Kaell, “Semi-Public Hints of Jewish Lineage in Messianic Judaism”

Kaell, Hillary. (2020) “Semi-Public Hints of Jewish Lineage in Messianic Judaism.” Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2020.1745862.

Abstract: Based on a multi-sited study of five Messianic Jewish congregations in North America, this paper analyses the widespread tendency for gentile (non-Jewish) adherents to hint about having ‘Jewish DNA’. I argue that Messianic Judaism’s theology and social structures promote the search for Jewish roots while also suppressing it, which results in the grassroots circulation of hints in a ‘semi-public’ register. Bringing together work by Kim Tallbear on gene talk and Veena Das on rumours, I frame these hints as unfinished stories that may benefit believers within religious communities oriented around individual seeking. However, my second point concerns how such ‘hints’ serve as, what Ritchie Lowry calls, ‘a primary means for informal social control’. The semi-public genre encourages informal strictures, often based on the racialisation of ‘Jewish DNA’. I end by exploring another aspect related to registers of disclosure regarding my role as a fieldworker who conceals other people’s secrets.

Lukasik, Middle Eastern Christians and the US immigration debate

Lukasik, Candace. 2020. “Middle Eastern Christians and the US Immigration Debate.” Anthropology News website, March 5, 2020. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1367

The Trump administration has focused policy on aiding persecuted Middle Eastern Christians, and the Copts have figured prominently in such initiatives. Although Copts stand as the exemplary Christian victims of Islamic terrorism within such circles, their struggles as people of color and migrants in the age of Donald Trump are not alleviated by their privileged status among Christian leaders and Western policymakers. Along with other communities of color, they face discrimination because of their racial difference from white America, and Copts encounter the same sort of targeted profiling and hate crimes as do their American Muslim counterparts, racialized and securitized after 9/11.

Kormina and Naumescu, “A new ‘Great Schism’?”

Kormina, Jeanne and Vlad Naumescu. 2020. “A new ‘Great Schism’? Theopolitics of communion and canonical territory in the Orthodox Church.” Anthropology Today 36(1): 7-11.

This article examines the recent ‘schism’ in Eastern Orthodoxy to show how religion and politics are strongly intertwined in disputes over territory and sovereignty. It argues that two logics are at play in this conflict: one grounded in the theological‐political concept of ‘canonical territory’, the other in the notion of ‘communion’ at the basis of the Christian fellowship. The first is deployed in claims for national sovereignty as well as imperial domination, while the latter can make or break communities of faith. Drawing a parallel between the post‐socialist revival of religion in Ukraine and the current mobilization on the ground, it shows how these contradictory logics shape the fate of people, churches and states.

Wintrup, “Speaking With Vampires and Angels”

Wintrup, James. 2019. “Speaking With Vampires and Angels: The Ambient Afterlives of Christian Humanitarianism in Rural Zambia.” History and Anthropology

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.

Williams, “Mainline Churches: Networks of Belonging”

Williams, Beth Ann. 2018 “Mainline Churches: Networks of Belonging in Postindependence Kenya and Tanzania.” Journal of Religion in Africa 48(3): 255-285.

Christian churches are not abstract or ethereal institutions; they impact people’s daily decisions, weekly rhythms, and major life choices. This paper explores the continued importance of Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Anglican church membership for East African women. While much recent scholarship on Christianity in Africa has emphasized the rising prominence of Pentecostalism, I argue that historic, mission-founded churches continue to represent important sources of community formation and support for congregations. Using oral interviews with rural and urban women in Nairobi and northern Tanzania, I explore the ways churches can connect disparate populations through resource (re)distribution and shared religious aesthetic experiences. Moving below the level of church institutions, I focus on the lived experiences and motivations of everyday congregants who invest in religious communities for a range of material, interpersonal, and emotional reasons that, taken together, help us understand the ongoing importance of mainline churches in East Africa.

Benyah, “Church Branding and Self-Packaging”

Benyah, Francis. 2018. “Church Branding and Self-Packaging: the Mass Media and African Pentecostal Missionary Strategy.” Journal of Religion in Africa 48(3): 231-254.

The use of the mass media has become a contemporary and fast-growing religious phenomenon within Pentecostal and charismatic churches. By drawing implications on the use of modern media technologies, this article presents a popular case of a Charismatic church in Ghana and shows how the idea of branding evolves around the use of the mass media. This article argues that the branding of the leaders’ personality and the church is a marketing strategy aimed at attracting more people into the church.

Arrington, “Songs of the Lisu Hills”

Arrington, Aminta. 2020. Songs of the Lisu Hills: Practicing Christianity in Southwest China. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. 

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.

Webster, “Denominations as (Theological) Institutions”

Webster, Joseph. (2019) “Denominations as (Theological) Institutions: An Afterword.” Anthropological Quarterly. 92(4): 1123-1134.

Abstract: When is a church a church? What makes a church a denomination? What makes a denomination an institution? And what constitutes that institution: people, the law, money, divine approval, or something else? In asking questions such as these, Handman, Opas, Hardin, and MacLochlainn usefully address denominational forms as institutions, which has long been a sociological concern—most especially in the work of Goffman (1961)—but has arguably received comparatively little attention within the anthropology of Christianity. Taken together, then, the articles in this collection address not just questions about form and function, but also questions about how the self becomes built into structures that regard rules and norms as an important, even sacred expression of Christian life and truth.

Hardin, “‘It’s Almost Like Paying for Praying'”

Hardin, Jessica. (2019) “‘It’s Almost Like Paying for Praying’: Giving Critiques and the Discursive Management of Denominational Difference.” Anthropological Quarterly. 92(4): 1099-1122.

Abstract: This article explores how in Samoa, Christians from diverse denominational backgrounds regularly talk about and critique church giving practices ranging from weekly announcements of offerings to tithing. By comparing Pentecostal and mainstream Christian giving practices, Pentecostals discursively created denominational difference through valuation: the comparative process of differentiating between ways of giving. Pentecostals created a socially embedded subject position through giving critiques, demonstrating how denominational comparison is religious practice. By looking at the metapragmatics of giving—that is, how accounts of giving are used in everyday life—discussions of giving become a primary means to navigate the institutional mediation of individualism evident in giving practices. This article thus shows how critiques of giving collapse the distinction between “religious” and “economic” spheres showing that they are often co-constitutive.

Opas, “Keeping Boundaries in Motion”

Opas, Minna. (2019) “Keeping Boundaries in Motion: Christian Denominationalism and Sociality in Amazonia.” Anthropological Quarterly. 92(4): 1069-1097.

Abstract: For the Amazonian Yine people, Christian denominationalism provides an important means for organizing social life. Denominations in this context are not, however, to be understood as clearly bounded entities. Simultaneously with forming and renewing denominational boundaries, the Yine continuously cross, dissolve, and redefine them. This article attempts to understand the denominational dynamics among the Yine people, and in particular their back and forth movement between Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Pentecostalism, without viewing their denominational allegiances as subordinate to other forms of social organization or as something religiously insincere. Seeking inspiration from the ethnography of personhood and humanity in Amazonia, it suggests that denominations among the Yine can be understood to exist as unstable forms of belonging, as “thickenings” of different kinds of Christian moral relations to sociality, that take place on a continuum pictured not as a line but rather as a space. At the more general level the article shows how Christian vernacular denominationalism is likely to not be based on dogmatic differences but to be rather something that comes to be in practice. Furthermore, the article makes explicit how denominational boundaries are not always of the one and the same kind everywhere but vary between denominations.