Abstract: Homologies between so-called soft infrastructures like language and hard ones like roads depend on ethnographically variable metaphors of circulation. In these homologies, speakers understand language to propel or inhibit forms of physical movement, affecting the embodied experiences of transportation or locomotion. In the case of Guhu-Samane Christians in Papua New Guinea, people focus on language as a kind of infrastructure as they grapple with postcolonial feelings of disconnection from divine powers that were once manifest in a New Testament translation. They channel this sense of disconnection into ongoing complaints about their lack of a vehicular road and the pain of walking, particularly walking like a heavily burdened woman. If a road were built into their valley, this would signal the New Testament’s transformation into Christian infrastructure.
Abstract: This article examines two competing historical formations that expatriate missionaries and Papua New Guineans respectively have used to create connections between local ethnic groups and “the ancient Jews” of the Bible. In part through 1970s publications analyzed here, missionaries introduced redemptive and repetitive historicist models that established Melanesian ethnic groups as generically and iconically Jewish. The article then examines the ways in which Guhu-Samane Christians in rural Papua New Guinea take up these missionary narratives in order to produce indexical, genealogical connections to biblical Jews. Ancient Jews have become “figures” of Guhu-Samane history through interpretive discourses in which local people discover the prophetic revelations of their Jewishness that anticipate a future Christianity. Guhu-Samane Christians thus particularize their relationship to Christianity by taking up the history of another group, a Christian historical imagination that runs counter to secular forms of history that orient around issues of autonomous identity.
Abstract: In this paper I argue for the important role of churches and denominations in anthropological analyses of Protestant Christianity. While many authors have emphasized subjects and subjectivity in their discussions of Protestant individualism, I argue that Protestant individualism puts greater, not less, emphasis on Christian social groups as moral formations. Denominationalism cannot be reduced to the intrusion of politics into religious practice without repeating the structures that underscore the secularization hypothesis. In order to explore this issue, I analyze the missiological theories and strategies behind the colonial Lutheran Mission New Guinea’s attempts to constitute Christian institutions of sacred unity while also confronting the problem of New Guinea’s extraordinary linguistic diversity. In opting to evangelize in church languages that they would teach to potential converts rather than in using local vernacular languages, the mission began to equate real Christian conversion with the capacity of local people to overcome ethnic or linguistic differences. Contrary to analyses that identify sincere speakerhood as the crucial component of Protestant practice, I argue that the Lutheran Mission sacrificed sacred speaking for the creation of sacred Christian groups as remnant churches.
Publisher’s Description: In Critical Christianity, Courtney Handman analyzes the complex and conflicting forms of sociality that Guhu-Samane Christians of rural Papua New Guinea privilege and celebrate as “the body of Christ.” Within Guhu-Samane churches, processes of denominational schism – long relegated to the secular study of politics or identity – are moments of critique through which Christians constitute themselves and their social worlds. Far from being a practice of individualism, Protestantism offers local people ways to make social groups sacred units of critique. Bible translation, produced by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, is a crucial resource for these critical projects of religious formation. From early interaction with German Lutheran missionaries to engagements with the Summer Institute of Linguistics to the contemporary moment of conflict, Handman presents some of the many models of Christian sociality that are debated among Guhu-Samane Christians. Central to the study are Handman’s rich analyses of the media through which this critical Christian sociality is practiced, including language, sound, bodily movement, and everyday objects. This original and thought-provoking book is essential reading for students and scholars of anthropology and religious studies.
By: Courtney Handman (Reed College)
In 1976 Michael Silverstein’s landmark paper outlining the opposition between presupposing and creative indexicality helped usher in a new focus within linguistic anthropology about practice and performance. Dependent upon – indeed dedicated to – Roman Jakobson, Silverstein seemed to pry open a new corner in studies of ritual that focused on the very contingent nature of even the most scripted events. While Levi-Strauss had relegated rituals in “primitive” societies to foregone conclusions – sporting events in which the game only ended when the ritually scripted result had been achieved – and the structural-functionalists had seen in rituals largely the playing out of social structural orders, Silverstein’s focus on creativity (also called entailing indexicality) put some stakes back into the ritual game. Not only should all interactions be seen as more or less ritualized, but all such interactions had serious consequences should those entailments not go according to plan. Continue reading
Abstract: Language ideological work on Protestantism has largely focused on how people engage in an intimate, immediate, and individualistic relationship with God, and the answer has been that they do so by sweeping away the debris—the history, the social relations, the sins, and the language—that keeps God at a distance. However, this focus has neglected the extent to which other Christian social formations play crucial roles in how Christians conceptualize their past, present, and future relationships to spiritual forces. In this article, I focus on Guhu-Samane (Papua New Guinea) discourses that circulate among Christians that their ethnic group is actually one of the Lost Tribes of Israel even as these same Christians denounce their own ego-centric genealogies as nothing more than histories of sinfulness. I argue that the renunciation of ego-centric genealogies and ego-centric pasts to create individual Christians depends upon the embrace of socio-centric genealogies and ethnic pasts to create the potential to be united Christians.
A part of the special issue Beyond Logos: Extensions of the Language Ideology Paradigm in the Study of Global Christianity (-ies)