Abstract: In this article I analyse the narratives of conversion to Evangelical churches in St Petersburg by inquiring how Russians engage with the Evangelical churches and how they construct a meaningful conversion identity. My analysis shows how the social and political changes of post-Soviet Russia are experienced in religious terms and whether they have social implications that are reflected in identity-building as both Russian and Evangelical. Individual identity always reflects time and place, and the social and societal context in which an individual lives. Through this route I also broaden the understanding of Russian societal attitudes towards present-day ‘religious dissidents’. My research is based on 19 thematic interviews and participant observations in church meetings in St Petersburg between 2006 and 2009. Most of the interviewees belonged to communities that could be categorised as neo-Pentecostal. The study revealed that both a personal religious quest, especially during the societal turmoil that existed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the influence of friends or relatives were significant impulses for conversion. The resources sustaining the conversion as an ongoing process are communal, but also involve an individual self-improvement project within the construction of a new Evangelical self.
Abstract: Conversion to Christianity in Amazonia is often described in terms of collective action rather than radically new beliefs interior to the individual. I describe how Waorani people in Ecuador remember the conversion of specific elders as a time of civilization that brought Waorani into a wider social order after a period of violence and isolation. Despite having largely abandoned Christianity since their mass conversion in the 1960s, Waorani today embrace past conversion as a catalyst of social transformation that they say made the present ideal of living in a “community” possible. The individual experiences evoked in memories of collective “civilization” and an insistence on personal autonomy in Waorani visions of community illustrate why the moral commentaries of Waorani Christians remain highly valued in communities where Christianity has ceased to be a dominant social identity.
Mikeshin, Igor. 2016. How Jesus Changes Lives: Christian Rehabilitation in the Russian Baptist Ministry. Research Series in Anthropology (University of Helsinki). Doctoral Dissertation. Helsinki: Unigrafia.
Abstract: This thesis is the study of a rehabilitation ministry for the addicted people called Good Samaritan, run by the Russian Baptist Church. The study scrutinizes a two-dimensional process of Christian Rehabilitation. This process consists of two aspects: bodily detoxication through prolonged isolation, and radical moral transformation through conversion to Christianity. This twofold process corresponds to the twofold nature of substance use dependence: biochemical and psychological. The narrative of conversion is constructed upon the literalist reading of the particular translation of Scripture Russian Synodal Bible impacted by the 16th (Martin Luther) and 17th century (Jacobus Arminius and the Remonstrants) Protestant dogmatics and Russian historical and sociocultural context. The narrative of rehabilitation is also impacted by the street, junkie, and prison experience of the rehabilitants and their elders, who hold the authority to interpret Scripture. My research contributes to the study of Russian Evangelical Christianity and substance use dependence, both of which are unique and substantially influenced by contemporary Russian historical, sociocultural, political, economic, and linguistic context. At the same time, both Russian Evangelicalism and substance abuse share global features of Evangelical Christianity and drug epidemics. My analysis is based on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted from January 2014 to January 2015 in St. Petersburg and Leningradskaia oblast’, Russia. The participant observation included prolonged stays in three rehab facilities, guest and missionary visits, church services, seminars, festivities, and extensive study of Protestant Christianity and substance abuse.
Publisher’s Description: To Be Cared For offers a unique view into the conceptual and moral world of slum-bound Dalits (“untouchables”) in the South Indian city of Chennai. Focusing on the decision by many women to embrace locally specific forms of Pentecostal Christianity, Nathaniel Roberts challenges dominant anthropological understandings of religion as a matter of culture and identity, as well as Indian nationalist narratives of Christianity as a “foreign” ideology that disrupts local communities. Far from being a divisive force, conversion integrates the slum community—Christians and Hindus alike—by addressing hidden moral fault lines that subtly pit residents against one another in a national context that renders Dalits outsiders in their own land.
Abstract: Based on over four years of ethnographic research in an Afro-Caribbean Pentecostal Church in Brooklyn, this article focuses on the process of becoming a religious seeker, or what I call a God hunter, towards conversion to a Pentecostal tongue-speaking church. Becoming a God hunter requires knowing the causes that explain religious seekership, the invariable sequence of interrelated events that are part of the process. It also requires gaining insight into motives at each stage in the process where potential converts arrive at their final decision to search for a religious group. This requires moving beyond a single set of essential variables, like crisis, or providing normative explanations to the motivation to become a religious seeker. Rather, this work explains the series of steps in a sequence of events that have a long and complex story in which individuals arrive at a point of convergence and decide to embark on a religious search. This article challenges the concept of crisis, used in both old and new scholarly models, to explain why someone decides to become a religious seeker. Final attention is given to the relevancy of continued academic debates on whether active or passive forces drive these individual decisions towards seekership.
Abstract: Drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic data, this article provides one of the first empirical analyses of religious classes for converts in the United States. Focusing on “new member classes” in two religious communities (a Muslim association and an evangelical Christian church), we introduce the concept of “pedagogies of conversion” to describe how religious organizations teach converts about their new religion and set up guidelines to frame the conversion process. By examining the pedagogical tools that religious instructors use on a daily basis to foster spirituality among new members, we investigate how converts learn to become religious people. We demonstrate that while there are significant differences in the doctrines (know-what) being taught in the Muslim and evangelical classrooms, the tips and pieces of advice delivered by instructors on how to be religious (know-how) are strikingly similar.
Abstract: Based on interviews with converts to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the United States, this article documents and analyzes a narrative form in which conversion is described as the progressive discovery of a latent religious self that was part of one’s life all along, or what I term a conversion to continuity. These findings contrast markedly with those of most contemporary conversion research, which emphasize the narration of a dramatic temporal break between converts’ past and present religious selves (epitomized by the evangelical “born-again” genre). I examine how and why temporal continuity was a characteristic feature of these conversion accounts and demonstrate how such narratives helped constitute forms of religious experience and self-identity that differ in important respects from those documented in previous studies. In light of these findings, I argue for a reconceptualization of continuity and discontinuity within processes of religious identity change as an institutionally anchored figure/ground relationship as opposed to an either/or dichotomy. I also highlight promising avenues for future comparative research on the relationships between time, narrative, and subjectivity across religious and secular contexts.
Publisher’s Description: Bourdieu in Africa: Exploring the Dynamics of Religious Fields offers a view of religions as social games played by interested actors. Analyzing practices as strategic moves, this critical approach conceptualizes the religious field as relations of exchange and competition between experts and laity, and explores how the actors’ habitus, including religious beliefs, serve to misrecognize and thus legitimize relations of power within the religious sphere and beyond.
The authors discuss the volatile religious fields of Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and South Africa, with their variably configured tensions between African traditions, Christianity and Islam, but also consider the interrelations of religion with other social fields, with politics, economy, education and law.
Abstract: The Soviet project was as thoroughly atheist as any geopolitical system seen on the world stage. Yet in a way that V.I. Lenin could have never imagined, one of the main objectives of Soviet authorities has now become a significant factor in Central Asian Muslims converting to Christianity. Russification is the term normally used to describe the social process, whereby non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union became acculturated into Russian patterns of life, thought and worldview during the Soviet era. The result was that many Muslims inhabited both Soviet/Russian and Muslim cultural space, thus creating a new cultural identity that facilitated religious conversion away from Islam. This field research report uses the lens of personal conversion stories to examine some aspects of this phenomenon. Also, the range of personal experiences points towards the need to understand Russification as a spectrum of acculturation.
Abstract: This article contributes to the emerging area of research in the anthropology of Christianity that focuses on mobility and temporality. It does so by elaborating on the concept of ‘temporal tandem’, which is defined as a process of joint temporalization by which seemingly disparate projects of migration and conversion become interlocked. Pentecostal converts among Brazilians of Japanese descent (Nikkeis) in Japan will serve as a case study to delineate this concept. Temporality figures as a central theme in their stories of migration to the supposed ancestral homeland as well as in their narratives of conversion in Japan. I will illustrate the ways in which conversion addresses common concerns regarding time among the migrant converts, such as ‘putting aside living for the future’. The article concludes with an observation that Nikkeis often experience Pentecostal conversion as a ‘return to the present’, where life is no longer perceived to be suspended.