Abstract: This book takes an interdisciplinary approach in order to understand angels, focusing on Africa and the cult and persona of the Archangel Michael. Traditional methods in the study of religion including philology, papyrology, art and iconography, anthropology, history, and psychology are combined with methodologies deriving from memory studies, graphic design, art education, and semiotics.
Chapters explore both historical and contemporary case studies from Coptic Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, and South Africa, providing a comparative perspective on the Archangel Michael.
Abstract: This article analyses the historical course of the Evangelical minority in Guinea-Bissau, its transformations, its recent expansion and its current engagement with the public sphere. First, I trace the trajectory of the Guinean Evangelical movement from the 1940s to the present, against the background of the process of decolonization and the post-Independence history of the country. Second, I examine the recent impact of Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of Christianity on local Evangelical churches, following the transnational circulation of believers and missionaries, on the one hand, and the arrival of new international churches, mostly from Brazil and other African countries, on the other. Third, I place the current flowering of Evangelical and Pentecostal denominations in the broader context of a general shift to universal religions throughout the country. Within this framework, I argue, this success can be read as expression of a widespread craving for modernity and mobility, both in rural and urban Guinea-Bissau.
Abstract: This article discusses the national framing of Angolan Pentecostalism from the perspective of connections. It analyses how Angola matters as a centre of inspiration for different Pentecostal churches and networks precisely by engaging different religious imaginaries, social memories and anticipations of the future that operate in a variety of ethnic, African and Lusophone spaces. In doing so, this contribution aims at overcoming both the understanding of global Pentecostalism through a national and diasporic lens as well as a universal lens, underscoring the multi-polarity of Angolan Pentecostalism. The connections that Angolan Pentecostalisms create between places and cultures involve different transnational circuits that cultivate diverse cultural, economic and political imaginations and belongings. The possibilities for bridging and bonding that different Pentecostal connections offer generate new relationships, imaginations, rituals and the circulation of ideas. We suggest that Angolan Pentecostalism might be seen as a multi-polar force of multi-directional connections, which dynamics and intensity oscillates, depending on the location and movement of a Pentecostal group in the global geography of power, in postcolonial territorial and social settings, and on modes of appropriating and making Lusophone heritages.
The first phase of anthropology’s turn toward ethics called our attention to freedom, evaluative reflection, and projects of intentional self‐cultivation. While the inclusion of such moments of intentionality and freedom provided a helpful corrective to overly determinist frameworks for the study of morality and social life, we lost sight of other aspects of ethical life and personhood that are less easily controlled. Drawing on an ethnographic case that might otherwise be considered exemplary of a Foucauldian “care of the self,” this article draws on texts from Africanist anthropology and Franciscan theology to explore how members of a community of Ugandan, Kenyan, and Tanzanian Franciscan nuns living and working at a residential home for orphans and children with disabilities in central Uganda understand and engage with the uncertain potential of moral transformation.
Abstract: How does a relationship come about between religious practitioners and supernatural beings? According to the mediation turn—which has recently taken hold in the material religion field and the anthropology of religion—religious communities use sensational forms to mediate the presence of an otherwise invisible transcendent. This article will apply the mediation framework to a case study of a particular Protestant group—namely world-renouncing, evangelical missionaries in nineteenth-century Southern Africa. I will argue that in this case the concept of mediation limits our understanding of the multiple God-human relationships involved. This raises questions concerning how and in which contexts the mediation turn can be analytically useful. In conclusion, the article will suggest that there is a dynamic range of modes of relating God and humans in Protestant Christianity, including modes that go beyond mediation.
Drawing on more than two years of participant observation in the American Midwest and in Madagascar among Lutheran clinicians, volunteer laborers, healers, evangelists, and former missionaries, Conversionary Sites investigates the role of religion in the globalization of medicine. Based on immersive research of a transnational Christian medical aid program, Britt Halvorson tells the story of a thirty-year-old initiative that aimed to professionalize and modernize colonial-era evangelism. Creatively blending perspectives on humanitarianism, global medicine, and the anthropology of Christianity, she argues that the cultural spaces created by these programs operate as multistranded “conversionary sites,” where questions of global inequality, transnational religious fellowship, and postcolonial cultural and economic forces are negotiated.
A nuanced critique of the ambivalent relationships among religion, capitalism, and humanitarian aid, Conversionary Sites draws important connections between religion and science, capitalism and charity, and the US and the Global South.
Why has Nevers Mumba, one of Zambia’s most famous Pentecostal leaders, been so unsuccessful in his two presidential bids? Previous analyses have blamed Mumba’s political woes on a presumed Pentecostal belief that politics is a lesser vocation than the pastorate. In contrast to these interpretations, I argue that Pentecostals in Zambia are very committed to the notion that, at least ideally, their leaders should be pastors, and more specifically that they should be effective mediators of the divine covenant established when Zambia was declared a “Christian nation.” The problem with Mumba is, therefore, not that pastors are not supposed to be politicians, but rather that he has failed to convince believers that he is a good mediator. This article opens up new horizons in the study of Pentecostal politics, suggesting that populism in countries with high Pentecostal populations is increasingly defined by the capacity for religious mediation.
Publisher’s Description: Anthropologist Devaka Premawardhana arrived in Africa to study the much reported “explosion” of Pentecostalism, the spread of which has indeed been massive. It is the continent’s fastest growing form of Christianity and one of the world’s fastest growing religious movements. Yet Premawardhana found no evidence for this in the province of Mozambique where he worked. His research suggests that much can be gained by including such places in the story of global Christianity, by shifting attention from the well-known places where Pentecostal churches flourish to the unfamiliar places where they fail.
In Faith in Flux, Premawardhana documents the ambivalence with which Pentecostalism has been received by the Makhuwa, an indigenous and historically mobile people of northern Mozambique. The Makhuwa are not averse to the newly arrived churches—many relate to them powerfully. Few, however, remain in them permanently. Pentecostalism has not firmly taken root because it is seen as one potential path among many—a pragmatic and pluralistic outlook befitting a people accustomed to life on the move.
This phenomenon parallels other historical developments, from responses to colonial and postcolonial intrusions to patterns of circular migration between rural villages and rising cities. But Premawardhana primarily attributes the religious fluidity he observed to an underlying existential mobility, an experimental disposition cultivated by the Makhuwa in their pre-Pentecostal pasts and carried by them into their post-Pentecostal futures. Faith in Flux aims not to downplay the influence of global forces on local worlds, but to recognize that such forces, “explosive” though they may be, never succeed in capturing the everyday intricacies of actual lives.
Publisher’s Description: The Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.
Richard Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction” Journal of Southern African Studies, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2018.1416978Excerpt: This Special Issue of JSAS explores the little-recognised, shifting importance of grassroots ecumenism in religious experience and public life. The cases that we present come from across southern Africa, from Rwanda to Angola, to Zambia and Botswana, to South Africa and Swaziland. We match this breadth with arguments that also draw widely, for an emerging area of interest in popular religious change, with contributions from anthropology, social history, theology and religious studies. Among the ecumenical changes we discuss are, perhaps most surprisingly, ones in which counterpublics are anti-establishment, transgressive, even disruptive, as they bring strangers together, with religious motives and moral passion, and oppose dominant publics in the making of public cultures.
Other articles in the special issue are relevant to anthropologists of Christianity. Follow the link above.