Bandak, “Repeated Prayers”

Bandak, Andreas.  2016. Repeated prayers: saying the rosary in contemporary Syria.  Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Mauss’ seminal doctoral thesis, On Prayer [1909], captured the social character of prayer, but he sidelined the rosary as a merely mechanical prayer of repetition. This article also finds repetition at play in the rosary, as it is performed in the shrine of Our Lady of Soufanieh, Damascus, in pre-2011 Syria. However, it argues that repetition need not be conceptualised as dulling and inhibiting for the devotee. Rather, repetition can be seen like a heartbeat: something alive and pulsating. The repetition of the prayers among the followers is seen as unforced, a voluntary response to a grace already bestowed upon them by the Virgin Mary and Christ. Prayers are a response to this grace and, in this sense, repetition is to be understood as re-petition. This re-petition is seen as modelling the individual in the image of the Virgin Mary and, by this, exemplifying the saintly character of the devout.

Bandak, “Reckoning with the Inevitable”

Bandak, Andreas. 2015. Reckoning with the Inevitable: Death and Dying among Syrian Christians during the Uprising. Ethnos 80(5): 671-691.

Abstract: Since 15 March 2011, Syria has seen a humanitarian crisis escalate and we are now witnessing outright civil war in many parts of the country. From a relatively peaceful start, the whole affair has turned ugly. Bombs are exploding not just in remote parts of Syria but in its largest cities. Death and dying has now become a salient feature of Syrian life, both inside and outside its national borders. It is this salience of death and dying that I explore in this paper. My focus will be on Syrian Christians and their ways of perceiving the materiality of death. Most centrally, I argue that the fear of extinction that death and dying evoke in the minority prevents them from embracing oppositional politics and is instead used by the regime to propagate the fact that it alone will be able to ensure a future for all of the country’s citizens.

Bandak, “Exemplary series and Christian typology”

Bandak, Andreas. 2015. Exemplary series and Christian typology: modelling on sainthood in Damascus. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(s1):47-63.

Abstract: In this paper, I explore the way in which examples are used in sermons among the pious followers of Our Lady of Soufanieh in Damascus, Syria. In the sermons, a particular logic of seriation functions to present specific models and exemplars as prisms of lives to be imitated. The framing of these lives takes place through entextualizations, whereby the life of some is made into texts that others are told to emulate. The process of making life into text and text into life is explored in the production of examples at the weekly Saturday sermons in Soufanieh. While directly related to life as lived, such sermons also stand for a broader class of life as forma vitae, that is, lives to be followed. I thus explore the example as exemplum, a particular moral story used for edification and didactic purposes, one which situates the listener at the centre of the story by integrating the miraculous happenings in Soufanieh with the response of the individual. The sermons thus serve to examine exemplification and the modelling of sainthood in Damascus in the years preceding the current civil war.

Review: Katja Rakow on “Christianity, Space, and Place”

Part III: Review Forum, “The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions”

Christianity, Space, and Place

Schieffelin, Bambi B. 2014. Christianizing Language and the Dis-Placement of Culture in Bosavi, Papua New Guinea. Current Anthropology 55(s10): s226-s237.

Huang, Jianbo. 2014. Being Christians in Urbanizing China: The Epistemological Tensions of the Rural Churches in the City. Current Anthropology 55(s10): s238-s247.

Bandak, Andreas. 2014. Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus: Urban Space and Christian-Muslim Coexistence. Current Anthropology 55(s10): s248-s261.

By: Katja Rakow (Heidelberg University)

The three articles in the section “Christianity, Space, and Place” assemble ethnographic studies concerned with different space-place relations in various geographical settings, ranging from urban spaces in Beijing (China) and Damascus (Syria) to rural settings in Bosavi (Papua New Guinea). I will give a brief overview of each essay before I draw a comparison and point out similarities, shared themes and insights. Further, I will discuss each article’s contribution to broader discussions in the Anthropology of Christianity and to what research desiderata these articles point us in terms of future studies. Continue reading

Bandak and Boylston, “‘Orthodoxy’ of Orthodoxy’

Bandak, Andreas and Tom Boylston. 2014. The ‘Orthodoxy’ of Orthodoxy: On Moral Imperfection, Correctness, and Deferral in Religious Worlds. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 5:25-46.

Abstract: This article uses ethnographic studies of Orthodox Christianities as a way to investigate the concept of ‘orthodoxy’ as it applies to religious worlds. Orthodoxy, we argue, is to be found neither in opposition to popular religion nor solely in institutional churches, but in a set of encompassing relations among clergy and lay people that amounts to a religious world and a shared tradition. These relations are characterized by correctness and deferral—formal modes of relating to authority that are open-ended and non-definitive and so create room for certain kinds of pluralism, heterodoxy, and dissent within an overarching structure of faith and obedience. Attention to the aesthetics of orthodox practice shows how these relations are conditioned in multi-sensory, often non-linguistic ways. Consideration of the national and territorial aspects of Orthodoxy shows how these religious worlds of faith and deferral are also political worlds.

Bandak, “Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus”

Bandak, Andreas. 2014. Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus: Urban Space and Christian-Muslim Coexistence. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678409

Abstract: Christians in the Middle East have traditionally clustered around cities. As minorities in a Muslim majority context, difference manifests itself in many ways. In recent decades, the sounds of the city, in the form of calls to prayer from minarets and church bells, have increased, while green and blue lighting likewise crafts a plural setting that is not only audible but visible to all. In this article, I explore Christian ways of inhabiting the city in Damascus, Syria. The orchestration of space is intensifying as the region appears to be becoming an ever more vulnerable place to live for a Christian minority. I argue that an anthropological engagement with Christianity may do well to listen to the particular refrains that are formed in and of the city. Such an engagement attests to the ways in which Christianity is lived in particular locations but also how Christianity is continuously made to matter.

Bandak, “Making ‘Sound’ Analysis: From Raw Moments to Attuned Perspectives”

Bandak, Andreas. 2014. “Making ‘Sound’ Analysis: From Raw Moments to Attuned Perspectives.” In Qualitative analysis in the making, edited by Daniella Kuzmanovic and Andreas Bandak, 176-191. New York: Routledge.

Excerpt: “Suddenly, I am unable to hear my own thoughts, far less the words of my interlocutor, as I sit at my usual Internet café, High Point, in Damascus. A deafening sound from the nearby Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Kanisat Marimiyya, makes it nigh impossible to continue the conversation for several minutes. The sound is coming from the Church orchestra, consisting of vari- ous brass instruments and drums. Trumpets, cornets, trombones, and tubas mix with the sound of snare drums and bass drums. “Da daa daaa, da dada da daaa . . .” the brass instruments go, accompanied by the snare drums: “Tikiti tikiti tik, tikiti tikiti tik . . .” and the bass drums: “Dum dum duum, dum dum duum . . .” People from the Internet café leave their seats to look out onto Yohanna al-Dimashqi Alley, where the orchestra—assisted by uni- formed scouts—is marching by. The orchestra and the young girls and boys walk with rehearsed dignity down the narrow alley as the music resounds in all directions. The Syrian national flag is carried in front, followed by pennants from the Greek Orthodox Church. People smile and rejoice in the celebrations on this Christian feast day. Having been carried away for some minutes, we resume our conversation. I had been telling my friend and col- league about the intricacies of my fieldwork on Christians in Damascus and their perceptions of Christian-Muslim relations. Much to my frustration, I had been telling my interlocutor, I found a lack of consistency in responses, not just from different people, but from the very same ones, which was trou- bling my understanding of matters and, concomitantly, impeding my analy- sis. Someone would one minute recount how relations were, if not cordial, then based on a civilian understanding of being Syrian first and foremost, not Christian, and Syria was a country with room for all regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation. The next moment he would, as we passed by a mosque in a Christian neighborhood, point to it and simply state that it was out of place in the area. And later again, the very same person would point to mosques and churches neighboring each other as signs of an historical co-existence that was possible and even desirable. How could one account for such seeming inconsistencies, I had asked my interlocutor? At long last, now that we could hear each other again, we both immediately returned to an old discussion we had had on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and, more precisely, their concept of the ‘refrain’ and sonorities in landscapes, and suddenly the material seemed to speak on an altogether different level.

I shall here treat this moment as a significant point of departure for the analysis; it was what Deleuze and Guattari have designated as a ‘raw moment’ ([1980] 2004: 355) in terms of it being the critical point in my analytical labor, where a conceptual take renders another perspective possible from which the analysis can be made. In this chapter, I shall delve into the making of analysis where sound is allocated a much more critical and formative role both in terms of material and analysis. My argument is that ‘sound’ analysis rests on a critical engagement with the material at hand, but also a willingness to lis- ten to stories other than the standard ones, to trace the noise—which Michel Serres so eloquently captures in the epithet—and connect otherwise disparate areas of thought and practice. As argued by Steven Feld, sound in the social sciences and, more particularly, in the discipline of anthropology has often been relegated to mere material to be dealt with in writing, and sound has fur- thermore often been reduced to the words uttered and collected in interviews (Feld and Brenneis 2004: 471; see also Erlmann 2004). Here, my thinking about Christian Syrians was pushed by the massive noise produced by the orchestra marching by, forcing itself on me as the point from where I should start listening. This was, however, something quite different in practice. As Paolo Apolito has pointed out (1998), there is a difference between the work and thoughts possible in the field and the subsequent work with the material away from the field, and—I would add—the work on an analysis previously made, as is the case here. Past necessities can be sundered, dissolved, and reflected upon and the black box of the making of analysis approached. I shall here analyze how this analysis became both possible and preferable, what kind of connections were established, and, by extension, point to the potential for the ‘sound’ analysis to resound across domains ….”

Bandak, “Reckoning with the Inevitable”

Bandak, Andreas.  2014. Reckoning with the Inevitable: Death and Dying among Syrian Christians during the Uprising.  Ethnos (Early Online Publication).

Abstract: Since 15 March 2011, Syria has seen a humanitarian crisis escalate and we are now witnessing outright civil war in many parts of the country. From a relatively peaceful start, the whole affair has turned ugly. Bombs are exploding not just in remote parts of Syria but in its largest cities. Death and dying has now become a salient feature of Syrian life, both inside and outside its national borders. It is this salience of death and dying that I explore in this paper. My focus will be on Syrian Christians and their ways of perceiving the materiality of death. Most centrally, I argue that the fear of extinction that death and dying evoke in the minority prevents them from embracing oppositional politics and is instead used by the regime to propagate the fact that it alone will be able to ensure a future for all of the country’s citizens.

Bandak, “Our Lady of Soufanieh”

Bandak, Andreas. 2013. Our Lady of Soufanieh: On Knowledge, Ignorance, and Indifference among the Christians of Damascus. In Politics of Worship in the Contemporary Middle East: Sainthood in Fragile States, Edited by Andreas Bandak and Mikkel Bille, 129-154. Leiden: Brill.

Bandak, “States of Exception”

Bandak, Andreas. 2013. States of Exception: Effects and Affects of Authoritarianism among Christian Arabs in Damascus. In A Comparative Ethnography of Alternative Spaces, Edited by Esther Fihl and Jens Dahl. New York: Palgrave.