Arrington, Aminta. 2020. Songs of the Lisu Hills: Practicing Christianity in Southwest China. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Abstract: The story of how the Lisu of southwest China were evangelized one hundred years ago by the China Inland Mission is a familiar one in mission circles. The subsequent history of the Lisu church, however, is much less well known. Songs of the Lisu Hills brings this history up to date, recounting the unlikely story of how the Lisu maintained their faith through twenty-two years of government persecution and illuminating how Lisu Christians transformed the text-based religion brought by the missionaries into a faith centered around an embodied set of Christian practices.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork as well as archival research, this volume documents the development of Lisu Christianity, both through larger social forces and through the stories of individual believers. It explores how the Lisu, most of whom remain subsistence farmers, have oriented their faith less around cognitive notions of belief and more around participation in a rhythm of shared Christian practices, such as line dancing, attending church and festivals, evangelizing, working in each other’s fields, and singing translated Western hymns. These embodied practices demonstrate how Christianity developed in the mountainous margins of the world’s largest atheist state.
A much-needed expansion of the Lisu story into a complex study of the evolution of a world Christian community, this book will appeal to scholars working at the intersections of World Christianity, anthropology of religion, ethnography, Chinese Christianity, and mission studies.
Schuff, Hildegunn Marie Tønnessen. 2019. “Dancing Faith: Contemporary Christian Dance in Norway.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 34(3): 529-549.
Abstract: Although dance is a common religious expression, its place in the Christian tradition has been contested. In modern Protestant Norway, dance has mostly been considered irrelevant to church life or even sinful. In recent decades, however, dance has become increasingly common in Norwegian churches. The present analysis of empirical data on dance in Christian settings in contemporary Norway is based on participant observation and interviews. While younger dancers (born after 1990) consider it natural to dance in church, and are usually welcome to do so, older participants have met significant resistance. When dancing, dancers find personal meaning (wellbeing, processing emotions and life events), social meaning (communication, belonging), and religious meaning (contact with God, prayer, growth). Dance emerges as a part of lived religion that clearly highlights how bodies matter, and how spiritualities are gendered, in this contribution to understanding the embodied dimensions of religion.
Barnes, Jamie. 2019. “The Ontological Implications of Spirit Encounters” Social Analysis 63(3): 24-46.
This article offers a reflexive and phenomenological response to some of the challenges of the recent ontological turn. It argues, first, that a focus on embodiment is crucial in understanding the formation of ontological assumptions, and, second, that researchers have an ethical responsibility to practice an ‘ontological reflexivity’ that goes beyond the conceptual reflexivity of much recent ontological work. It conceives the anthropological domain as a place of ‘intra-actment’ and maintains that to avoid ontological closure, researchers must contextualize their ontological assumptions by reflexively sensitizing themselves to how these assumptions are shaped by both embodied experience and the contexts in which they are articulated and performed. This article seeks to enact this through an auto-ethnographic exploration of the author’s own embodied experience as it relates to demonic manifestations and the divine.
Bjork-James, Sophie. 2018. “Training the Porous Body: Evangelicals and the Ex-Gay Movement.” American Anthropologist. 120(4): 647-658
In this article, I examine how US evangelical opposition to LGBT rights stems from a unique understanding of sexuality and the person. As my respondents explained to me in over sixteen months of field research, evangelical rejection of LGBT individuals and practices is rooted not simply in prejudice but also in a culturally specific notion of personhood that requires Christian bodies to orient themselves to the divine. In evangelical Christianity, the body, along with its capacity to feel and communicate, is understood as a porous vessel receptive to communication with God. In contrast to a dominant idea that sexual orientations shape individual identities, sexuality within this religious world instead facilitates the movement of moral forces across individual bodies and geographic scales. Sexual desires and sexual acts are broadly understood in evangelical cosmology as communicative mediums for supernatural forces. This understanding of sexuality as a central component of moral agency shapes widespread practices of ostracism of people who identify as LGBT within evangelicalism and often leads to anti‐LGBT political positions. Claiming an LGBT identity is seen as making one a distinct kind of person incommensurate with evangelical porosity.
Elisha, Omri. 2018. “Dancing the Word: Techniques of embodied authority among Christian praise dancers in New York City.” American Ethnologist. 45(3): 380-391.
Abstract: Praise dance is a Christian movement genre, popular among churchgoing women of color in the United States, characterized by the use of interpretive dances as vehicles of liturgical worship, testimony, and evangelism. Combining spiritual and artistic disciplines, including techniques derived from ballet and modern dance, black female praise dancers embody the gospel and cultivate religious authority in ways that reinforce orthodox norms while elevating creative skills and aesthetic sensibilities normally found outside the purview of religious tradition. Such efforts, and the challenges and opportunities they entail, demonstrate how the movement of cultural forms between secular and religious domains inﬂuences ritual innovations and the terms in which they are authorized. They also show how gendered conceptions of embodiment and power may be reimagined.
Bruner, Jason. 2017. Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
Reviewed by: Emma Wild-Wood (University of Edinburgh)
Since its beginnings in the 1930s the East African Revival has had a lasting influence on the religious culture of the region. It began in Uganda and Rwanda as a lively, internal critique to the orderly and hierarchical Anglican Church of Uganda and spread into Kenya, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi. Revivalists sought to transform all aspects of society in conformity with their strict code of conduct and their expansive vision of Christianity. With this volume Jason Bruner makes a significant contribution to the study of the Revival. He takes the movement beyond the parameters of mission history, and beyond an interest in its leadership figures. He shows that the distinct spiritual culture of revivalists was a response to the late colonial social context. Continue reading
Barnes, Jamie. 2016. The Speaking Body: metaphor and the expression of extraordinary experience. Temenos 52(2): 261-287.
Abstract: This article explores the relationship between language, experience, and the body. Employing a phenomenological approach that takes the sensory body as its starting point, it focuses on three instances of ‘divine experience’, looking at the ways in which social actors seek to express that experience through metaphorical translation into more familiar, everyday realms. It argues that within this perceptual process – which starts in bodily experience and ends in words – both bodies and worlds are formed: bodies open to (often sensory) aspects of divine experience, and worlds that include the divine, alongside instances of divine agency. Indeed, such bodily conceptual and linguistic work is, social actors claim, the product of divine agency. At the heart of the three instances of divine experience explored here rests the issue of ‘new birth’, itself a metaphorical move employed to express a phenomenon in which the body appears to be transformed into something new, namely a habitation of divine presence. As such presence ‘bubbles up’ from within, it sometimes ‘overflows’ in words. The body speaks. Alongside exploring the metaphorical moves employed to express this type of bodily experience, this article raises the ontological question of what kind of body it is, in such cases, that is speaking, thus providing a phenomenologically inflected response to recent ‘ontological’ debates within anthropology.
Dein, Simon. 2017. The Experience of Healing and the Healing of Experience in the Pentecostal Movement. In Helene Basu and Roland Littlewood, eds. Mental Health at the Intersection of Religion and Psychiatry. Münster: LIT Verlag Münster; 207-226.
Excerpt: “In this chapter I examine the role of bodily experience in Pentecostal healing and more specifically the ways in which some Pentecostal groups have moved away from medical confirmation of the success of healings to criteria based upon bodily experience. I begin by arguing for the centrality of healing in the Pentecostal movement before examining attitudes towards biomedicine and conceptualizations of sickness and healing in more detail. I then examine anthropological work in this area.”
Barnes, Jamie Wallis. 2015. ‘Stories, Senses and the Charismatic Relation’: A Reflexive Exploration of Christian Experience. PhD diss., University of Sussex.
Summary: This thesis considers the world of Christian faith, as expressed by a particular social group of which I have been a part since 1998, as an alternative knowledge system. Focusing upon the lives of a number of key agents, including myself, I argue that at the heart of this knowledge system is a charismatic relationship, in the Weberian sense, with a divine Other. This relationship is freely entered into, is conceived as involving movement into or towards an embodied, experiential and relational knowledge of God, and is often expressed by participants through such metaphors as a ‘journey’, ‘adventure’ or ‘quest’. My original contribution to knowledge is in taking a sociological concept, Weber’s notion of the charismatic relation, and innovatively applying this framework to the relation between humans and a transcendent or disembodied ‘Other’. My work responds to a) recent ‘ontological’ challenges within anthropology to ‘take seriously’ other worlds, b) invitations to those with strong religious convictions to practise anthropology without feeling that they need to lose those convictions, and c) recent debates within the anthropology of Christianity concerning how to deal with the agential characteristics of non-human/spiritual beings within ethnographic work. Through a reflexive exploration of experience, I examine how certain Christian people constitute their lives, observing how charismatic devotion to a divine Other implies both a sensorium that extends beyond the corporeal senses, as well as the ‘planting’ of various conceptual seeds that, by providing concrete metaphors of what life is, shape the lives of those willing to ‘receive’ them. As social actors seek to maintain ‘openness’ to this divine Other, a transformational journey results, in which human perception and conception are continually open to renewal. As a reflexive ethnographic account from within such an alternative knowledge system, this thesis makes an original contribution to phenomenological and sensory studies, as well as contributing to anthropological work on Christianity.