Opas, “Keeping Boundaries in Motion”

Opas, Minna. (2019) “Keeping Boundaries in Motion: Christian Denominationalism and Sociality in Amazonia.” Anthropological Quarterly. 92(4): 1069-1097.

Abstract: For the Amazonian Yine people, Christian denominationalism provides an important means for organizing social life. Denominations in this context are not, however, to be understood as clearly bounded entities. Simultaneously with forming and renewing denominational boundaries, the Yine continuously cross, dissolve, and redefine them. This article attempts to understand the denominational dynamics among the Yine people, and in particular their back and forth movement between Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Pentecostalism, without viewing their denominational allegiances as subordinate to other forms of social organization or as something religiously insincere. Seeking inspiration from the ethnography of personhood and humanity in Amazonia, it suggests that denominations among the Yine can be understood to exist as unstable forms of belonging, as “thickenings” of different kinds of Christian moral relations to sociality, that take place on a continuum pictured not as a line but rather as a space. At the more general level the article shows how Christian vernacular denominationalism is likely to not be based on dogmatic differences but to be rather something that comes to be in practice. Furthermore, the article makes explicit how denominational boundaries are not always of the one and the same kind everywhere but vary between denominations.

Handman & Opas, “Institutions, Infrastructures, and Religious Sociality”

Handman, Courtney and Opas, Minna. (2019) “Institutions, Infrastructures, and Religious Sociality: The Difference Denominations Make in Global Christianity.” Anthropological Quarterly. 92(4): 1001-1014.

Abstract: Scholars working in the anthropology of Christianity have focused in large part on the subject in Protestantism, emphasizing the ways in which the modern subject is a Christian subject (Robbins 2004, 2007; Keane 2007; Meyer 1999; Elisha 2011; O’Neill 2010). This follows a wider trend in the renewed anthropological analyses of religion, morality, and ethics that have been oriented around religious subjectivities as the primary sites of investigation (e.g., Hirschkind 2006, Mahmood 2005, Laidlaw 2013, Lambek 2010). As productive as this line of questioning has been in conceptualizing Christian subjects, it has largely come at the expense of an emphasis on the social groups in and through which Christian practice takes place. Although relatedness has been understood to contribute to the rise of individuals’ faith (e.g., Bielo 2009, Coleman 2015, Elisha 2011, Luhrmann 2004), the significance of institutionalized structures of sociality has rarely been addressed. In this collection, we ask: what is lost when the institutions and infrastructures of Christian practice are elided? In addressing this question, we pay particular attention to the denominational form, doing so in the face of long-standing theological and ethnographic traditions that have resolutely denied the importance of this institution.

Handman, “A Few Grass Huts”

Handman, Courtney. (2019) “A Few Grass Huts: Denominational Ambivalence and Infrastructural Form in Colonial New Guinea.” Anthropological Quarterly. 92(4):1019-1038.

Abstract: In this article, I analyze the dynamics of Protestants’ ambivalence about their own institutional existence in the context of inter-denominational fighting between Lutheran and Catholic missions in colonial New Guinea. I argue that denominational conflict became a crucial part of the Lutheran missiological method. In particular, it gave them the chance to embrace their Lutheran infrastructure by comparing what they thought of as its lifegiving capacities to the dead or false forms of Catholic missionization. Ethnographically, I focus on a moment in the 1930s when two Catholic priests were killed by local people, as well as the ensuing Lutheran response. The priests were killed, according to the Lutherans, because they did not have a spirit-filled infrastructure. The institutional life of the denomination is recognized and yet mitigated through a process of animation, a way of making the most mundane infrastructure the stuff of lifegiving force.

Barkataki-Ruscheweyh, “Fractured Christianity amongst the Tangsa”

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.

Handman, “Becoming the Body of Christ”

Handman, Courtney. 2014. Becoming the Body of Christ: Sacrificing the Speaking Subject in the Making of the Colonial Lutheran Church in New Guinea. Current Anthropology DOI:10.1086/678283

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.