Webster, “Whose Sins Do the Brethren Confess?”

Webster, Joseph. (2019) “Whose Sins Do the Brethren Confess? The Problem of Sin as the Problem of Expiation.” Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.1582547.

Abstract: Among Brethren fisher-families in Gamrie, confession of sin is a private and pointedly interior affair. Yet, much of Brethren worship is given over to ritualised acts of confession. So whose sins do the Brethren confess? In Gamrie, such acts involve confessing not one’s own sin, but the sins of ‘fallen’ world. By attending to the anthropological and theological processes of confessing the sins of another, we see a collapse in the distinction between confiteor and credo that has so dogged anthropological studies of Christianity. In Brethren prayer, bible study, and everyday gossip, the ‘I confess’ of the confiteor and the ‘I believe’ of credo co-constitute one another as evidences of the ‘lostness’ of ‘this present age’. With the ritual gaze of confession turned radically outward, Brethren announcements of global wickedness enact (in a deliberate tautology) both a totalising call for repentance from sin, and a millenarian creed of the imminent apocalypse.

Carr, “Signs of the Times”

Carr, E. Summerson. 2013. ‘Signs of the Times’: confession and the semiotic production of inner truth. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19(1):34-51.

Abstract: How is it that confession – a highly ritualized, dialogically structured speech act – appears to transparently reflect and reveal the inner states of confessants? This article explores this question by closely engaging select post-Vatican II defences of the Sacrament of Penance, which lay out the requirements of ‘modern’ confession in striking detail. A close reading of these theological texts demonstrates that felicitous confession is the product of three correlated (meta-)semiotic processes: (1) the figuration of the pentinent memory as a storehouse for sin; (2) the management of ritual time into discrete stages of ‘private’ meaning-making and ‘public’ pronouncement; and (3) the erasure of the social scenery of the confessional utterance. In concert, these processes render indexical signs as iconic ones and, in so doing, naturalize confession as the cathartic revelation of inner truths, already constituted as such.

Beatty, “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Beatty, Andrew.  2012.  The Tell-Tale Heart: Conversion and Emotion in Nias.  Ethnos 1:1-26.

Abstract: In this article, I use historical and ethnographic data to analyse the Great Repentance, a violently emotional conversion movement that swept through the Indonesian island of Nias from colonial conquest around 1915, with recurrences until the 1960s. Against rationalist and materialist explanations, I argue for a constitutive role for emotion in the conversion process. I show how the techniques and idioms of Protestant missionaries suppressed indigenous meanings and encouraged a native emphasis on ‘the speaking heart’. The existential dilemmas of modern Christians in Nias, their sense of exclusion, can be accounted for by the paradoxical ethical and affective legacy of the repentance movement. The article is a contribution to both the study of emotion in historical perspective and to the analysis of conversion.