, stone”

Bielo, James S. “Flower, soil, water, stone: Biblical landscape items and Protestant materiality.” Journal of Material Culture. First Published June 18, 2018

Protestants mobilize objects such as ‘Holy Land’ flowers, Jordan River stones, vials of Dead Sea water, sand from Lake Tiberias, and Golgotha soil as potent metonymic resources, promising a kind of direct access to the scriptural past and its sacred stories. This article uses this case of biblical landscape items to reflect on the historic ambivalence that characterizes Protestant relations with religious materiality. Building on scholarship that has demonstrated the prolific role of religious materiality in Protestant ritual and everyday lifeworlds, the author extends this analysis by asking: under what conditions do Protestants experience materiality as untroubled and under what conditions is a more anxious disposition activated? To differentiate among conditions, the author proposes that it is helpful to conceptualize Protestant engagements with materiality vis-à-vis legitimized frames (e.g. pedagogy, devotion, evangelism, entertainment). Drawing together archival and ethnographic data, primarily among US Protestants, the article argues that when Protestants function within legitimized frames they are prone to embrace biblical landscape items, but when they find themselves out of frame, their engagement with this particular species of materiality becomes troubled.

Halvorson, “Conversionary Sites”

Halvorson, Britt. Conversionary Sites: Transforming Medical Aid and Global Christianity from Madagascar to Minnesota. 2018. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Drawing on more than two years of participant observation in the American Midwest and in Madagascar among Lutheran clinicians, volunteer laborers, healers, evangelists, and former missionaries, Conversionary Sites investigates the role of religion in the globalization of medicine. Based on immersive research of a transnational Christian medical aid program, Britt Halvorson tells the story of a thirty-year-old initiative that aimed to professionalize and modernize colonial-era evangelism. Creatively blending perspectives on humanitarianism, global medicine, and the anthropology of Christianity, she argues that the cultural spaces created by these programs operate as multistranded “conversionary sites,” where questions of global inequality, transnational religious fellowship, and postcolonial cultural and economic forces are negotiated.

A nuanced critique of the ambivalent relationships among religion, capitalism, and humanitarian aid, Conversionary Sites draws important connections between religion and science, capitalism and charity, and the US and the Global South.

Haynes, “Why can’t a pastor be president of a ‘Christian Nation’?”

Haynes, Naomi. 2018. Why can’t a pastor be president of a “Christian Nation”? Pentecostal Politics as Religious Mediation. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review. 41(1): 60-74.

Why has Nevers Mumba, one of Zambia’s most famous Pentecostal leaders, been so unsuccessful in his two presidential bids? Previous analyses have blamed Mumba’s political woes on a presumed Pentecostal belief that politics is a lesser vocation than the pastorate. In contrast to these interpretations, I argue that Pentecostals in Zambia are very committed to the notion that, at least ideally, their leaders should be pastors, and more specifically that they should be effective mediators of the divine covenant established when Zambia was declared a “Christian nation.” The problem with Mumba is, therefore, not that pastors are not supposed to be politicians, but rather that he has failed to convince believers that he is a good mediator. This article opens up new horizons in the study of Pentecostal politics, suggesting that populism in countries with high Pentecostal populations is increasingly defined by the capacity for religious mediation.

 

Pedersen, “The Politics of Paradox”

Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2017. “The Politics of Paradox: Kierkegaardian theology and national conservatism in Denmark.” In Distortion: Social Processes Beyond the Structured and Systemic, edited by Nigel Rappaport, 84-106. London: Routledge

In the autumn of 2010, an article with the headline ‘DF [Dansk Folkeparti, Danish Peoples’ Party]: The Concept of Menneskesyn Does Not Exist’ was printed in the Danish centre-left newspaper Politiken. The piece begins with the journalist describing how one councillor for the Criminal Justice Department, a Louise Aagard Larsen, had visited a prison. Here, an inmate had asked her to explain the Danish Peoples’ Party’s (henceforth DF) menneskesyn (lit. ‘vision of humanity’, meaning general concept of humanity, including notions of whether humans are good or bad, and how they should treat each other). Realizing that she did not know how to answer, Ms Larsen sent an email to the press office of DF. ‘The reply surprised her’, explains the journalist, and then cites the email that Ms Larsen received from Kenneth Kristensen Berth, who presented himself as ‘an MA in sociology and history’, and as someone speaking on behalf of the press office of DF (Berth later ran for parliament and is now a Danish MP for DF):

The concept menneskesyn has been invented for the occasion to criticise the Danish Peoples’ Party for our position regarding foreigners and immigrants. The concept has been launched by the left and it is totally devoid of meaning, so one cannot answer your question.

Handman, “Critical Failures”

Handman, Courtney. “Critical failures.” Critical Research on Religion 6, no. 1 (2018): 16-20.

Critique in evangelical Christian contexts has usually been seen as a practice in service of finding the universal. However, I examine a number of contexts in which Christian critique seems to produce serial difference. I suggest that this seriality may itself be seen as a basis on which possibility and alternatives can be found, rather than just as serial failures to reach the universal. I briefly compare different events of serial transformations, in the United States as well as in Papua New Guinea, the site of my ethnographic research on denominational difference.