Melissa Caldwell’s most recent book is Living Faithfully in an Unjust World: Compassionate Care in Russia (California, 2016). It takes up themes about humanitarianism, insecurity, and religious intervention in contemporary Russia. Anthrocybib had the chance to ask her more about it over email.
Participants: Melissa Caldwell (UC Santa Cruz) and Hillary Kaell (Concordia University)
HK: You have done twenty years of fieldwork in Moscow. Tell me a bit about how the economic and social changes you have seen prompted this study.
MC: When I first began crafting my dissertation research in the early 1990s, I was interested in how Russia’s emerging capitalist economy was becoming realized in changing consumer practices, most notably the arrival and spread of Western food products, restaurant and grocery store cultures, and eating practices. By the late 1990s, the Russian economy was increasingly unstable, and there were shortages of both basic consumer goods – including food – and money. All of these changes were happening within a context in which the Russian state was ceding responsibility for social welfare to individual citizens and private organizations. Low-income Russians – especially the elderly, disabled, veterans, and single mothers – were especially affected. Charities, nonprofits organizations, religious communities, and development agencies increasingly stepped in to provide assistance. I became interested in how questions of need and deservingness were presented, and then in the ways in which ordinary people compensated for shortages and insecurity. Over time, I became fascinated by the ethics and practices of care and compassion that were intrinsic to assistance.
Priest, Robert and Kirimi Barine. 2017. African Christian Leadership: Realities, Opportunities, and Impact. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Publisher’s Description: The remarkable expansion of Christianity in Africa amid massive social challenges has created unprecedented opportunities for Christian leadership. Thousands of young congregations now provide local platforms for spiritual and social direction. Schools and Universities provide a wide range of educational opportunities. African Christians also find themselves exercising leadership in a wide variety of business, educational, media, social service, and governmental venues. They have lacked verified research data to develop new opportunities and improve existing support structures for contextually relevant Christian leadership training and development.
Hale, Christopher W. 2017. Religious Institutions and Collective Action: The Catholic Church and Political Activism in Indigenous Chiapas and Yucatán. Politics and Religion. Early online publication.
Why do religious organizations facilitate secular political activism in
some settings but not others? I contend that where religious institutions are
characterized by decentralized local governance, they are more likely to
facilitate political activism. Drawing on nine months of field research and 60
interviews, I conduct a qualitative comparison between the Mexican states of
Chiapas and Yucatán. I argue Chiapas exhibits highly decentralized
governance by the Catholic Church whereas Yucatán exhibits centralized
clerical management. This difference accounts for why Chiapas experiences
high levels of indigenous political activism while Yucatán experiences very
little political activism.
Carroll, Timothy. 2017. Theology as an Ethnographic Object: An Anthropology of Eastern Christian Rupture. Religions 8(7): 114.
Abstract: This paper draws upon over three years’ research among Eastern Orthodox (principally Antiochian and Greek) communities in London and Mount Athos, Greece. This research came to engage theology quite heavily as part of the ethnographic facts of the fieldsites. This paper reviews some of the existing ways that theology (as both discipline and practice) relate to ethnographic enquiry, particularly as it has arisen in the dialogue with the Anthropology of Christianity and frames this in light of the historical development of Anthropology and its relationship to theology and Christianity. The paper then advances a methodological argument, in favour of further means of relation, specifically in terms of theology as a cultural artefact. Drawing on local practices of liturgical theology and Eastern Orthodox forms of allegorical interpretation, I argue for the inclusion of theological insight and practice within the social scientific study of religion. Working in an Orthodox setting requires the investigation of liturgical theology and brings to light important aspects of the relationship between temporal and sempiternal domains of action. Particularly as it relates to liturgical theology and the practices of interpretation, ethnographic enquiry into Orthodox theology asks for a reconsideration of social scientific methods of analysis and representation.
Stephens, Hilde. 2017. “Tearing Down the Walls of Segregation”: Race, Conservatism, and Evangelical Rap. Journal of American Studies. Early online publication.
Abstract: Evangelical rap may sound like an oxymoron, but it was one of the most important trends in evangelical America as the Christian right rose to new levels of power in the 1990s. The trio DC Talk sold millions of album and dominated the Christian charts from the early 1990s and into the early 2000s. This was more than pure entertainment. Popular culture, and especially popular culture targeted at teens, is an important venue for disseminating values and sustaining religious identities. The artists promoted by the Christian music industry have to reflect the ideas and values that parents and central evangelical institutions wish to teach their children. In the 1990s, racial reconciliation was one of the most important issues to evangelical America and DC Talk were poster boys for a multiracial and multicultural America. Therefore this article takes DC Talk as a starting point to discuss evangelical engagement with race issues in the 1990s. DC Talk wrapped up evangelical individualism and color-blind conservatism in hip-hop garb, trying to reinvent a group with a checkered past when it comes to race relations as the hope of a racially harmonious America.
Lauterbach, Karen. 2017. Christianity, Wealth, and Spiritual Power in Ghana. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
By: Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)
In an important thesis published in 1998, Birgit Meyer showed how making a ‘complete break with the past’ had become a central concern for Ghanaian Pentecostals. Five years later, Joel Robbins’ (2003) piece on the problem of “continuity thinking” (an anthropological bias toward emphasizing cultural continuity) called for “an anthropology of discontinuity”, that further engaged with a self-conscious anthropology of Christianity (see Bialecki et al 2008:138). Since then, the literature on discontinuity and rupture, which takes seriously Christian ideology and Christian attempts to bring about change, has shaped many debates (Meyer 2004; Engelke 2004; Robbins 2007). It has also impacted on how, when I came back from my doctoral fieldwork in 2004, I related to my ethnographic material. While I purposefully moved at the time beyond the public rhetoric of rupture to, instead, reflect on how different groups of Ghanaian Pentecostal believers selectively drew from and struggled with the discourse of discontinuity (Daswani 2007; see also Engelke 2010), the underlying question of what Ghanaian culture brought to Pentecostalism eventually fell – at least for a while – out of focus (Daswani 2015).
Huang, Jianbo and Mengyin Hu. 2017. Becoming Christians: Prayers and subject formation in an urban church in China. Approaching Religion 1(7): 46-54.
Abstract: Prayers in Christianity are often considered to be a theological or pastoral topic; while social scientific studies generally tend to reduce them, like prayers in other religious contexts, to the status of psychological responses bringing comfort to the practitioner, or a collective construction connected with social and cultural institutions. However, what prayer actually is, and what it means to Christians who practise it remains an open issue for further, more intensive and thorough study. Based on fieldwork in an urban church in China, this article provides some perspectives on contemporary Chinese Christians and their prayer life, attempting to elaborate its possible significance, especially in terms of subject-formation processes within these Christians. Meanwhile, this article argues that, in working towards a better understanding of Christians, it is more efficacious to take ‘Christians’ as those who are, rather than a given or acquired identity, or a status of being, engaged in a process of becoming through a practice, or set of practices, which in this case is prayer,. Moreover, in the case of this Chinese Christian church, the practise of prayer also indicates some reflections on the cultural and religious diversity of contemporary Chinese society.
Paredes, Oona. 2017. Projecting order in the pericolonial Philippines: An anthropology of Catholicism beyond Catholics. The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.
Abstract: In a majority Catholic country like the Philippines, it can be difficult to appreciate the true impact of Catholicism, beyond the obvious presence of Catholics. For the ‘unchristianised’ indigenous minorities in its peripheral upland regions, the role of the Catholic thought-world in shaping who they are today is masked substantially by their cultural distinctiveness. Missionary-dominated narratives in colonial historiography configure our understanding of the present, structuring our approach to anthropology in these peripheral spaces. This article argues that the diachronic component is necessary to make sense of how Catholicism has not only shaped the diversity of modern Philippine cultures, but also how it has configured cultural and political spaces so completely that, as anthropologists, we at times reproduce this thought-world uncritically through our own ethnographies. A focus on the so-called unchristianised Lumad ethnic minorities of Mindanao argues that it is essential to look beyond Catholics as obvious subjects when undertaking an anthropology of Catholicism.
Brown, Bernardo E. 2017. In search of the Solemn with Sri Lankan migrant priests. The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.
Abstract: The declining number of religious vocations joining Catholic seminaries in Italy has encouraged some dioceses to hire migrant religious workers to compensate for the lack of clergy available for parish work. Although initially approached as a temporary solution, an unforeseen consequence of this policy has been the emergence of congenial relationships between migrant priests and Italian parishioners, who often describe their bond as deeply spiritual. This article examines the experiences of Sri Lankan priests who work in Italy, highlighting the distinct emphasis that they place on reaching out to the communities that they work with. Through fieldwork conducted in Sri Lanka and Italy, I analyse how South Asian priests use concepts such as devotion and sincerity to explain how their approach to the priesthood makes a ‘solemn’ difference that is celebrated by local parishioners. With an explicit focus on pastoral work, this form of Asian Catholicism emphasises the importance of bodily comportment, ceremonial poise and ritual dignity, capturing the yearnings of Catholic laities avid for devotional celebrations capable of re-connecting them to the spiritually meaningful aspects of their faith. My work draws lines of connection between the historical, theological and pedagogical underpinnings of Sri Lankan Catholicism and the affective responses that South Asian priests elicit in Europe.
Brown, Bernardo and R. Michael Feener. 2017. Configuring Catholicism in the anthropology of Christianity. The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.
Abstract: In order to better understand diverse configurations of Catholicism in relation to the contemporary anthropology of Christianity, we need to develop more dynamic models to interpret the interaction between the material of particular ethnographic accounts and the continual recalibration of broader cultural and theological paradigms involved in their framing and analysis. Building upon the growing body of work that has been produced in both the ethnography of Catholic communities and the critical reflection on theoretical dimensions of the new project of the anthropology of Christianity, we hope to nudge conversations toward more integrated explorations between these two lines of enquiry. The research presented in the articles included in this special issue collectively suggests that turning the ethnographic lens toward Asian Catholicism can serve to substantially enrich conversations with new empirical material on modern forms of religiosity. Well beyond that, moreover, critical engagement with such dynamic, theologically sophisticated, aesthetically complex, and socially engaged traditions can inform constructive critiques of the mainstream account of Anthropology’s approach to the study of Christianity.