Abstract: How does the cultivation of beauty interact with agency? In this article the author discusses the religious value of beauty for conservative evangelical Christians in the English town of Brighton. Building on the anthropological approach to art and agency developed by Alfred Gell, the author considers the manner in which the everyday of bodies, relationships and personal testimonies become implicated in a deferential semiotics in which meaning resides in the self but is not owned by it. Through this work, women engage with an on-going project of visibility and objectification that is often tenuous and difficult but is nevertheless compelling, as they seek to mediate the agency of God.
Publisher’s Description: How do Ghanaian Pentecostals resolve the contradictions of their own faith while remaining faithful to their religious identity? Bringing together the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of ethics, Girish Daswani’s Looking Back, Moving Forward investigates the compromises with the past that members of Ghana’s Church of Pentecost make in order to remain committed Christians.
Even as church members embrace the break with the past that comes from being “born-again,” many are less concerned with the boundaries of Christian practice than with interpersonal questions – the continuity of suffering after conversion, the causes of unhealthy relationships, the changes brought about by migration – and how to deal with them. By paying ethnographic attention to the embodied practices, interpersonal relationships, and moments of self-reflection in the lives of members of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana and amongst the Ghanaian diaspora in London, Looking Back, Moving Forwardexplores ethical practice as it emerges out of the questions that church members and other Ghanaian Pentecostals ask themselves.
Abstract: In this paper we suggest that it is important for the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of religion more generally to develop a comparative phenomenology of spiritual experience. Our method is to distinguish between a named phenomenon without fixed mental or bodily events (phenomena that have specific local terms but are recognized by individuals by a broad and almost indiscriminate range of physical events); bodily affordances (events of the body that happen in social settings but are only identified as religious in those social settings when they afford, or make available, an interpretation that makes sense in that setting); and striking anomalous events. We demonstrate that local cultural practices shift the pattern of spiritual experiences, even those such as sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences that might be imagined in some ways as culture free, but that the more the spiritual experience is constrained by a specific physiology, the more the frequency of the event will be constrained by an individual’s vulnerability to those experiences. We will call this the “cultural kindling” of spiritual experience.
Abstract: Can a voice touch? This possibility is indeed what underlies ‘soaking in tapes’, a devotional practice performed in Anagkazo Bible and Ministry Training Center, a Pentecostal seminary based in Accra, Ghana. Soaking in tapes is a form of impartation, or grace transmission, homologous to the biblical method of laying on of hands. In this article, I explore the conditions of possibility of this transposition of touch into speaking and hearing, arguing that the haptic voice of soaking in tapes is predicated upon a cultivated receptivity and a specific bond connecting addresser and addressee. I situate the practice in the school’s broader pedagogical apparatus, where it operates simultaneously as a spiritual exercise, a method of discipleship, and a technology of church government. I conclude by showing how soaking in tapes gives a pedagogical inflection to the general tactility and flow-orientated materiality of global Pentecostal power.
Hansen, Helena. 2013. “Pharmaceutical Evangelicalism and Spiritual Capitalism: An American Tale of Two Communities of Addicted Selves.” In Addiction Trajectories, edited by Eugene Raikhel and William Garriott, 108-125. Durham: Duke University Press.
Excerpt: “This contrast is highlighted by two clips that aired on television in the early 200os, one representing a faith-based concept of addiction treatment and the other an office-based opiate maintenance concept of treatment. The first is a public service announcement by the Partnership for a Drug Free Puerto Rico, which opens with a weathered Latino man in a tattered T-shirt who asks drivers at an intersection for change. He enters a dark stairway, takes coins out of his pocket, puts them on a table, and rolls up his sleeves, apparently to inject drugs. The camera pans out to reveal that he is actually in a church, placing coins in a donation basket and freeing his arms for prayer in front of a great cross . . . The second television clip is from the HBO special series Addiction. It profiles a young white couple in Maine who are starting buprenorphine maintenance as a treatment for their OxyContin dependence . . . In this chapter, I trace the origins of these apparently divergent narratives, then follow their logics to an unexpected convergence. The individualist focus of the characters in both clips on their personal, inner states – formerly addicted evangelist and biomedically maintained – belies the degree to which substances, spiritual or molecular, are the medium for new, imagined global collectivities in which ex-addicts are pharmaceutically maintained addicts place themselves. To generate these collectivities, pharmaceutical manufacturers and prescribers engage in medical evangelism – testimonials and ritual consecration of molecular technology as the source of salvation – while evangelist addiction ministries market moral authority through membership in a virtual spiritual network to socially displaced postindustrial consumers.”
Abstract: St Joachim, who according to the apocryphal Protoevangelium Jacobi is the father of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the patron saint of a Catholic Men’s Organization in Zambia which promotes him as model of Catholic manhood. Through a case study of this organization, this article explores the intersections of religion, men and masculinity in a contemporary African Catholic context, in relation to broader discussions on African masculinities. The focus is on the practice of imitation of St Joachim and its effects on masculinity as the symbolic, discursive and performative construction of embodied male gender identity. Two theoretical concepts inform the analysis, being the notion of imitation as a hermeneutical process and Michel Foucault’s conceptualization of the technologies or hermeneutics of the self. The article shows how a sacred text is mobilized and inspires a communal imitative practice through which men are shaped, and shape themselves, after a religious ideal of masculinity.
Klassen, Pamela and Kathryn Lofton. 2013. “Material Witnesses: Women and the Mediation of Christianity.” In Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges, edited by Mia Lövheim, 52-65. New York: Routledge.
Excerpt: “Christian identity is inextricable from gender identity. Throughout Christian history, determining how individuals incarnate divine authority has been critical to the communication and legitimation of Christian testimonies. What can the words emanating from a particular physical body signify for the broader social movements that have fuelled Christianity? Evaluating such testimony might even b3e understood as the original practice of Christianity, insofar as the witness of a single male, Jewish body provided its genesis as a sectarian movement, and insofar as disagreements over subsequent witnesses and their ecclesiastical legitimacy became the grounds for nearly every denominational discord, theological innovation and mystical experimentation with that diverse tradition. Whether it was Peter appraising Mary Magdalene, Hilarianus adjudicating Perpetua, or John Winthrop assessing Anne Hutchinson, refereeing a witness’s testimony has been a primary task of (male) ecclesial authorities. Knowing whether (and how) you, as a particular embodied witness, have the right to speak about God (and what it means when you do) has encouraged the grand diversity of Christian expression . . . In this chapter, we consider how women have utilized various media to channel and articulate their testimonies in twentieth- and twenty-first-century North American contexts, paying specific attention to the connection between mediation and materiality. We argue that there seems to be a particularly comfortable connection between the material witness of women and the intimate commodification of their living scripts.”
Abstract: This article explores the formation of British evangelical university students as believers. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with a conservative evangelical Anglican congregation in London, I describe how students in this church come to embody a highly cognitive, word-based mode of belief through particular material practices. As they learn to identify themselves as believers, practices of reflexivity and accountability enable them to develop a sense of narrative coherence in their lives that allows them to negotiate tensions that arise from their participation in church and from broader social structures. I demonstrate that propositional belief—in contexts where it becomes an identity marker—is bound up with relational practices of belief, so that distinctions between ‘belief in’ and ‘belief that’ are necessarily blurred in the lives of young evangelicals.
Publisher’s Description: This book carries an ethnographic signature in approach and style, and is an examination of a small Brooklyn, New York, African-American, Pentecostal church congregation and is based on ethnographic notes taken over the course of four years. The Pentecostal Church is known to outsiders almost exclusively for its members’ “bizarre” habit of speaking in tongues. This ethnography, however, puts those outsiders inside the church pews, as it paints a portrait of piety, compassion, caring, love—all embraced through an embodiment perspective, as the church’s members experience these forces in the most personal ways through religious conversion. Central themes include concerns with the notion of “spectacle” because of the grand bodily display that is highlighted by spiritual struggle, social aspiration, punishment and spontaneous explosions of a variety of emotions in the public sphere. The approach to sociology throughout this work incorporates the striking dialectic of history and biography to penetrate and interact with religiously inspired residents of the inner-city in a quest to make sense both empirically and theoretically of this rapidly changing, surprising and highly contradictory late-modern church scene.
The focus on the individual process of becoming Pentecostal provides a road map into the church and canvasses an intimate view into the lives of its members, capturing their stories as they proceed in their Pentecostal careers. This book challenges important sociological concepts like crisis to explain religious seekership and conversion, while developing new concepts such as “God Hunting” and “Holy Ghost Capital” to explain the process through which individuals become tongue-speaking Pentecostals. Church members acquire “Holy Ghost Capital” and construct a Pentecostal identity through a relationship narrative to establish personal status and power through conflicting tongue-speaking ideas. Finally, this book examines the futures of the small and large, institutionally affiliated Pentecostal Church and argues that the small Pentecostal Church is better able to resist modern rationalizing forces, retaining the charisma that sparked the initial religious movement. The power of charisma in the small church has far-reaching consequences and implications for the future of Pentecostalism and its followers.
Abstract: I focus this study on changes in the prayer lives of U.S. Catholic nuns following Vatican II; widespread institutional change in the Catholic Church that, among other things, transformed U.S. Catholic nuns’ lives. In the article, I combine a phenomenological model of embodiment with narrative analysis to show how institutional linguistic prayer practices transform elderly nuns’ embodied experience as they age. Drawing on naturalistic video- and audio-recordings gathered over three years in a Catholic convent in the Midwestern United States, I show how changing communicative and embodied prayer practices following Vatican II have impacted U.S. Catholic nuns’ (1) understanding of the divine, (2) relationship with the divine, (3) embodied experience of the divine, and (4) how these changes have impacted their experiences of and interpretation of physical states including illness and pain. Overall, I offer insight into how changes in the nuns’ linguistic practice of prayer impact the nuns’ documented success in managing loneliness and chronic pain at the end of life.