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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Abstract: This article describes how, amidst Christian schism in the Philippines, the corporate form emerges as a central facet through which religious communities come to be understood. Centered on the legal fallout of a schism in the United Methodist Church in the Philippines that began in 2011, the article discusses how the schism foregrounded the necessary legal identities of religious groups in the Philippines as corporations. Having inherited the corporate model of religious organization from the United States’ colonial administration in the early 20th century, the legal configuration of the religious corporation is often at odds with how Christian actors themselves understand the divinely informed nature of the congregation. While such legal processes are undertaken to resolve matters of property ownership and church finances, they also reveal how legal bureaucratic regimes are involved in conceptualizing, abstracting, and circulating particular communal forms of subjectivity.
Handman, Courtney and Opas, Minna. (2019) “Institutions, Infrastructures, and Religious Sociality: The Difference Denominations Make in Global Christianity.” Anthropological Quarterly. 92(4): 1001-1014.
Abstract: Scholars working in the anthropology of Christianity have focused in large part on the subject in Protestantism, emphasizing the ways in which the modern subject is a Christian subject (Robbins 2004, 2007; Keane 2007; Meyer 1999; Elisha 2011; O’Neill 2010). This follows a wider trend in the renewed anthropological analyses of religion, morality, and ethics that have been oriented around religious subjectivities as the primary sites of investigation (e.g., Hirschkind 2006, Mahmood 2005, Laidlaw 2013, Lambek 2010). As productive as this line of questioning has been in conceptualizing Christian subjects, it has largely come at the expense of an emphasis on the social groups in and through which Christian practice takes place. Although relatedness has been understood to contribute to the rise of individuals’ faith (e.g., Bielo 2009, Coleman 2015, Elisha 2011, Luhrmann 2004), the significance of institutionalized structures of sociality has rarely been addressed. In this collection, we ask: what is lost when the institutions and infrastructures of Christian practice are elided? In addressing this question, we pay particular attention to the denominational form, doing so in the face of long-standing theological and ethnographic traditions that have resolutely denied the importance of this institution.
Abstract: In this article, I analyze the dynamics of Protestants’ ambivalence about their own institutional existence in the context of inter-denominational fighting between Lutheran and Catholic missions in colonial New Guinea. I argue that denominational conflict became a crucial part of the Lutheran missiological method. In particular, it gave them the chance to embrace their Lutheran infrastructure by comparing what they thought of as its lifegiving capacities to the dead or false forms of Catholic missionization. Ethnographically, I focus on a moment in the 1930s when two Catholic priests were killed by local people, as well as the ensuing Lutheran response. The priests were killed, according to the Lutherans, because they did not have a spirit-filled infrastructure. The institutional life of the denomination is recognized and yet mitigated through a process of animation, a way of making the most mundane infrastructure the stuff of lifegiving force.