Abstract: In this article I discuss ‘the Pentecostal gender paradox’, famously coined by Bernice Martin. I do so by comparing Melanesian and Pentecostal forms of egalitarianism. My argument centers on the contention that in order for this paradox to emerge, specific concepts of equality and gender have to be kept fixed across contexts where they may not necessarily be stable. Pentecostalism has a specific effect on the role of women in the church, such as giving them access to the spirit, while also impacting on the notion of equality and ideas about the nature of gender. I conclude that in Pentecostalism gender is seen as an individual quality and that gender relations are viewed as power relations.
Abstract: In this paper I connect an anthropology of Christianity to an anthropology of the body and an anthropology of the nation. I try to achieve this by looking at changing notions of femininity in the Pentecostal context of Vanuatu. I do this on two different levels; on the one hand I show how the meaning of womanhood is changed in what I call the ‘pentecostalised’ neighborhoods of the capital Port Vila, and on the other I show how the household and the nation become contexts into which this new notion of femininity is played. Thus, in the first part of the paper I look at the ways in which Pentecostal Christianity change the meaning of gender, whereas in the second part of the paper I look at how this new form of gendered meaning has relevance for our understanding of wider social contexts.
Part I: Review Forum, “Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions”
Christianity and Gender
By: Ruy Blanes (University of Bergen)
Unlike other, previous ‘nation-building’ endeavors, Current Anthropology’s special issue on the ‘Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions’, edited by Joel Robbins and Naomi Haynes, is particularly valuable due to its explicit tackling of the epistemological limitations and potentialities of this disciplinary project. It congregates many protagonists of the emergence of this subdiscipline, with the identified goal of producing what could be called an ‘angelus novus move’. When Walter Benjamin wrote his theses on the philosophy of history (1968), he began his reflections with Paul Klee’s famous painting “Angelus Novus”, in which an angel appears, ‘moving forward but looking backward’. Benjamin interpreted this movement as the inevitable ‘storm of progress’ (1968: 258), in which we are involuntarily pushed into the future while looking back at what is left. This issue can be seen as one in which a similar looking back while moving forward takes place. Continue reading
Abstract: Early anthropological studies of Pentecostalism and gender, dominated by Latin American and Caribbean ethnography, focused to a large extent on women’s conversion and how Pentecostal ideology has limited masculine oppressive behavior and provided women with social community, faith healing, domestic counseling, and so forth. These studies of Pentecostalism have thus been dominated by a focus on women on the one hand and on social community and social change on the other. The primary question asked in these studies has been, does Pentecostalism bring about an increased degree of equality? With the development of the anthropology of Christianity, the focus has shifted to a more thoroughgoing understanding of Christianity as a culture. In this paper I argue that this shift can also stimulate a shift in the way we study equality and gender in Pentecostalism. Instead of looking at men and women’s roles, we need to look at the specific idea of egalitarianism that this form of Christianity brings about and how this shapes the way in which gendered difference is articulated. I present a case from Vanuatu, South West Pacific, arguing that we need to look at gendered values, and I suggest a focus on what I call “the charismatic space.”
Excerpt: The anthropologist reader of When God talks back does not need to open the book to begin to collect information about what it is trying to convey, and how. By looking at the cover, feeling the pages in your fingers and, especially, glancing through the back cover, one quickly understands that this book, despite being written by an anthropologist, is not written as an “anthropology book” nor is it intended for only a disciplinary academic audience: the endorsements from newspaper reviews and famous neuroscientists, the thin, soon-to-be-brown airport bestseller paper, the mainstream publisher. . . . All these sensorial acknowledgements easily confirm our suspicion.
Abstract: Melanesian people have recently become highly occupied with history as an arena for moral scrutiny and causal explanations for contemporary failures. On the island of Ambrym in Vanuatu, this form of ontological worry goes back to the first missionaries on the island, the Murray brothers. This article takes us back to events in the 1880s when the missionaries were active on Ambrym, and searches into their social position. Drawing on the diary of Charles Murray, the main argument unfolds around his involvement in the realm of men’s ritual powers, how he himself played his part as a highly knowledgeable magician and how his downfall came about by challenging a manly realm of knowledge and power and his wider inclusion of women and lesser men in his church.
The focus of this article is the proliferation of new charismatic Pentecostal churches in the South Pacific nation Vanuatu. The established Presbyterian Church on the island of Ambrym is compared to a new Pentecostal church in the capital Port Vila in terms of gender. The idea of a vanishing form of masculinity and the development of a form of ‘gender nostalgia’ is emphasized in the comparison. By looking at gender relations, new perspectives on the difference between the new churches and more established churches emerge, and these perspectives, I argue, might also give us an understanding of why fission seem to be inevitable for the new Pentecostal churches in Vanuatu.
Le présent article s’intéresse à la prolifération des nouvelles Églises pentecôtistes charismatiques au Vanuatu, une nation du Pacifique Sud. Il propose un comparaison du point de vue des rapports de genre entre l’Église presbytérienne établie dans l’île d’Ambrym et une nouvelle assemblée pentecôtiste de la capitale, Port Vila. Cette comparaison met l’accent sur l’idée d’une forme de masculinité en voie de disparition et sur le développement d’une certaine « nostalgie de genre ». L’examen des rapports sociaux de sexes fait apparaître de nouveaux angles d’approche de la différence entre les nouvelles Églises et les plus établies. L’auteure affirme que ces approches peuvent permettre de comprendre pourquoi le schisme semble inévitable pour les nouvelles Églises pentecôtistes du Vanuatu.