The first phase of anthropology’s turn toward ethics called our attention to freedom, evaluative reflection, and projects of intentional self‐cultivation. While the inclusion of such moments of intentionality and freedom provided a helpful corrective to overly determinist frameworks for the study of morality and social life, we lost sight of other aspects of ethical life and personhood that are less easily controlled. Drawing on an ethnographic case that might otherwise be considered exemplary of a Foucauldian “care of the self,” this article draws on texts from Africanist anthropology and Franciscan theology to explore how members of a community of Ugandan, Kenyan, and Tanzanian Franciscan nuns living and working at a residential home for orphans and children with disabilities in central Uganda understand and engage with the uncertain potential of moral transformation.
Publisher’s Description: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence make up an unlikely order of nuns. Self-described as “twenty-first century queer nuns,” the Sisters began in 1979 when three bored gay men donned retired Roman Catholic nuns’ habits and went for a stroll through San Francisco’s gay Castro district. The stunned and delighted responses they received prompted these already-seasoned activists to consider whether the habits might have some use in social justice work, and within a year they had constituted the new order. Today, with more than 83 houses on four different continents, the Sisters offer health outreach, support, and, at times, protest on behalf of queer communities.
In Queer Nuns, Melissa M. Wilcox offers new insights into the role the Sisters play across queer culture and the religious landscape. The Sisters both spoof nuns and argue quite seriously that they are nuns, adopting an innovative approach the author refers to as serious parody. Like any performance, serious parody can either challenge or reinforce existing power dynamics, and it often accomplishes both simultaneously. The book demonstrates that, through the use of this strategy, the Sisters are able to offer an effective, flexible, and noteworthy approach to community-based activism.
Serious parody ultimately has broader applications beyond its use by the Sisters. Wilcox argues that serious parody offers potential uses and challenges in the efforts of activist groups to work within communities that are opposed and oppressed by culturally significant traditions and organizations – as is the case with queer communities and the Roman Catholic Church. This book opens the door to a new world of religion and social activism, one which could be adapted to a range of political movements, individual inclinations, and community settings.
Abstract: This essay uses the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge at the Port of Laredo to examine Catholic parish life at la Parroquia Santo Niño in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Considering how infrastructure works, how it literally keeps people and objects moving, nuances our understanding of the devotional rhythms and space sacralization processes of actors who move and wait in a border environment. Contributing to debates about rhythm and mobility in border studies, it highlights religion’s temporal particularities—specifically the role that an international bridge plays in influencing where, when, and how often border-based actors manage worship and spaces of reflection. Thinking with scholars of material religion, this essay maintains that accounting for border infrastructure is worthwhile. Using infrastructure as a primary reference point can productively challenge still influential distinctions between American and Latin American religion. It will also show that infrastructure not only animates religious practice and dictates devotional rhythms within the walls of la Parroquia, but also facilitates or at times deters movement to and from that site of worship. Mapping out routes and relationships among objects, places, and people, it traces how parish life and international bridge usage are inextricably linked across several planes—geographic, temporal, cultural, and economic; it is impossible to understand the significance of one without attending to the other.
Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.
In 2016 a new open access journal, The Journal of Global Catholicism, was launched in conjunction with the Catholics & Cultures program at College of the Holy Cross. We recently caught up Dr. Marc Loustau, one of the journal editors, to talk about this exciting new forum.
Participants: Marc Loustau (College of the Holy Cross); James S. Bielo (Miami University)
James: Marc, thanks so much for taking the time to talk about The Journal of Global Catholicism. The inaugural issue was published in late 2016, and consists of six articles on Indian Catholicism. Very exciting for anyone interested in “lived Catholicism” (a category we’ll circle back to), and certainly exciting for the editorial team. Could you start by explaining a bit about the project’s background. How did this project get started?
Marc: The Journal of Global Catholicism (JGC) works in tandem with the Catholics & Cultures initiative at College of the Holy Cross. Both are programs of Holy Cross’ McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture. I am the Editor, working with Mat Schmalz, Associate Professor in Holy Cross’ Department of Religious Studies, who is the JGC’s Founder and Senior Editor. We also work with Tom Landy, Director of the McFarland Center’s Catholics & Cultures program where the JGC has its institutional home. Continue reading
Abstract: This article cautions against an ‘earnest turn’ within the anthropology of religion, pointing up the tendency for anthropologists of religion to over-emphasize the role of discipline in the construction of the religious subjecthood over mechanisms of leniency and compromise. Taking the Catholic Church as an example, I show how discipline andlenience have been co-constitutive of Christian subjectivities, as different movements in a gigantic choreography which have spanned and evolved over several centuries. By looking at certain technologies of lenience that have emerged over the course of Catholic history, I trace an alternative genealogy of ‘the Christian self’; one in which institutional growth, power, and survival depended not only upon the formation of disciplined bodies and interior dispositions but also upon a carefully managed division of labour between clergy and laity, as well as upon a battery of legal commutations and practical avoidances aimed at minimizing the effort and pain of the ascetic approach. Taking the concept of ‘lapsedness’ as cue, I ask to what extent the ‘lapsed Catholic’, rather than indexing an ever-increasing tendency towards secularism, might already be contained and accounted for within Catholicism as a living, evolving form.
Abstract: In a majority Catholic country like the Philippines, it can be difficult to appreciate the true impact of Catholicism, beyond the obvious presence of Catholics. For the ‘unchristianised’ indigenous minorities in its peripheral upland regions, the role of the Catholic thought-world in shaping who they are today is masked substantially by their cultural distinctiveness. Missionary-dominated narratives in colonial historiography configure our understanding of the present, structuring our approach to anthropology in these peripheral spaces. This article argues that the diachronic component is necessary to make sense of how Catholicism has not only shaped the diversity of modern Philippine cultures, but also how it has configured cultural and political spaces so completely that, as anthropologists, we at times reproduce this thought-world uncritically through our own ethnographies. A focus on the so-called unchristianised Lumad ethnic minorities of Mindanao argues that it is essential to look beyond Catholics as obvious subjects when undertaking an anthropology of Catholicism.
Abstract: The declining number of religious vocations joining Catholic seminaries in Italy has encouraged some dioceses to hire migrant religious workers to compensate for the lack of clergy available for parish work. Although initially approached as a temporary solution, an unforeseen consequence of this policy has been the emergence of congenial relationships between migrant priests and Italian parishioners, who often describe their bond as deeply spiritual. This article examines the experiences of Sri Lankan priests who work in Italy, highlighting the distinct emphasis that they place on reaching out to the communities that they work with. Through fieldwork conducted in Sri Lanka and Italy, I analyse how South Asian priests use concepts such as devotion and sincerity to explain how their approach to the priesthood makes a ‘solemn’ difference that is celebrated by local parishioners. With an explicit focus on pastoral work, this form of Asian Catholicism emphasises the importance of bodily comportment, ceremonial poise and ritual dignity, capturing the yearnings of Catholic laities avid for devotional celebrations capable of re-connecting them to the spiritually meaningful aspects of their faith. My work draws lines of connection between the historical, theological and pedagogical underpinnings of Sri Lankan Catholicism and the affective responses that South Asian priests elicit in Europe.
Abstract: In order to better understand diverse configurations of Catholicism in relation to the contemporary anthropology of Christianity, we need to develop more dynamic models to interpret the interaction between the material of particular ethnographic accounts and the continual recalibration of broader cultural and theological paradigms involved in their framing and analysis. Building upon the growing body of work that has been produced in both the ethnography of Catholic communities and the critical reflection on theoretical dimensions of the new project of the anthropology of Christianity, we hope to nudge conversations toward more integrated explorations between these two lines of enquiry. The research presented in the articles included in this special issue collectively suggests that turning the ethnographic lens toward Asian Catholicism can serve to substantially enrich conversations with new empirical material on modern forms of religiosity. Well beyond that, moreover, critical engagement with such dynamic, theologically sophisticated, aesthetically complex, and socially engaged traditions can inform constructive critiques of the mainstream account of Anthropology’s approach to the study of Christianity.