Book Review: Millennial Missionaries

Dugan, Katherine. 2019. Millennial Missionaries: How a Group of Young Catholics is Trying to Make Catholicism Cool. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Reviewed by: Annie Blazer (College of William and Mary)

Katherine Dugan provides a window onto the lives of a small group of devout Catholic millennials. These young Catholics enthusiastically share their vision of a personally rewarding religious life that need not require isolation from popular culture. While much contemporary scholarship on young Catholics focuses on why young people are leaving the faith, Dugan asks: for those who stay, what does Catholicism mean to them? She ends up with an insightful picture of the vanguard of youth Catholicism that carries implications for the future of the tradition in the US. Continue reading

Loustau, “Belief Beyond the Bugbear”

Loustau, Marc Roscoe. (2019) “Belief Beyond the Bugbear: Propositional Theology and Intellectual Authority in a Transylvanian Catholic Ethnographic Memoir.” Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.1640262.

Abstract: By overlooking the history of Catholic thought, anthropologists have made contemporary processes for negotiating intellectual authority in the Catholic Church into a lacuna in the anthropology of Christianity. I develop this claim by examining an ethnographic memoir called The Secret of Csíksomlyó by Árpád Daczó, a widely known contemporary Transylvanian Hungarian Catholic intellectual. Daczó blends autobiography and ethnography to argue that the Hungarian Virgin Mary is a Christianized pagan moon goddess. Halfway through, Daczó switches genres to propositional theology and defends himself to the magisterium, the Church’s institutional guarantor of orthodoxy. I situate Daczó’s effort to anticipate his critics in the history of Catholic-Protestant theological polemics, which helped make propositional theology into the Catholic Church’s privileged language for investigating heresy. By placing Daczó’s use of propositional theology against the backdrop of contemporary Catholic theologians’ debates about the magisterium’s authority, I challenge anthropological assumptions about the social significance of propositional belief.

Kaell, “Catholic Globalism in the United States”

Kaell, Hillary. 2019. “Catholic Globalism in the United States: Notes on Conversion and Culture.” Exchange. https://doi.org/10.1163/1572543X-12341531.

Abstract: Inspired by Norget, Napolitano, and Mayblin’s suggestion that anthropologists attend more closely to the mechanisms of Catholicism’s worldwide spread, this article juxtaposes two organizations—the Holy Childhood Association and Unbound—to explore “paganism,” conversion, and its legacy among U.S. laypeople. In the process, it makes two major points. The first concerns the recourse to “culture” as a rhetorical and ideational hinge connecting the singularity of Christian universalism and new valuations of local multiplicity. The second focuses on the U.S. Catholic relationship to institutional structures of missionary work, which they both associate with positive attributes of a vibrant society, while also being much more critical than their Protestant counterparts of their own Church’s role abroad. It ends by noting how Unbound and its supporters contend with ongoing inequalities by cultivating an imagined global parity where Catholic people choose to send their “gifts” to each other.

Negotiating Respect: Book Review

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2016. Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

By: Ruthie Meadows (University of Nevada, Reno)

In 2016, I took an evening stroll through the small city of Baracoa, Cuba as the sun set against façades of brightly-painted, columned wooden homes. In a country internationally-renowned for its rich Afro-Cuban musical genres – rumba, Latin jazz, timba, reggaetón, batá – I was surprised to encounter an unexpected sound dominating the nighttime aural landscape: the songs of evangelical Christianity. Through open doorways and windows leading into private homes, passersby could see (and hear) groups of singers standing in circles singing evangelical hymns and praise songs, their proud harmonies spilling out from living rooms into the public domain of the streets. Incredibly, I re-encountered this scenario in home after home throughout my walk, passing by multiple groups as they intoned their own sets of praise songs and asserted – through sonic presence – the arrival and dominion of evangelical Christianity within Cuba’s post-atheist religious environment.

Continue reading

Scherz, “Enduring the Awkward Embrace”

Scherz, China. 2017. Enduring the Awkward Embrace: Ontology and Ethical Work in a Ugandan Convent. American Anthropologist 120(1): 102-112.

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.

Wilcox, “Queer Nuns”

Wilcox, Mellisa. 2018. Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody. New York: NYU Press. 

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.

Peña, “Time to Pray”

Peña, Elaine. 2017. Time to Pray: Devotional Rhythms and Space Sacralization Processes at the Mexico-US Border. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief 13(4): 461-481. 

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.

Loustau, “The Uncanny Self in Love”

Loustau, Marc Roscoe. 2018. The Uncanny Self in Love: Divorced Catholic Women Remember Abortion in Romania. Journal of Religious Ethics 46(1): 63-87.

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.

Interview, “The Journal of Global Catholicism”

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

Mayblin, “The Lapsed and the Laity”

Mayblin, Maya. 2017. The lapsed and the laity: discipline and lenience in the study of religion. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institution. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12650

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.