Abstract: What role does judgment play in certain kinds of critical anthropology and theology, and in attempts to bring the two disciplines together? I turn to L’Arche, a network of Christian communities in which people with ‘intellectual disabilities’ share life with the cognitively able that scholars commend as a critical alternative to our obsession with judging ability as the marker of moral worth. I describe how this evaluative stance on L’Arche failed me in trying to make sense of my own fieldwork on a L’Arche community where care-givers emphasised the abilities of those they supported all the time. By relating the surprising role that a work of theology played in helping me understand the relationship between agency and judgment in this context, I argue that critique offers an unhelpful point of intersection between anthropology and theology. I propose, instead, that we explore the role of surprise in analysis and dialogue.
Abstract: With reference to two different projects examining North American Christianities, this symposium contribution explores opportunities for critique when conducting fieldwork. Drawing from observations made by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, I suggest that critique is most productive when it uses the perspective and position of one’s interlocutors as its point of departure.
Abstract: Once a matter of beliefs, symbols, values and worldviews, religion has progressively appeared in recent anthropological works as material religion, a highly concrete phenomenon based on affects, senses, substances, places, artifacts, and technologies. But what happened to transcendence, the dimension of religious worldmaking that remains beyond – hidden, untouched, unseen, unheard or unfulfilled? Is it necessarily the ‘other’ of material religion, a residual category that carries no ethnographic value? Retaining an emic concern with authority and a reflexive awareness about processes of boundary-making, in this article I approach material religion as a field of problematization inhabited by anthropologists and religious subjects alike. I examine some of the protocols whereby Pentecostal Christians in Ghana engage critically with the problem of materiality in their own religion, and argue that this operation lends ethnographic access to the role of transcendence in material religion’s everyday.
By: Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)
Liahona is not an ethnographic film. It is not even a documentary, or, at least, a documentary of the standard type. Consisting of images shot on scratchy 16 millimeter film using a hand camera, mixed with a wealth of found footage (much of it originally filmed by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, for either missionary or apologetic purposes), and shot through with decontextualized voice-overs, it is not concerned with clear explication, or at least with granting immediate clarity. Rather, it has more of the sense of a piece of symphonic music, with images or scenes briefly introduced, which are returned to again and again in different ways as the film proceeds. Again and again, we are shown shots of the stark landscape and expansive skies of Northern Utah, both of which are presented as sublime (in the Kantian sense of the word). This landscape is repeatedly juxtaposed with vintage shots of quotidian Mormon life, as well as with views of prominent Mormon temples in the region, scenes from the Days of ’47 Parade down Salt Lake City or the Manti Mormon Miracle Pageant. Some of these scenes are eventually given the necessary context to become readable as the film progresses. Other elements, such as the repeated and unexplained use of characters from the desert alphabet, a column of smoke from a scrub wildfire, or the haunting image of a feathered headdress, worn at either dawn or sunset, shrouded in shadow as it is juxtaposed against the Manti Temple, remain unexplained even at the film’s close. (Similarly, the source of the movie’s title goes unexplained for those not familiar with it). The soundtrack is equally jarring; we shunt between thundering church organs, atonal droning, and acapella renditions of iconic Mormon hymns such as “If You Could Hie to Kolob” and “Called to Serve.” Continue reading
Abstract: In Pentecostal political theology in Africa, there has been a movement from Pentecostal disjunction from state and society towards conjunction on governance levels. This eventually led to disillusionment with Pentecostal policymaking, both within African Pentecostal milieus and public discourses. The entrance of Pentecostal actors onto the political stage in African countries dates back to the transformative years from 1989 to 1993, in which democratic movements all over the continent were challenging autocratic presidential regimes. This era has been termed in political science the “second democratization” after the immediate postcolonial era of nation building in the 1960s. Almost invisible before, Pentecostal political impact was growing enormously and transformed into varied efforts to ‘pentecostalize’ governance since the turn of the millennium. In view of selected West African political cultures and Kenya discussed in this special issue of Nova Religio, a dialectics in Pentecostal visions of politics becomes obvious: The diversity of political strategies testifies to African Pentecostal potency in public discourses, but once entangled in actual policymaking, Pentecostal praxis discredits self-images of superiority in politics.
Abstract: In this article I engage with the conceptual difficulties that studying Christianity poses for anthropology, revisiting and expanding on the critical moves made in the development of the subfield, especially in debates among Robbins, Haynes, Cannell, Garriott, and O’Neill. In particular, I consider the theoretical challenges and the political implications involved in elaborating an adequate concept of Christianity or the Christian. I argue that studying Christianity as a “tradition” implicates the anthropologist in much more than the study of “a religion,” and while Asad’s approach to the study of Islam is methodologically sound, applying it to the case of Christianity involves specific challenges. I use my reading of these methodological and conceptual challenges to critically consider the ways in which anthropology engages with alterity as an epistemological or ethical ground and the political implications of this engagement. Finally, I offer some methodological insights drawn from my study of Pentecostal Christianity that might assist the researcher in studying these specific forms of Christian practice today.
Abstract: The Emerging Church Movement (ECM) is a primarily Western religious phenomenon, identifiable by its critical ‘deconstruction’ of ‘modern’ religion. While most prominent in North America, especially the United States, some of the most significant contributors to the ECM ‘conversation’ have been the Belfast-based Ikon Collective and one of its founders, philosopher Peter Rollins. Their rootedness in the unique religious, political and social landscape of Northern Ireland in part explains their position on the ‘margins’ of the ECM, and provides many of the resources for their contributions. Ikon’s development of ‘transformance art’ and its ‘leaderless’ structure raise questions about the institutional viability of the wider ECM. Rollins’ ‘Pyrotheology’ project, grounded in his reading of post-modern philosophy, introduces more radical ideas to the ECM conversation. Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ and ‘marginal’ location provides the ground from which Rollins and Ikon have been able to expose the boundaries of the ECM and raise questions about just how far the ECM may go in its efforts to transform Western Christianity.
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.