Abstract: This article explores how in Samoa, Christians from diverse denominational backgrounds regularly talk about and critique church giving practices ranging from weekly announcements of offerings to tithing. By comparing Pentecostal and mainstream Christian giving practices, Pentecostals discursively created denominational difference through valuation: the comparative process of differentiating between ways of giving. Pentecostals created a socially embedded subject position through giving critiques, demonstrating how denominational comparison is religious practice. By looking at the metapragmatics of giving—that is, how accounts of giving are used in everyday life—discussions of giving become a primary means to navigate the institutional mediation of individualism evident in giving practices. This article thus shows how critiques of giving collapse the distinction between “religious” and “economic” spheres showing that they are often co-constitutive.
Abstract: For the Amazonian Yine people, Christian denominationalism provides an important means for organizing social life. Denominations in this context are not, however, to be understood as clearly bounded entities. Simultaneously with forming and renewing denominational boundaries, the Yine continuously cross, dissolve, and redefine them. This article attempts to understand the denominational dynamics among the Yine people, and in particular their back and forth movement between Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Pentecostalism, without viewing their denominational allegiances as subordinate to other forms of social organization or as something religiously insincere. Seeking inspiration from the ethnography of personhood and humanity in Amazonia, it suggests that denominations among the Yine can be understood to exist as unstable forms of belonging, as “thickenings” of different kinds of Christian moral relations to sociality, that take place on a continuum pictured not as a line but rather as a space. At the more general level the article shows how Christian vernacular denominationalism is likely to not be based on dogmatic differences but to be rather something that comes to be in practice. Furthermore, the article makes explicit how denominational boundaries are not always of the one and the same kind everywhere but vary between denominations.
Abstract: The 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) scandal and 2018 elections brought the corruption and nepotism of Malaysian politics to international attention. For my Christian Dusun interlocutors in the Ranau hinterlands of Sabah, Malaysia, one effect of corruption, as well as state-driven ‘Islamisation’, is that many people no longer trust their government, the moral failings of which are viewed as unchristian. Crucially, Western liberal democracies are often imagined as being both Christian and white, stimulating optimistic interpretations of racial whiteness. In this article, I employ theories of the fetish to unveil the inspired ‘cultural criticism’ that emerges at the interface of two social worlds (Spyer, Patricia. 1988. Introduction. In Border Fetishisms: Material objects in unstable spaces, edited by Patricia Spyer, pp. 1–12. Psychology Press; Graeber, David. 2005. Fetishism as Social Creativity or, Fetishes are Gods in the Process of Construction. Anthropological Theory, 5(4):407–438). The affective relations between people, images and ideas in postcolonial Ranau contributed to the construction of my embodied racial identity, orang putih (white person), which was fetishised by Christian Dusun as a ‘container’ (Newell, Sasha. 2014. The Matter of the Unfetish: Hoarding and the Spirit of Possessions. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4(3):185–213) of hope for their own Christian future.
Abstract: Samoan Pentecostal churches, ritualized friendships among women are an informal but essential relationship through which churches grow. The mentorship that women provide when a new convert is introduced to church life creates escalating forms of care and obligation, as well as an experience of urgency and acceleration. Converts learn how to construct rupture in their narratives and spiritual practices, which are modeled in peer socialization practices. This period of intense yet temporary mentorship creates a temporality of “repair”—embodied, linguistic, and social practices that restore the convert’s identity, which has been disrupted by conversion. This care work compels us to consider the temporalization of care as a future‐making endeavor.
Abstract: This article examines themes of religion tourism, presence, devotional labour, and place-making from the vantage point of a ‘forgotten’ Christian attraction in the United States. I integrate archival, oral history, and ethnographic data to analyze the accumulations throughout the 60-year life course of the Garden of Hope, a site in northern Kentucky (USA): from distinctly Protestant and distinctly Catholic material features, more ambiguous theological features, stories of supernatural intervention and stories of human ingenuity, competing claims to authority and authenticity, choreographed rituals, and multiple forms of devotion. I argue for an interpretation of the Garden that accounts for the ways in which Christian engagements with the problem of presence accumulate promises of presence: the expectation, anticipation, and potentiality that a desired spiritual intimacy will be actualised. In particular, I highlight the devotional labour of custodians and visitors as integral for defining, narrating, and maintaining this promise.
Abstract: The popular sport of CrossFit has attracted a number of Christians who simultaneously celebrate their passion for their faith and their passion for their sport. In this interplay of sport and religion, fashion becomes an important means for the profession of faith. This essay focuses specifically on religious athletic T-shirts that appear regularly among Christians in CrossFit. I argue that these are not a mere profession of faith but serve a dual purpose: on the one hand being athletic (and one could argue secular) and on the other being religious symbols with a deeper theological meaning. As such, they are sites where business opportunities, religious and sacramental practices, advertisement and consumption practices collide. I argue that religious CrossFit T-shirts need to be taken seriously as a religious-sacramental practice, but also that religious athletic clothing makes faith fit for consumption.
Abstract: This is the Prize winner Essay for the Inaugural Political Theology Network on New Directions in Political Theology. In this essay we invite those of us who work in political theology to listen to the Americas and to do so, insofar as possible, ethnographically.
Abstract: As clerical sexual abuse scandals hit the news and the crisis of vocations worsens each year, debate about the merits of mandatory clerical celibacy continues to grow. The fact remains, however, that supposedly celibate priests have been sexually active in significant numbers throughout history and that their sexual activity has barely affected the power of the Church. In this article, I focus on the ‘everyday’ nature of sexual ‘incontinence’ among a group of Northeast Brazilian priests and analyse the relative systematicity with which vow-breaking is accommodated. Such systematicity, I suggest, reveals an ongoing stable-instability at the heart of the Church as an institution; a dynamic which, if better understood, can help to explain the most characteristic (but often overlooked) feature of institutions more generally: their impressive longevity.
Abstract: The Samoan Christian theologian Ama’amalele Tofaeono draws on diverse intellectual sources to articulate an ecological theology both distinctively Samoan and self-consciously Oceanic. I examine Tofaeono’s writings through the lens of recent work in linguistic anthropology on repetition and replication. By paying close attention to the ways texts and their original contexts, authorship, and intentions can be brought forward into new contexts, such anthropological work offers a useful perspective on Tofaeono’s theological arguments about creation and salvation. Tofaeono frames creation and salvation as actions that are necessarily ongoing—matters of repetition rather than rupture, a kind of continuity that depends not on fundamental durability but on repeated reengagement. An appreciation of Tofaeono’s articulation of time and repetition can in turn illuminate the anthropological study of social transformation and help develop productive interdisciplinary dialogue between anthropology and theology.
Lubanska, Magdalena. 2017.”We do it for health (za zdrave)”. Sensational Forms Related to the Cult of Healing Springs (ayazma) in Orthodox Christian Shrines in South-Western Bulgaria. Anthropology of East Europe Review 35(1): 19-38.
Abstract: The article describes sensational forms connected with the cult of healing waters, as found in Orthodox Christian religious communities of southwestern Bulgaria. Referring to the concept of the porous self, I analyze how and why Orthodox Christian devotees in Bulgaria attribute a life-giving force (zhivonosna/zhivotvorna) to the healing springs (ayazma) found in the monastery, and how they use those for ablutions and drinking, thereby hoping to increase their personal vitality. The data is discussed from synchronic and diachronic perspectives. This is done to draw distinct cultural parallels between current practices at the healing springs at the monastery, the iconography of Bogoroditsa the Life-Giving Spring, and the cult established at the monastery of the Mother of God of the Spring (Zoodohos Pege) in Constantinople, attested since the medieval period. Rooted in an emic Orthodox Christian understanding of the concept of life-giving forces, this analysis is anthropologically significant in its demonstration that life- giving force is viewed as an underlying concept that manifests itself as divine power, grace or energy, all of which are key terms in the Orthodox Christian religious lexicon.