Abstract: What role does judgment play in certain kinds of critical anthropology and theology, and in attempts to bring the two disciplines together? I turn to L’Arche, a network of Christian communities in which people with ‘intellectual disabilities’ share life with the cognitively able that scholars commend as a critical alternative to our obsession with judging ability as the marker of moral worth. I describe how this evaluative stance on L’Arche failed me in trying to make sense of my own fieldwork on a L’Arche community where care-givers emphasised the abilities of those they supported all the time. By relating the surprising role that a work of theology played in helping me understand the relationship between agency and judgment in this context, I argue that critique offers an unhelpful point of intersection between anthropology and theology. I propose, instead, that we explore the role of surprise in analysis and dialogue.
Abstract: Anthropology has rejected religiously based thought in its analysis from its inception. Now, due to developments in the anthropology of Christianity, ‘theologically engaged anthropology’ is inviting mutually productive interdisciplinary dialogue between anthropology and theology. What might anthropology look like, going forward, if the religious views of ethnographers were to be included in the production of ethnographies? Those in reflexive ethnography have already acknowledged that ethnographers’ cultural backgrounds enter into representations of other cultures, and those in ‘the ontological turn’ are challenging anthropology’s ontological assumptions through the serious consideration of their interlocutors’ views. I suggest that there is value for the discipline in permitting discourses of ethnography and analysis that reflect the multiple, sometimes religiously-based, ontologies of ethnographers as well.
Abstract: The burgeoning field of theologically engaged anthropology has facilitated an overdue dialogue among anthropologists and theologians. The theologically engaged anthropology project created the stratified and transformational research frameworks. The stratified framework encourages anthropologists and theologians to collaborate on common religious topics while maintaining boundaries between each discipline, lest each loses its integrity. The transformational framework encourages anthropologists and theologians to cross the border between their two disciplines to facilitate discovery of new insights about religion. This special journal issue of Ethnos presents multiple examples of theologically engaged anthropology that illustrate the value of both frameworks. In this introduction, I invite readers to observe four themes that emerge from the papers. Each illustrates the value of additional theologically engaged scholarship.
Abstract: Christian churches control substantial areas of land in Africa. While intensifying struggles over their holdings are partly due to the increased pressure on land in general, they also reflect transformations in the relations through which churches’ claims to land are legitimized, the increased association of churches with business, and churches’ unique positioning as both institutions and communities. This article presents the trajectory of relations between church, state and community in Uganda from the missionary acquisition of land in the colonial era to the unravelling of church landholding under Museveni. Drawing on long‐term ethnographic fieldwork, the authors argue that claims to church land in contemporary Uganda draw on: 1) notions of belonging to the land; 2) views about the nature of churches as communities; 3) discontent regarding whether customary land owners gave churches user rights or ownership; and 4) assessment of the churches’ success in ensuring that the land works for the common good. The article develops a novel approach to analysing the changing meaning of the landholdings of religious institutions, thus extending ongoing discussions about land, politics, development and religion in Africa.
Abstract: With Pentecostalism frequently analysed as gaining traction in contexts of globalised individualisation and neoliberally-induced insecurity, scholars have paid less attention to the social purchase of the religion among the peasantry. This article draws on fieldwork in rural Nicaragua to argue that the distinctive relational form of campesinos – namely the rural household – should be central to the analysis of Pentecostal appeal. I argue that the Pentecostal demand to eliminate vicio (vice) – bound up with a dualistic conception of a world driven by either divine or malevolent power – speaks closely to an everyday project of domesticity which deals with the erratic forces associated with male and female bodies, and which revolves around problems of incorporation. Identifying male unreliability as vicio allows Pentecostal ritual, and the spiritual power afforded by faith, to address a domestic imperative focused upon containing inherently excessive vital force.
Abstract: Inspired by Norget, Napolitano, and Mayblin’s suggestion that anthropologists attend more closely to the mechanisms of Catholicism’s worldwide spread, this article juxtaposes two organizations—the Holy Childhood Association and Unbound—to explore “paganism,” conversion, and its legacy among U.S. laypeople. In the process, it makes two major points. The first concerns the recourse to “culture” as a rhetorical and ideational hinge connecting the singularity of Christian universalism and new valuations of local multiplicity. The second focuses on the U.S. Catholic relationship to institutional structures of missionary work, which they both associate with positive attributes of a vibrant society, while also being much more critical than their Protestant counterparts of their own Church’s role abroad. It ends by noting how Unbound and its supporters contend with ongoing inequalities by cultivating an imagined global parity where Catholic people choose to send their “gifts” to each other.
Tambar, Kabir. 2019. “Professions of Friendship: Revisiting the Concept of the Political in the Middle East.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-7586775.
Abstract: This essay examines “professions of friendship”: efforts by populations who are targeted as enemies of the state to proclaim their historical fidelity to the state’s foundation and preservation. Such declarations often reinscribe a rigid and often violently statist narrative of politics. The essay argues that the retrenchment of this narrative, when reissued in the name of friendship, does not simply close down political options. It seeks to embolden sentiments of moral obligation across instituted lines of enmity. These solicitations of friendship are burdened by a particular historical task: to envision a past and a future of social cohabitation in a present where its possibilities have been violently undermined and morally devalued. The essay centers on two instances that bookend the past century: the first was delivered in Istanbul by an organization speaking on behalf of Armenians living in territories claimed by the Turkish nationalist movement in 1922; the second was issued by a Kurdish Peace Mother in Diyarbakır, as a plea for an end to state violence in late 2015.
Abstract: Based on over two years of fieldwork with Faith Family Missionary Baptist Church, I illustrate how this congregation grounds their sense of place when place itself is impermanent. In the midst of poverty, unemployment, and violence, the community views their Christian calling in their mission to reshape the younger, disenfranchised generation into godly individuals. Congregants build fellowship by pooling their resources in an attempt to follow the call of God to do good, and to recruit and save the disenfranchised. I argue that this congregation’s sense of place is shaped by and grounded in this fellowship, i.e., the concrete relationships they form through such practices. Despite having few resources to generate a large impact in the broader city, the congregation acts as a system of support crucial to individuals in these neighborhoods. While the congregation’s location in the city is invisible to many outsiders due to their mobility, further attention should be paid to such alternate forms of civic participation and practice.
Abstract: Kenyan Pentecostals in London (re)frame their migration as a “mission” to bring the United Kingdom back into the Kingdom of God. Focusing on the case of one church founded in the diaspora, this article examines how the pastor and church members try to realize this mission by exploring the kind of place they imagine God’s Kingdom to be and their efforts to create it in London. The “spatial turn” in studies of religion has followed two general trajectories, broadly referred to as the politics and the poetics of space. Studies of Pentecostal placemaking in particular have examined how Pentecostals use church‐planting as a strategy of territorialization, by which they make their presence seen and felt in specific localities, as well as how they phenomenologically “do” space. This article contributes to these discussions by elucidating a particular form of sociality as an important aspect of religious placemaking. In doing so, I argue that Pentecostal projects of self‐making and placemaking converge in what I refer to as “socializing space.” At the same time, through its focus on an independent church, the article extends our understanding of African diasporic churches beyond the well‐studied and ‐resourced transnational African Pentecostal networks and megachurches.
Abstract: The establishment of a Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Guatemala (including other countries in Latin America) in 2013 further complicated an already fragmented Guatemalan religious landscape. Under the leadership of a former Roman Catholic priest, now a Syriac Orthodox bishop, a religious renewal movement emerged in 2003, which was excommunicated in 2006 by the Roman Catholic Church. In 2013, the movement joined the Syriac Orthodox Church, whose Patriarch resides in Damascus, Syria. Members of this archdiocese are almost exclusively Mayan in origin, mostly live in poor, rural areas, and display charismatic-type practices. The communities that first joined this movement were located in areas severely affected by the armed conflict (1960–1996); but it subsequently attracted more diverse communities, including the cofradías (religious lay brotherhoods). This article studies the emergence of a Syriac Orthodox Church (SOC) in Guatemala, and argues that becoming Syriac Orthodox allowed these diverse communities to reconcile different aspects of their local world (traditional and charismatic practices, enhanced lay leadership, local Mayan identity) and its very shortcomings increased its attractiveness. This paper adopts a multi-disciplinary approach and draws upon diverse sources, including fieldwork in Guatemala and Los Angeles, to capture voices both inside and outside the archdiocese. While the Pentecostal and Catholic Charismatic movements in Guatemala have already attracted scholarly attention, the appearance of Orthodox Christianity on a large scale raises new questions.