Questions of discipline are, today, no less ubiquitous than when under Foucault’s renowned scrutiny, but what does ‘discipline’ in diverse religious systems actually entail? In this article, we take ‘lenience’ rather than discipline as a starting point and compare its potential, both structural and ideological, in religious contexts where disciplinary flexibility shores up greater encompassing projects of moral perfectionism as opposed to those contexts in which disciplinary flexibility is a defining feature in its own right. We argue that lenience provides religious systems with a vital flexibility that is necessary to their reproduction and adaptation to the world. By taking a ‘systems’ perspective on ethnographic discussions of religious worlds, we proffer fresh observations on recent debates within the anthropology of religion on ‘ethics’, ‘failure’, and the nature of religious subjects.
Malara, Diego. “The Alimentary Forms of Religious Life: Technologies of the Other, Lenience, and the Ethics of Ethiopian Orthodox Fasting.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology. 62(3): 21-41.
Abstract: Focusing on the practice of fasting, this article traces the ethical efforts and conundrums of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians who take their religion seriously, but do not necessarily see themselves as disciplined believers. I argue that the flexibility and lenience of the Orthodox system allow for morally ambivalent disciplinary projects that, in order to preserve their efficacy, must be sustained by an array of intimate relationships with more pious individuals who are fasting for others or on others’ behalf. By examining this relational economy of spiritual care, its temporalities and divisions of labor, I ask whether recent preoccupations with ‘technologies of the self’ in the anthropology of religion might have overlooked the relevance of ‘technologies of the other’.
The first phase of anthropology’s turn toward ethics called our attention to freedom, evaluative reflection, and projects of intentional self‐cultivation. While the inclusion of such moments of intentionality and freedom provided a helpful corrective to overly determinist frameworks for the study of morality and social life, we lost sight of other aspects of ethical life and personhood that are less easily controlled. Drawing on an ethnographic case that might otherwise be considered exemplary of a Foucauldian “care of the self,” this article draws on texts from Africanist anthropology and Franciscan theology to explore how members of a community of Ugandan, Kenyan, and Tanzanian Franciscan nuns living and working at a residential home for orphans and children with disabilities in central Uganda understand and engage with the uncertain potential of moral transformation.
Abstract: The paper explores the ethical attitude of Christian evangelicals in a church in Britain and how it affects boundary-making of their community. Evangelicals in the case study seek to be accepting of the person and to refrain from being judgemental. The paper distinguishes between the person-centred ‘ethic of compassion’and the norm-centred ‘ethic of purity’. The ethic of compassion consists in accepting another and recognising the dignity of another based on shared humanity. It is a frame of mind that combines moral intention with the emotions of empathy and sympathy. In contrast, the ethic of purity privileges adherence to the moral order of the group over considerations for the person. The ‘compassionate’ frame of mind weakens boundaries, while the ‘pure’ frame of mind reinforces them. The boundaries of a community result from the interplay of the two ethics.
Abstract: This introductory essay seeks to reintroduce character to anthropological inquiry. Although it has long been out of favour due to its historical associations with accounts that attempt to describe national or ethnic character, we argue that a return of the under‐theorised concept may be in order. The essay invites socio‐cultural anthropologists to describe the diverse contexts in which character is recognised or enacted, out‐there‐in‐the‐world, and to become far more reflective about the ways in which characterization is deployed in our ethnographic writing. At the same time, it asks how the concept might be fruitfully operationalized at a meta‐language level to reorient current fields of anthropological study, without necessarily resorting to any collective or individual essentialisms. To illustrate the utility of re‐interrogating the concept, the question is addressed to two specific fields in which one might expect a concept such as character to already feature strongly: the anthropology of ethics and the anthropology of Christianity. What does an ethnographic attention to the ways in which character gets attributed reveal? How differently might these and other fields look if anthropologists embraced the concept of character or rejected it more knowingly? Finally, the essay asks what kinds of recombination of insights an anthropology and character approach might enable.
Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.
Abstract: This article concerns the risky terrain of heritage management in Sierra Leone and its navigation by devout Born Again Pentecostal Christians. It engages with the ever-expanding Born Again movement and its narrative of rupture, on the one hand, and the increasingly visible heritage sector and its focus on cultural continuity, on the other. These positions appear irreconcilable: one experiences the past as a dangerous satanic realm, the other as a valuable resource. However, as this article explores, they frequently meet in the workplace as many heritage professionals are also Born Again believers. I am interested in this meeting-point as demonic channels and godly practices converge. I argue that Freetown’s Born Again heritage professionals do not succeed in their roles despite their religion, but because of it.
Abstract: Based on ethnographic research in the Republic of Benin, this article explores how Pentecostal teachings on marriage and the management of sexual pleasure contribute to shaping converts’ moral selves. For Pentecostals, fidelity towards God, when single and fidelity between partners, once married, is presented as the ideal model of partnership to which every “Born-Again” should aspire. In the context where polygamous unions are socially accepted, Pentecostal pastors teach that a satisfactory sexual life restricted to marriage is the means of building successful monogamous unions. However, sexual satisfaction might not always guarantee marital success, especially when people face problems of infertility. The author suggests that the disciplinary regimes that these teachings promote contribute to shaping new modes of intimacy, which are compatible with societal changes but often contradict the extant social norms and ideals of reproduction. Moral dilemmas arising from this tension are the key to understanding how Pentecostal Christianity shapes the moral self. The article addresses how Pentecostals in Benin navigate and negotiate cultural continuities and discontinuities in relation to church authority and family life.
Abstract: In evangelical churches across the United States, volunteers assist other church members in transforming household budgets into lenses that reveal God’s kingdom on earth, reframing the force and volatility of markets as divine mystery. The strategies of financial ministry are distinctive, yet they engage a more general conundrum that pits economic success against conflicting ethical projects; they illuminate the process of ethical management in the financial economy. The ministries’ uses of budgets also challenge the idea that market devices gain power primarily by formatting economic transactions and establishing conditions for market exchange. Evangelical financial ministries show how, in everyday calculative practices, a device such as a household budget renders the spiritual economic, and the economic spiritual. In the exercise of evangelical ethics, financial ministry returns the divine touch to the invisible hand.
lHardin, Jessica. 2016. Claiming Pule, Manifesting Mana: Ordinary Ethics and Pentecostal Self‐making in Samoa. In Matt Tomlinson and Ty P. Kāwika Tengan, eds., New Mana Transformations of a Classic Concept in Pacific Languages and Cultures. Canberra: ANU Press.
Excerpt: While mana and pule are concepts shared among Christians in Samoa, I focus on two everyday uses of the terms: first, how Pentecostal Christians are taught to manifest mana, which is a capacity that is supposed to be available to all born-again believers; second, how mana and pule are invoked in interdenominational contexts. Claiming pule and channelling mana mediates tensions surrounding Pentecostal Christians striving for individual agency and indigenous notions of flexible and context-specific notions of agency, which are also expressed in mainline Christianity. Pentecostal Christians are explicitly taught how to manage individual agency in ethical ways through cultivating a personal relationship with God, which enables supplicants to become agents of mana. Claiming pule and channelling mana are thus discursive tools for managing tensions surrounding agency by allowing born-again Christians to decentre individual agency and foreground God’s agency. In everyday life in Samoa there is a hierarchical imperative of defaulting to titled or high status people. The three most widely circulating criticisms in Samoa— fiapalagi (to try or want to be white), fiapotu (to try or want to be smart), and accusations that suggest pride, including fiamaualuga (wanting to be high) or mimita (to be boastful)—suggest that claiming authority and power is difficult because of a general bias against individual agency and non-titled authority (see also Gershon 2006: 145). The personal and individual relationship with God encouraged in Pentecostal Christianity heightens these already present anxieties about individual agency and authority (see also Eriksen 2014).
I examine mana and pule through the lens of what Michael Lambek calls ‘ordinary ethics’ to explore how claiming divine pule and mana is a strategic and ordinary way to deflect individual agency. Focusing on ‘“ordinary” implies an ethics that is relatively tacit, grounded in agreement rather than rule, in practice rather than knowledge or belief and happening without calling undue attention to itself ’ (Lambek 2010: 2). Similarly, selfhood requires embodied and discursive labour that is often a tacit, taken-for-granted, orientational process (Csordas 1994: ix) and an embodied and historically situated practical knowledge (Battaglia 1995: 3). Manifesting mana, and its pair pule, are discursive tools of everyday ethical practice that enable believers to speak and act with culturally recognised authority. Claiming divine authority and channelling divine power through the self are everyday ways that Pentecostal Christians in Samoa carve out distinct (i.e. different from mainline Christianity) and ethical ways of generating power in ways that are legible and valued across Christianities.