Abstract: With reference to two different projects examining North American Christianities, this symposium contribution explores opportunities for critique when conducting fieldwork. Drawing from observations made by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, I suggest that critique is most productive when it uses the perspective and position of one’s interlocutors as its point of departure.
Abstract: Answering the question of the intellectual proximity of anthropology and theology is difficult, however. One way to do this would be to try to map how the entirety of things looks from each vantage, and then compare these sky-charts for matching patterns. Such a cataloging is a dizzying and exhaustive proposition, though, and not even those who have made the greatest investment of time and thought on this issue are suggesting that we are anywhere near the point of sufficient mastery of an anthropological/theological conjunction to engage in that work. As we will see, for the most part the theology/anthropology rapprochement is a project that is still in its formative stages, offering plenty of promissory notes instead of hard arguments. But still, this is a development that is still quickening, and so a comprehensive account of the overlaps in the views of both disciplines has to wait. A far more economical move might be to simply select a single book and use it to make what we might call taking a parallax measurement. We would ask how this book might appear from different vantage points, with each vantage point’s likely view of the text compared with the other to see how far apart the two standpoints are, i.e. to see how the book might appear to both non-theological and theological readers. As we will see, there are actually far more than two vantage points, however. The gradations and modes of theological engagement by anthropology go far beyond an easy binary, with theology either embraced or scorned. This may be an exercise in intellectual parallax, but once we look into the particulars of how theology and anthropology could relate it is also an exercise in the intellectually vertiginous.
Abstract: This article reflects on one potential relationship the anthropological study of religion might enjoy with a critical orientation to religion. To do so, I highlight a burgeoning (but tenuous) dialog between anthropology and theology. Ultimately, I propose that a focus on religion and human flourishing provides one wavelength on which an anthropology–theology collaboration can thrive. I follow the observation that anthropologists and theologians are united by concern with shared problems. If human and social flourishing is one such problem, then what might a collaborative configuration look like? The example I consider is how ethnographic evidence of religion in public life can be mobilized to advance prophetic theological critiques of injustice.
Abstract: This article explores the limits of the debate surrounding Robert A. Orsi’s call for a “third way” in scholar-practitioner encounters in religious studies research. It argues that the debate has reached an impasse and that, as Joel Robbins suggests, an alternative approach might exist within theology—particularly, theological discussions of how the Christian is to relate to the non-Christian other. The article tests this notion by probing the writings of A. Kenneth Cragg, an Anglican theologian and Islamic Studies specialist who proposed the possibility of expanding the Christian canon within the context of interfaith encounters. The article concludes that although religious studies remains, as a field, unprepared to countenance the kind of hybridization toward which Cragg’s conception of the interfaith situation leads, his notion of “bi-scripturalism” has the potential nevertheless of opening up new questions for religious studies scholars concerned with alterity.
In my afterword to this special issue, I provide my own theoretical framing of issues relating to foregrounding and backgrounding Christianity, and argue that the sheer ambiguity of what occurs in so-called religious ‘contexts’ can be seen as constitutive of both subjectivity and religious attachment. I add that if our creation of an ‘Anthropology of Christianity’ is an act of foregrounding a particular religion for analytical purposes, this act must always be seen as a temporary move, inevitably open to being ‘backgrounded’ by other analytical framings.