Abstract: Mormon religiosity is deeply marked both by a culture of secrecy and also by a culture that obliquely indexes secret religious material as a means of communication. This secrecy, though, can at times be an engine of disbelief, a process which has been exacerbated by the internet. Because of high levels of social integration in the community, Mormon disbelief can have high social costs. Some Mormons, however, have retained a ‘testimony’ by using the concept of transhumanism as a way to re- negotiate what ‘belief’ in Mormonism means. However, in part due to the very culture of secrecy that can fuel doubt, and also in part due to the technical codes that transhumanism as a community often relies on, this very shift can itself be difficult for Mormon non-transhumanists to discern.
Abstract: I trace interrelations and tensions between varied practices of concealment and discernment in the Church of England by examining contrasting attitudes to sexuality among Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals. Moral panics over the sexual orientations of priests point to wider conflicts over incarnation, mediation, communication and knowledge. Combining historical and ethnographic data on the Church in England and the global Communion, I explore what can and should be openly ‘known’ in Anglican circles. I link my analysis of the Anglican case to wider considerations of what anthropology can and cannot claim to ‘know’ and discern through ethnographic observation, description and analysis.
Abstract: Debtera are Ethiopian Orthodox ritual specialists known for their advanced religious education, as well as for engaging in illicit magic. This article traces how their secret magical knowledge and practices emerge from the official Orthodox tradition. Yet, while drawing on this tradition, the debtera’s ritual repertoire also transgresses some of its central proscriptions. Transgression, in this context, does not abolish the boundaries it violates, but reinstates their legitimacy. This dynamic prompts debtera to engage in imaginative ethical reassessments of the unstable relationship between illicit knowledge and official tenets. Through their transgressive performances, debtera enable their clients to secretly address and actualise sinful desires that otherwise remain unacknowledged or are suppressed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. By examining this ritual management of covert desires, I conclude that the study of debtera’s secrecy illuminates fundamental complexities and contradictions in Ethiopian Orthodox sociality which operate beneath the surface of public moral discourse.
Abstract: This essay argues that modalities of interreligious conflict and coexistence in Gondar, Ethiopia entail shifting sites of discernibility and concealment. In religiously mixed interactions, both parties tend to see concealment as a key facet of a self-conscious ethical project of harmonious, interreligious relations. Hence, many reserve interreligious evaluations for homogenous settings of religious insiders, where the expressions cannot frame real-time mixed interactions in antagonistic terms. On occasion, though, the concealment is unsustainable, and interreligious evaluations leak into shared spaces, becoming discernible in a mutually recognisable way, thus creating open conflict. Adhering to norms of concealment marks one as a respectful other, however, these norms can conflict with religious ethical imperatives. The way they conflict differs for Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Pentecostals. Moreover, the significance attributed to concealment/revelation within religious and interreligious value frameworks often shapes patterns of relations across religious boundaries, including routine mutuality, ambivalence, and escalating tensions.
This article explores the theoretical and political potential of ethnographic research for World Christianity by focusing on the “subversive power” of this methodology. Through a discussion of four aspects of ethnographic research: the use of the term “informants,” a commitment to holism, the political power of participant-observation, and the “double location” of ethnographic practice, I argue that the primary objective of ethnography is to decenter a scholar’s view of the world, often by taken the position of those at society’s margins. The political potential of this move is clear, and World Christianity as a discipline is perhaps especially well positioned to make good on its possibilities, given its capacity to draw on social scientific and theological models in equal measure.
Premawardhana, Devaka. 2020. “In Praise of Ambiguity: Everyday Christianity through the Lens of Existential Anthropology.” Journal of World Christianity 10, no. 1 (2020): 39-43. doi:10.5325/jworlchri.10.1.0039.
A recent theoretical move among ethnographers of religion challenges the social scientific tendency to reduce people’s beliefs and practices to one or another religious tradition, to a religious affiliation assumed to operate as a master identity. Some scholars advancing this move draw on the insights of existential anthropology to emphasize the ambiguities and indeterminacies of religious life. The aim of this article is to argue for the relevance of existential anthropology for ethnographic approaches to the study of World Christianity. That relevance lies not only in existential anthropology’s capacity to convey the complexity of everyday religion, but also in the entanglements of existentialism itself with multiple aspects of Christian theology, past and present.
Among the broad religious spectrum of the Levant, the figure of Saint George/Al-Khader stands out. As the patron saint of Palestine, Saint George is one of the most popular saints among Palestinian Christians. Traditionally, the popular Saint George veneration has been associated with phenomena such as Canaanite rituals, shared shrines, blood sacrifices, and rural culture. This centuries-old practice survived and is still widely alive among local Palestinian Christians. Based on a critical study of textual sources and twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in the West Bank, this article provides an ethnographic-theological account on the Palestinian Saint George veneration, focusing on the controversial political uses and the spiritual meaning of this figure in the Palestinian context. I argue that this popular faith expression has transformed from a cult focused on human flourishing to a platform for grassroots theological ideas, mainly concerning themes like martyrdom, liberation, and belonging to the land.
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.
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.
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.