Abstract: The wide-ranging contributions to this special issue point to the extraordinary variety of Christian adherence around the world. In the light of this multiplicity, it has become increasingly important to develop frameworks that will allow us to conceptualize Christianity as a multifaceted, labile, but nevertheless identifiable object. Drawing together the concept of affordances, as used by Webb Keane in his contribution to this issue, as well as what I call “audiences,” this afterword outlines a comparative framework for the study of Christianity. This framework is focused on Christian adherence as a form of value creation, worked out in contested social space. I begin by applying this model to some of my own material from the Zambian Copperbelt, showing how Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel afford claims on audiences that include God, the state, and the wider social world. I then turn my attention to the affordances and audiences that emerge in the articles collected in this special issue. I conclude by suggesting that the framework of affordances and audiences I have developed here helps to address one of the most vexing problems in the anthropology of Christianity, namely, how the subfield defines its object of study.
Abstract: Any community supposedly identified with a “single” kind of Christianity is likely to contain conflicts and divisions due to the different logics and temporalities associated, respectively, with ecclesiastical institutions, popular practices, and scriptural texts. These conflicts may extend even to basic ontological assumptions. This article looks at clashes concerning popular practices surrounding relics and icons in Eastern Orthodoxy. It asks what are the ethical stakes when people insist on the powers of material things even in the face of withering criticism and contempt from inside and outside their church. That criticism, which can have both theological and atheistic bases, often focuses on the allegedly instrumental reasoning and selfish motives of people who expect to receive divine intervention from objects such as relics and icons. I argue that popular practices that focus on the agency of objects may above all be responding to material properties as ethical affordances. These affordances provide ways of treating the world as ethically saturated. In the Eastern Orthodox context, this may be one way for ordinary villagers to take lofty theological claims about the divine nature of humans in concrete terms.
Abstract: In this paper we suggest that it is important for the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of religion more generally to develop a comparative phenomenology of spiritual experience. Our method is to distinguish between a named phenomenon without fixed mental or bodily events (phenomena that have specific local terms but are recognized by individuals by a broad and almost indiscriminate range of physical events); bodily affordances (events of the body that happen in social settings but are only identified as religious in those social settings when they afford, or make available, an interpretation that makes sense in that setting); and striking anomalous events. We demonstrate that local cultural practices shift the pattern of spiritual experiences, even those such as sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences that might be imagined in some ways as culture free, but that the more the spiritual experience is constrained by a specific physiology, the more the frequency of the event will be constrained by an individual’s vulnerability to those experiences. We will call this the “cultural kindling” of spiritual experience.