Abstract: Within public health and medical anthropology research, the study of women’s agency in reproductive decision making often neglects the role of religion and women’s spirituality. This article is based on ethnographic research conducted at a shelter for homeless (mostly African American) mothers in the southeastern United States. We explore the inadequacy of rational choice models that emphasize intentionality and planning, which our research shows are in tension with the vernacular religious and moral ethos of pregnancy as a ‘blessing’ or unplanned gift. Our findings confirm that young and disadvantaged women may view pregnancy and motherhood as opportunities to improve their lives in ways that mediate against their acceptance of family planning models. For these women, the notion of ‘blessing’ also reflects an acceptance of contingency and indeterminacy as central to the reproductive experience. We also question the increasingly popular distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ in contemporary public health.
Abstract: For Ethiopian Jews and (formerly Jewish) Pentecostals in Israel, coffee (buna) is more than just a stimulant, a cultural symbol, or even a social lubricant. It is a material medium for disputes about the limitations of moral agency, the experience of kin relations that have been broken or restructured, and the eruption of dangerous—but also healing—potencies in the social world. Buna consumption has become a focal point for at least three different forms of moral compulsion (physical addiction; zar, or spirit, affliction; and kinship obligations) that are experienced as isomorphic with “culture” and from which freedom is sought. The decision to drink or to refrain from drinking buna has therefore emerged as a fulcrum of moral experience around which different Ethiopian groups in Israel negotiate the limits of “culture” and the quest for an elusive moral freedom.