Webster, “Praying for Salvation”

Webster, Joseph.  2016.  Praying for salvation: a map of relatedness.  Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: This article attempts to push Mauss’ work on the sociality of prayer (1909) to its fullest conclusion by arguing that prayer can be viewed anthropologically as providing a map for social and emotional relatedness. Based on fieldwork among deep-sea fisher families living in Gamrie, North-East Scotland (home to 700 people and six Protestant churches), the author takes as his primary ethnographic departure the ritual of the ‘mid-week prayer meeting’. Among the self-proclaimed ‘fundamentalists’ of Gamrie’s Brethren and Presbyterian churches, attending the prayer meeting means praying for salvation. Yet, contrary to the stereotype of Protestant soteriology as highly individualist, in the context of Gamrie, salvation is not principally focused upon the self, but is instead sought on behalf of the ‘unconverted’ other. Locally, this ‘other’ is made sense of with reference to three different categories of relatedness: the family, the village and the nation. The author’s argument is that each category of relatedness carries with it a different affective quality: anguish for one’s family, resentment toward one’s village, and resignation towards one’s nation. As such, prayers for salvation establish and maintain not only vertical – human-divine – relatedness, but also horizontal relatedness between persons, while also giving them their emotional tenor. In ‘fundamentalist’ Gamrie, these human relationships, and crucially their affective asymmetries, may be mapped, therefore, by treating prayers as social phenomena that seek to engage with a world dichotomised into vice and virtue, rebellion and submission, and, ultimately, damnation and salvation.

Guhin, “Why worry about evolution?”

Guhin, Jeffery.  2016. Why Worry about Evolution? Boundaries, Practices, and Moral Salience in Sunni and Evangelical High Schools.  Sociological Theory  34(2): 151-174.

Abstract: Previous work on conservative Protestant creationism fails to account for other creationists who are much less morally invested in opposition to evolution, raising the sociological question: What causes issues’ moral salience? Through ethnographic fieldwork in four creationist high schools in the New York City area (two Sunni Muslim and two conservative Protestant), I argue that evolution is more important to the Christian schools because it is dissonant with their key practices and boundaries. The theory of evolution is salient for American Evangelicals because it is dissonant with reading the Bible literally, which is both their key practice and key boundary. For American Muslims, the key practice is prayer, and the key boundary is gender performance, neither of which is dissonant with evolution. These cases provide evidence for a theory of moral salience that is more cultural and micro-level than the typical political and macro-level studies of issues’ political salience.