Abstract: Once a matter of beliefs, symbols, values and worldviews, religion has progressively appeared in recent anthropological works as material religion, a highly concrete phenomenon based on affects, senses, substances, places, artifacts, and technologies. But what happened to transcendence, the dimension of religious worldmaking that remains beyond – hidden, untouched, unseen, unheard or unfulfilled? Is it necessarily the ‘other’ of material religion, a residual category that carries no ethnographic value? Retaining an emic concern with authority and a reflexive awareness about processes of boundary-making, in this article I approach material religion as a field of problematization inhabited by anthropologists and religious subjects alike. I examine some of the protocols whereby Pentecostal Christians in Ghana engage critically with the problem of materiality in their own religion, and argue that this operation lends ethnographic access to the role of transcendence in material religion’s everyday.
Abstract: Experiential and mediatized, Pentecostal Christianity is one of the most successful cases of contemporary religious globalization. However, it has often grown and expanded transnationally without clear authoritative contours. That is the case in contemporary Ghana, where Pentecostal claims about charismatic empowerment have fed public anxieties concerning the fake and the occult. This article examines how Pentecostalism’s dysfunctional circulation is countered within seminaries, or Bible schools, by specific strategies of pastoral training. First, I revisit recent debates on Protestant language ideology in the anthropology of Christianity, and stress Pentecostalism’s affinity with notions of flow and saturation of speech by divine presence. Second, I move to data collected in the Anagkazo Bible and Ministry Training Center, and investigate this institution’s pedagogical framing of Pentecostalism’s otherwise erratic flow of speech and power according to two normative operations: Biblical figuration and the emic notion of transmission as ‘impartation’. I conclude by stressing how the metapragmatics of figuration and impartation in Anagkazo requires an understanding of religious circulation that exceeds the dominant scholarly focus on religion-as-mediation.
Part IV: Review Forum, The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions
Christianity in a world of normative entanglements: reflexivity, conversion, and materiality
By Bruno Reinhardt (Utrecht University)
The three articles here under review are part of the subsection entitled “Key topics” of the recently released special issue of Current Anthropology – “The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions” – edited by Joel Robbins and Naomi Haynes. More than extensive overviews of some of the central themes animating the Anthropology of Christianity since its inception – reflexivity, conversion, and materiality – these articles allow three leading scholars in this field to clarify and produce new input into their long-term research projects. Albeit challenging, the very possibility of producing a joint review of such rich and singular works by unearthing not only disagreements, but also potential complementarities, testifies to the success and vitality of the Anthropology of Christianity as a comparative field of inquiry whose questions have resonated across highly diverse theoretical canons, scholarly trajectories, and field sites.
Abstract: Can a voice touch? This possibility is indeed what underlies ‘soaking in tapes’, a devotional practice performed in Anagkazo Bible and Ministry Training Center, a Pentecostal seminary based in Accra, Ghana. Soaking in tapes is a form of impartation, or grace transmission, homologous to the biblical method of laying on of hands. In this article, I explore the conditions of possibility of this transposition of touch into speaking and hearing, arguing that the haptic voice of soaking in tapes is predicated upon a cultivated receptivity and a specific bond connecting addresser and addressee. I situate the practice in the school’s broader pedagogical apparatus, where it operates simultaneously as a spiritual exercise, a method of discipleship, and a technology of church government. I conclude by showing how soaking in tapes gives a pedagogical inflection to the general tactility and flow-orientated materiality of global Pentecostal power.