Abstract: I present here examples of the photographic presence of a religious minority community in the secret police archives in ex-communist Eastern Europe. The use of secret police archives by researchers to trace the history of repression and collaboration and to understand the methods employed by totalitarian regimes to control their populations is well established. The significance of these archives for the study of material religion, however, has been largely overlooked by scholars. The secret police archives in Romania and the Republic of Moldova constitute a hidden repository of confiscated religious materials and photographs which often sit alongside photographic images created by the secret police in the course of their investigations into “criminal” religious activities. These archives, therefore, represent an important resource for understanding both how religious groups chose to represent themselves, and how the totalitarian system created images of religious “others” in order to incriminate them and to produce anti-religious propaganda. In this paper, through the presentation of example cases from state security files, I discuss the dual character of the photographic traces of communities in the archives as both religious justification and incrimination, and suggest ways of approaching these images through their materiality in the context of contemporary post-communist society.
This article examines religious language in a contested public sphere by analyzing performances of linguistic creativity among creationists in the United States. The public creation‐evolution debate has been a central speech event in the development of modern creationism, and functions as a key site for claiming cultural legitimacy. Focusing on three creation‐evolution debates spanning 33 years, I advance the concept of “creationist poetics” to capture how framing, stance taking, and speech play define the performance repertoire of creationists in the debate context. In particular, I illustrate how creationist speakers work to create a conspiracy‐populist frame and a revealer stance. Together, these strategies sketch a lifeworld that envisions elitist “secular” actors suppressing scriptural authority and creationists as humble, clear‐eyed people exposing the conspiracy through scriptural fidelity. I argue that this system of poetics is a key expressive resource in the ongoing struggle to wrest authority away from evolutionary science and claim it for biblical fundamentalism. Ultimately, this analysis of creationist poetics informs our understanding of how authority as a contingent social process is discursively mediated, a central theme in the study of both religious and political language.
Abstract: Samoan Pentecostal churches, ritualized friendships among women are an informal but essential relationship through which churches grow. The mentorship that women provide when a new convert is introduced to church life creates escalating forms of care and obligation, as well as an experience of urgency and acceleration. Converts learn how to construct rupture in their narratives and spiritual practices, which are modeled in peer socialization practices. This period of intense yet temporary mentorship creates a temporality of “repair”—embodied, linguistic, and social practices that restore the convert’s identity, which has been disrupted by conversion. This care work compels us to consider the temporalization of care as a future‐making endeavor.
Abstract: This book takes an interdisciplinary approach in order to understand angels, focusing on Africa and the cult and persona of the Archangel Michael. Traditional methods in the study of religion including philology, papyrology, art and iconography, anthropology, history, and psychology are combined with methodologies deriving from memory studies, graphic design, art education, and semiotics.
Chapters explore both historical and contemporary case studies from Coptic Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, and South Africa, providing a comparative perspective on the Archangel Michael.
While increasing Evangelical religiosity among Latin Americans in the United States has been well documented, few studies have considered how this faith shapes and is shaped by migrant experience itself. Based on fieldwork among Brazilian migrants outside of Washington, DC, a new immigrant gateway, I suggest that attention to migrant affective experience sheds new light on the growth of Evangelical faith. In the first section, I show how migrant experience configured a common portrait of affective distress marked by loneliness and feeling stuck, which in turn stimulated novel religious longings among migrants. In the remainder of the article, I illustrate how Evangelical churches effectively addressed and reinterpreted migrant-related distress through what I call affective therapeutics—the strategic healing of migrants’ negative emotion states. I outline the five discursive and practice-based tactics of this strategy that I witnessed—happiness of believers, self as vessel, watchful community, open-scripted prayer, and testimony—and consider how they relieved migrant distress. Writing against a “hermeneutics of suspicion,” I instead offer this research as part of a broader effort in the anthropology of religion and Christianity to document the hopeful and creative strategies through which individuals pursue what they conceive of as the “good.”
A personal relationship with God is central to Evangelical belief. It unfolds as believers interpret internal sensations as coming from outside—from God. How does the formulaic design of testimonies present the audience with a personal relationship with God as a pursuit that is both feasible and deeply desirable? Analyzing the discursive rules structuring the appearance of emotion in the most popular testimonies on the online platform of Christianity Today reveals that such texts expertly present a microcosm in which the experience of reading mirrors the trajectory toward belief writers describe. To read a testimony from start to finish, readers must choose to tolerate the unfamiliar: that is, feel emotions that specifically belong in an Evangelical frame. Online written testimony relies on compelling storytelling to move readers, making them practise what it feels like to hand over part of one’s own story to God.
This article investigates the construction and transmission of charisma through online channels and its role in the formation of religious identities. Mindful of Max Weber’s observation that charisma inhabits the relationship between a leader and his/her followers, I argue for a critical reappraisal of the theoretical model in the light of the ubiquity in the twenty-first century of new, virtual forms of social encounter. I focus my analysis on the Christian creationist movement in the United States and particularly on an influential leader called Ken Ham. Using digital ethnographic methods, I show how Ham constructs charisma online and how a virtual community forms itself around his charismatic claims. I illustrate how this virtual community intersects with offline worlds and suggest that the theme park attractions that Ham’s organisation runs (Creation Museum, Ark Encounter) are imbued with deflected charisma by virtue of their association with his online avatar.
In this article I explore the role of Pentecostalism in the lives of middle-class Brazilian students-turned-migrants in Australia. Brazilian students lead precarious lives in Australia. They are transitioning into adulthood, living away from the homeland and without their families for the first time and they experience downward mobility. In addition, they are at the mercy of constant changes in Australian migration policy. Drawing on three years of multi-sited fieldwork in Australia and Brazil in three Pentecostal churches (the Australian megachurches Hillsong and C3 and a Brazilian church), I argue that Pentecostalism supports these students in their migration pathway. This is particularly the case because these are Seeker churches. By focusing on youth culture, entertainment, and informality and by addressing real-life situations, these churches cater to middle-class sensibilities. I also contend that their religious beliefs and practices are interwoven with the students’ narratives of migration to Australia. Thus the students pray for visas, jobs, and sponsorships for permanent residency and they see every obstacle and achievement as God’s work in their lives. For them, God determines whether they can stay or must return home. Importantly, citizenship in God’s kingdom gives them a more significant sense of belonging than that of the Australian state.
Abstract: The ethnographic imagination links the big stories of broad historical forces and the small stories of individual lived experience. In the study of world Christianity, it links church movements with individual participants, texts with oral traditions, creeds with practices. In this article the author examines the role of migration in the Christian story of the Lisu of southwest China. The author tells the big story of how migration across borders greatly impacted the resilience of Lisu Christianity, allowing it to transcend the political turmoil of particular countries. But she also tells a small story, showing migration as a lived experience that greatly impacted one Christian family. The ethnographic imagination seeks truth in the frayed edges where big stories and small stories meet. Ultimately, the ethnographic imagination is an appropriate research posture for world Christianity because it requires that scholars approach the subject less as a corpus of texts and more as a community of souls.
Abstract: This article focuses on religious pedagogies as an essential part of the practice and the making of modern religion. It takes the case of the Syrian Orthodox communities in Kerala, South India to examine how shifts in pedagogical models and practice have reframed their understanding of knowledge and God. The paper highlights two moments of transformation—the nineteenth-century missionary reforms and twenty-first-century Sunday school reforms—that brought “old” and “new” pedagogies into conflict, redefining the modes of knowing and religious subjectivities they presuppose. For this I draw from historical and pedagogical materials, and ethnographic fieldwork in churches and Sunday schools. The paper diverges from widespread narratives on the missionary encounter by showing how colonial efforts to replace ritual pedagogies with modern schooling were channeled into a textbook culture that remained close to Orthodox ritualism. The “new” pedagogy turned learning into a ritualized practice that continued to emphasize correct performance over interiorized belief. Contrasting this with todays’ curriculum revisions, I argue that educational reforms remain a privileged mode of infusing new meanings into religious practice and shaping new orthodoxies, especially under the threat of heterodoxy. This reflects a broader dynamic within Orthodox Christianity that takes moments of crisis or change as opportunities to turn orthopraxy into orthodoxy and renew the faith. The paper engages with postcolonial debates on religion, education, and modernity, and points to more pervasive assumptions about what makes Orthodox Christianity and the modes of knowing and ethical formation in Eastern Christianity.