Abstract: This study is an ethnographic and conceptual analysis of religious objects, their uses, and mediation of authority within the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Universal Church) in Brazil. Drawing on scholarship within media studies, religion and media, and material religion, I distinguish between artifacts used to cement implicit contracts between Universal Church followers and their church community, which I call contractual media, or swag, and those that followers bring to meetings to be blessed and then take home to mediate both good and evil forces in family, work, and social life—these I call portable media. While portable object media are seen by their owners as powerful tools, contractual media, on the other hand, create implicit power relations that keep followers tied to the institutional church in a reciprocal exchange predicated upon expected prosperity as evidence of faithful attendance, fidelity, and personal sacrifice. The physical exchange of material goods in religious spaces constitutes a perpetuation rather than a disruption of institutional religious authority. As infrastructure, contractual object media establish and maintain conditions for otherwise mundane materials to mediate power on a daily basis. Through attention toward portable and contract object media, as part of what I am calling material microstructure, we can further complicate religious authority as it is mediated through objects, not just in one-way flows but as dynamic exchanges and trade-offs between personal empowerment and institutional control.
Abstract: Praise dance is a Christian movement genre, popular among churchgoing women of color in the United States, characterized by the use of interpretive dances as vehicles of liturgical worship, testimony, and evangelism. Combining spiritual and artistic disciplines, including techniques derived from ballet and modern dance, black female praise dancers embody the gospel and cultivate religious authority in ways that reinforce orthodox norms while elevating creative skills and aesthetic sensibilities normally found outside the purview of religious tradition. Such efforts, and the challenges and opportunities they entail, demonstrate how the movement of cultural forms between secular and religious domains inﬂuences ritual innovations and the terms in which they are authorized. They also show how gendered conceptions of embodiment and power may be reimagined.
Abstract: This article reimagines the history of parenting as a subject for the study of religion. Through a schematic description of parenting in the United States, I observe the expanded responsibilities and increased social expectations for parents in the formation of child identity. Focusing on the concept of parental authority, I argue that the relationship of authority between parent and child is an important document of religious history in a secular age, and encourage future scholars to explore parenting habits, prescriptions, and admonitions as an archive for religious studies.
Abstract: The classical sociological literature on Amhara hierarchy describes a society based on open relations of domination and an obsession with top-down power. This article asks how these accounts can be reconciled with the strong ethics of love and care that ground daily life in Amhara. We argue that love and care, like power, are understood in broadly asymmetrical terms rather than as egalitarian forms of relationship. As such, they play into wider discourses of hierarchy, but also serve to blur the distinction between legitimate authority and illegitimate power.
By: Sonja Luehrmann (Simon Fraser University)
Catholic believers have been seeing the Virgin Mary appear for centuries, especially at times of crisis and social and ecclesiastical upheaval. In her book, Agnieszka Halemba argues that what is remarkable about these visions is not that they occur, but how some of them are embraced by a Church organization while others are not. Her ethnographic study deals with apparitions of Mary to two girls in Dzhublyk in Transcarpathian Ukraine that began in 2002. As with many apparitions, the official investigation about these has not yet been concluded, but local Greek Catholic communities have embraced the site and made it into a pilgrimage destination. Rather than focusing on the visionaries or pilgrims, Halemba looks at the organizational agents and processes in relation to which the apparitions gain lasting meaning and renown. In so doing, she creates a fascinating institutional ethnography of the Greek Catholic Church and its place in wider Christendom. Continue reading
Abstract: In reflecting on a sharp scholarly exchange at a conference, this article explores issues of authority, representation, and offense in global Catholic and South Asian Studies. Focusing on the act of foot washing by Dalit Catholics, the article examines how scholarly offense is linked to particular claims of representational authority. The article also puts this discussion within the context of contemporary debates about Western portrayals of Indian culture and society.
Abstract: Although Q’eqchi’-Maya Mainstream Catholics and Charismatic Catholics in the Guatemala highlands share many of the same physical and social spaces, the relationship between them is a tense one due to their differing modes of ritual practice. Although this conflict rarely comes to a head directly, on one particular occasion a highly ranked member of a Mainstream congregation, and indeed an outspoken critic of the Charismatics, entered the village chapel during the latter’s weekly service and proceeded openly to criticize their ritual practices, leaders’ religious knowledge, and relationship to the larger institutional Catholic Church. This article analyzes this event as a means of furthering our understanding of what happens when unexpected circumstances threaten the integrity of a religious group’s ritual. How do participants try to circumvent, mitigate or otherwise manage such an occurrence? Examining the spoken and embodied actions taken by both the speaker criticizing the congregation and his intended audience sheds light on the interactive strategies each used to manage their social and ethical standing during the uneasy interaction. This article draws critical attention to the way adherents to two related but distinct forms of Christianity establish and contest their modes of religious authority through language, discourse, and bodily behavior. By investigating an episode in which two modes of Christian practice came into direct confrontation with each other, we can better understand how differing ways of being Christian are dialogically constituted.
Abstract: This essay discusses the relationship between the Vineyard and the various other apostolic networks. By comparing the Vineyard with C. Peter Wagner and the New Apostolic Revival, I contend that the chief difference between these two movements lies in a Vineyard interest in pedagogy over a New Apostolic Revival interest in governance, and in the Vineyard’s use of the figure of John Wimber as an exemplar for practice rather than as a figure of authority.
Abstract: The article makes a contribution to the study of religion by developing the analytical concept of sacralisation as the process whereby individual religious actors and groups construct religious tradition by attributing value to single ideas and practices. The concept of sacralisation helps us understand how religious actors engage with their religious tradition and participate in constructing it by legitimising its single elements. The sacred is thus understood as constructed by religious actors as that which is of value for them and distinctive of their specific tradition. This concept has been developed from a three-year long ethnographic research in a Christian evangelical church and is illustrated through an analysis of the research data.
Luehrmann, Sonja. 2015. The politics of prayer books: Delegated intercession, names, and community boundaries in the Russian Orthodox Church. Journal of Religious and Political Practice. Early online publication.
Abstract: Prayer is most easily conceived of as political speech when it is a spontaneous practice showing individual and group reactions to current events. Where prayer is a routinized activity involving the recitation of canonical texts, interpreters locate politics in the disciplining of bodies and acts of claiming space. This paper takes inspiration from ethnographies of oral ritual performance and Quranic recitation to include texts and the delegation of speech roles in the analysis of recited prayer. Most Russian Orthodox Christians either pray from a prayer book or order such prayers to be said by specialists. Focusing on the use of baptismal names as indexical elements in intercessory prayer, I argue that Orthodox Christian textual practices sustain a particular form of fractal social authority. Standardized prayer texts synchronize lay and delegated clerical voices, while individualizing responsibility for non-Orthodox kin and acquaintances. Through analyzing canonical and non-canonical intercessory formulae, one can see that part of the political force of prayer lies in constructing community boundaries while dynamically readjusting them.