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.

 

Peña, “Time to Pray”

Peña, Elaine. 2017. Time to Pray: Devotional Rhythms and Space Sacralization Processes at the Mexico-US Border. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief 13(4): 461-481. 

Abstract: This essay uses the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge at the Port of Laredo to examine Catholic parish life at la Parroquia Santo Niño in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Considering how infrastructure works, how it literally keeps people and objects moving, nuances our understanding of the devotional rhythms and space sacralization processes of actors who move and wait in a border environment. Contributing to debates about rhythm and mobility in border studies, it highlights religion’s temporal particularities—specifically the role that an international bridge plays in influencing where, when, and how often border-based actors manage worship and spaces of reflection. Thinking with scholars of material religion, this essay maintains that accounting for border infrastructure is worthwhile. Using infrastructure as a primary reference point can productively challenge still influential distinctions between American and Latin American religion. It will also show that infrastructure not only animates religious practice and dictates devotional rhythms within the walls of la Parroquia, but also facilitates or at times deters movement to and from that site of worship. Mapping out routes and relationships among objects, places, and people, it traces how parish life and international bridge usage are inextricably linked across several planes—geographic, temporal, cultural, and economic; it is impossible to understand the significance of one without attending to the other.

Bialecki, “Anthropology and Theology in Parallax”

Bialecki, Jon. 2018. Anthropology and Theology in Parallax. Anthropology of This Century, Issue 22.

Abstract: Answering the question of the intellectual proximity of anthropology and theology is difficult, however. One way to do this would be to try to map how the entirety of things looks from each vantage, and then compare these sky-charts for matching patterns. Such a cataloging is a dizzying and exhaustive proposition, though, and not even those who have made the greatest investment of time and thought on this issue are suggesting that we are anywhere near the point of sufficient mastery of an anthropological/theological conjunction to engage in that work. As we will see, for the most part the theology/anthropology rapprochement is a project that is still in its formative stages, offering plenty of promissory notes instead of hard arguments. But still, this is a development that is still quickening, and so a comprehensive account of the overlaps in the views of both disciplines has to wait. A far more economical move might be to simply select a single book and use it to make what we might call taking a parallax measurement. We would ask how this book might appear from different vantage points, with each vantage point’s likely view of the text compared with the other to see how far apart the two standpoints are, i.e. to see how the book might appear to both non-theological and theological readers. As we will see, there are actually far more than two vantage points, however. The gradations and modes of theological engagement by anthropology go far beyond an easy binary, with theology either embraced or scorned. This may be an exercise in intellectual parallax, but once we look into the particulars of how theology and anthropology could relate it is also an exercise in the intellectually vertiginous.

Carroll, “Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven”

Carroll, Timothy. 2018. Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven. New York: Routledge.

Publisher’s Summary: Although much has been written on the making of art objects as a means of engaging in creative productions of the self (most famously Alfred Gell’s work), there has been very little written on Orthodox Christianity and its use of material within religious self-formation. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is renowned for its artistry and the aesthetics of its worship being an integral part of devout practice. Yet this is an area with little ethnographic exploration available and even scarcer ethnographic attention given to the material culture of Eastern Christianity outside the traditional ‘homelands’ of the greater Levant and Eastern Europe.

Drawing from and building upon Gell’s work, Carroll explores the uses and purposes of material culture in Eastern Orthodox Christian worship. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in a small Antiochian Orthodox parish in London, Carroll focusses on a study of ecclesiastical fabric but places this within the wider context of Orthodox material ecology in Britain. This ethnographic exploration leads to discussion of the role of materials in the construction of religious identity, material understandings of religion, and pathways of pilgrimatic engagement and religious movement across Europe.

In a religious tradition characterised by repetition and continuity, but also as sensuously tactile, this book argues that material objects are necessary for the continual production of Orthodox Christians as art-like subjects. It is an important contribution to the corpus of literature on the anthropology of material culture and art and the anthropology of religion.

Lofton, “Religion and Authority in American Parenting”

Kathryn Lofton; Religion and the Authority in American Parenting, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 84, Issue 3, 1 September 2016, Pages 806–841, 

Abstract: This article reimagines the history of parenting as a subject for the study of religion. Through a schematic description of parenting in the United States, I observe the expanded responsibilities and increased social expectations for parents in the formation of child identity. Focusing on the concept of parental authority, I argue that the relationship of authority between parent and child is an important document of religious history in a secular age, and encourage future scholars to explore parenting habits, prescriptions, and admonitions as an archive for religious studies.

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.

Calder, “Bethlehem’s Syriac Christians”

Calder, Mark D. 2017. Bethlehem’s Syriac Christians: Self, nation and church in dialogue and practice. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press. 

Publisher’s Description: An anthropological study of Syriac Orthodox Christian identity in a time of displacement, upheaval, and conflict. For some Syriac Orthodox Christians in Bethlehem, their self-articulation – the means by which they connect themselves to others, things, places and symbols – is decisively influenced by their eucharistic ritual. This ritual connects being siryāni to a redeemed community or ‘body’, and derives its identity in large part from the Incarnation of God as an Aramaic-speaking Bethlehemite.

Montemaggi, “Compassion and Purity”

Montemaggi, Francesca. (2018) “Compassion and purity: the ethics and boundary-making of Christian evangelicals”. Religion. DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2018.1470117

Abstract: The paper explores the ethical attitude of Christian evangelicals in a church in Britain and how it affects boundary-making of their community. Evangelicals in the case study seek to be accepting of the person and to refrain from being judgemental. The paper distinguishes between the person-centred ‘ethic of compassion’and the norm-centred ‘ethic of purity’. The ethic of compassion consists in accepting another and recognising the dignity of another based on shared humanity. It is a frame of mind that combines moral intention with the emotions of empathy and sympathy. In contrast, the ethic of purity privileges adherence to the moral order of the group over considerations for the person. The ‘compassionate’ frame of mind weakens boundaries, while the ‘pure’ frame of mind reinforces them. The boundaries of a community result from the interplay of the two ethics.

Zwissler, “Religious, Feminist, Activist”

Zwissler, Laurel. 2018. Religious, Feminist, Activist: Cosmologies of Interconnection. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 

Publisher’s Description: In Religious, Feminist, Activist, Laurel Zwissler investigates the political and religious identities of women who understand their social-justice activism as religiously motivated. Placing these women in historical context as faith-based activists for social change, this book discusses what their activities reveal about the public significance of religion in the pluralistic context of North America and in our increasingly globalized world. Zwissler’s ethnographic interviews with feminist Catholics, Pagans, and United Church Protestants reveal radically different views of religious and political expression and illuminate how individual women and their communities negotiate issues of personal identity, spirituality, and political responsibility.

Political activists of faith recount adventurous tales of run-ins with police, agonizing moments of fear and powerlessness in the face of global inequality, touching moments of community support, and successful projects that improve the lives of others. Religious, Feminist, Activist combines religion, politics, and globalization—subjects frequently discussed in macro terms—with individual personalities and intimate stories to provide a fresh perspective on what it means to be religiously and politically engaged. Zwissler also provides an insightful investigation into how religion and politics intersect for women on the political left.