Conflicts over conversion often involve divergent logics about religious publicity and persuasion. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Sri Lankan Buddhists began expressing renewed hostility toward Christians, who are seen as “unethically” converting Sri Lankans away from their native religions. They see the material accoutrements of Christian grace as estranging Buddhists from righteous, karmic inheritances. Distinctive economies of religious persuasion are perceived to engender differences in the essential character of persons. Buddhist nationalists tend to take evangelical Christian economic and religio-moral inclinations (prosperity gospels, charitability, and expansionism) as malignant attributes of Christian personhood (greed, zeal, misguided forgiveness, fraudulent economic manipulation). Anti-conversion discourses paint conversion to Christianity as an insidious socialization process that threatens Buddhism and generates fraudulence and anti-nationalism. These anxieties over religious difference crystallized in allegations that a Sinhala convert to Christianity—a businessman and philanthropist—was culpable for the death of a prominent Buddhist monk. The iconic conversion of the alleged culprit, seen alongside prior conversion trends, makes evident a periodized history of “pragmatic” conversions (a) from Buddhism to Christianity (colonial era), (b) from Christianity back to Buddhism (decolonization), and (c) from Buddhism to charismatic Christianity (during “nationalization” of the economy amid global neoliberalization). Religio-economic affinities are split along partisan lines in Sri Lanka, thereby intensifying the conflictual interplay between evangelical conviction and nativist skepticism.
Hurley, Jill L. 2018. “Understanding Christian Conversion as a Post-Relational Ontological (Re)turn to Relations.” OKH Journal: Anthropological Ethnography and Analysis Through the Eyes of Christian Faith. 2(2).
Abstract: Since 1950, when Nepal opened its doors to Christianity, people have been converting in rapid pace. Anthropologists have theorized for decades that in the process of converting from any religion to Christianity, persons experience a relational rupture. By combining the set theory of Hiebert and post-relational ontological turn theory of Holbraad and Pedersen, I explore how the anthropological approach must change its starting point in order to understand how and why conversion happens. As we understand the motivations for conversion, we can see that relational rupture does not exist for Christian converts because of the core emphasis on relationality found within Christianity. Through ethnographic research, I was able to effectively show how conversion to Christianity should be considered a post-relational ontological re(turn) to relations.
Barkataki-Ruscheweyh, Meenaxi. 2018. “Fractured Christianity amongst the Tangsa in Northeast India- Bible Language Politics and the Charm of Ecstatic Experiences.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 41(1): 212-226
This paper examines the proliferation of Christian denominations among the small Tangsa community in Northeast India. While resentment over the language chosen by the Baptist Church for the official Tangsa Bible triggered the initial fissures, the recent arrival of Pentecostal and charismatic churches has brought about further divisions. These divisions have not helped the cause of pan-Tangsa unity. However, in the everyday lives of most Tangsa, it is the Christian/non-Christian divide that is more relevant. Hence, the Tangsa situation is different from that of the neighbouring Mizo and Naga communities, in which Christianity has become a defining part of their identities.
Kpobi, Lily, Anokyewaa Sarfo, Elizabeth, and Joana Salifu Yendork. 2017. “I’m Here Because of Christ and Worshipping God . . .”: actors Influencing Religious Switching Among Ghanaian Charismatic/Neo-Pentecostal Christians. Archive for the Psychology of Religion 39 (3). 295-311.
Abstract: Many people like to identify as belonging to one church or another. Previous studies have explored the process of switching from one religious group to another, and this process has identified various factors that determine the likelihood and reasons for switching. Although this has been explored, little is known about the factors that influence switching among charismatic Christians in Ghana, and the potential implications of such switching on mental well-being. Our study therefore explored the reasons given by members of selected neo-Pentecostal/charismatic churches in Ghana for their decision to switch to these churches. The study was conducted in six neo-Pentecostal churches in Accra and Kumasi through the use of individual and focus group interviews as well as observations of church activities. A total of 86 respondents cited reasons such as geographic mobility, marriage, answers to prayer, as well as miracles and prophecies as their determining factors. These are discussed with emphasis on the potential implications for mental health such as psychological distress, blind faith, and individual agency.
Abstract: For men in the context of urban poverty in the Dominican Republic, Pentecostal conversion may lead to conditions of gender distress: frustration stemming from the challenges of reconciling the conflicting gender ideals of the church with those of the street. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with members of a Pentecostal community in the town of Villa Altagracia, I discuss how many young men come to experience the initial trials of conversion as tormenting spiritual assaults on their manhood in the form of alluring succubi. At the same time, male converts adopt newly inspired antagonisms with women familiars whom they blame for their illicit desires. Elsewhere I have discussed the strategies Pentecostal men deploy in order to mediate the conflict between barrio masculinity and evangelical Christianity; here I am concerned with illustrating how this conflict is given personal and cultural expression and how the attending experience of gender distress and its symbolic elaboration shapes masculine identity and male subjectivity in the church and local faith communities. By focusing on male converts and their struggles to remain manly, this article contributes to a richer understanding of gender dynamics in Pentecostal churches and offers useful insight into how gender is variously troubled, performed, and remade through conversion and religious practice more broadly.
Publisher’s Description: As soon as Ian Gibson began meeting Christians in the Nepali city of Bhaktapur, he noticed the importance of a particular type of story in their lives. When he asked someone “How did you become a Christian?” they would usually give a long and fluent answer, a narrative that had been told with minor or major variations many times before. This book grows out of these conversion narratives: it is a study of Christians in Bhaktapur, and of the Christian church in Nepal. It seeks to explain why Nepali Christianity is growing so rapidly, and to depict the lives of individual Christians.
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.
Publisher’s Description: Pentecostal Christianity is flourishing inside the prisons of Rio de Janeiro. To find out why, Andrew Johnson dug deep into the prisons themselves. He began by spending two weeks living in a Brazilian prison as if he were an inmate: sleeping in the same cells as the inmates, eating the same food, and participating in the men’s daily routines as if he were incarcerated. And he returned many times afterward to observe prison churches’ worship services, which were led by inmates who had been voted into positions of leadership by their fellow prisoners. He accompanied Pentecostal volunteers when they visited cells that were controlled by Rio’s most dominant criminal gang to lead worship services, provide health care, and deliver other social services to the inmates. Why does this faith resonate so profoundly with the incarcerated? Pentecostalism, argues Johnson, is the “faith of the killable people” and offers ex-criminals and gang members the opportunity to positively reinvent their public personas. If I Give My Soul provides a deeply personal look at the relationship between the margins of Brazilian society and the Pentecostal faith, both behind bars and in the favelas, Rio de Janeiro’s peripheral neighborhoods. Based on his intimate relationships with the figures in this book, Johnson makes a passionate case that Pentecostal practice behind bars is an act of political radicalism as much as a spiritual experience.
Roman, Raluca Bianca. 2017. Kaale belongings and Evangelical becomings : faith, commitment and social outreach among the Finnish Kaale (Finnish Roma). PhD Thesis, Department of Social Anthropology, University of St. Andrews.
Abstract: Grounded in a theoretical debate between anthropological studies on Roma/Gypsies and anthropological studies of Christianity, the focus of this thesis is on the experience of social and religious life among members of a traditional minority in Finland, the Finnish Kaale/Finnish Roma, a population of approximately 13.000 people living in Finland and Sweden. Over the past decades, the processes of urbanisation and sedentarisation have led to shifts in the ways in which the social lives of Kaale families are lived. A shift towards individualisation is interlinked with the continuous importance placed on family and kin belonging, which come together in a re-assessment of people’s central attachments in the world. At the same time, over the same period of time, a large number of this population have converted to Pentecostal and charismatic movements in the country, leading to subtle changes in the shape of social relations within and outside their own community: between believers and non-believers, between Kaale and non-Kaale. Making use of participant observation, interviews, conversion stories and individual life histories among Finnish Kaale living in the capital city of Helsinki and in Eastern parts of the country, this ethnography provides an insight into the multiple, overlapping and complex ways in which Kaale belonging is understood and into the ways in which Pentecostal religious life takes shape among born-again Kaale. Furthermore, looking specifically at the practice of Evangelism and missionary work, which defines the life of Pentecostal Kaale believers, the role of faith as an enhanced engagement with the world is analysed. A conversation therefore emerges also on the role of Pentecostal belonging in mobilising believers in relation to the world around them and, more specifically, on the way in which Pentecostal faith provides an avenue for a further social engagement and social mobilisation of individual Kaale believers.
Abstract: Contrary to the assumption that religious conversion is strongly influenced by the hegemony of global forces (colonialism and modern state formation) over local communities, this paper argues that internal class antagonisms and material conditions also play an important role in the dynamics of adoption of or resistance to Christianity. By taking narratives of inter-class contestation between aristocrats (paren) and commoners (panyin) and ritual changes among the Kayan-Kenyah in upland Central Borneo during periods of religious conversion, this paper shows the significance of social hierarchy on people’s decisions to change or retain their religious practices.