A personal relationship with God is central to Evangelical belief. It unfolds as believers interpret internal sensations as coming from outside—from God. How does the formulaic design of testimonies present the audience with a personal relationship with God as a pursuit that is both feasible and deeply desirable? Analyzing the discursive rules structuring the appearance of emotion in the most popular testimonies on the online platform of Christianity Today reveals that such texts expertly present a microcosm in which the experience of reading mirrors the trajectory toward belief writers describe. To read a testimony from start to finish, readers must choose to tolerate the unfamiliar: that is, feel emotions that specifically belong in an Evangelical frame. Online written testimony relies on compelling storytelling to move readers, making them practise what it feels like to hand over part of one’s own story to God.
Abstract: In this article, I explore the power dynamics at play in religious place‐making. I critically discuss the uneven co‐configurations of imaginaries of the ‘local’ and ‘global’ within global evangelicalism. Specifically, I analyse the recent recording of a live album by the famous charismatic Australian band Hillsong United (of Hillsong Church) at various locations in Israel‐Palestine, which was followed by a concert tour in Israel. Palestinian evangelical Christians were critical of this endeavour, for they felt that it marginalized and excluded them from their global evangelical faith family. The frictions between the Palestinian evangelical community and Hillsong United illustrate how dominant evangelical actors create an imagination of the ‘local’, which enters the imaginary of global evangelicalism (and bears material consequences). In the article, I thus argue that privileged financial and cultural resources and travel regimes lead to specific notions of geometries of power in global evangelicalism.
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.
Robbins, Joel, Bambi B, Schieffelin, and Aparecida Vilaça. 2014. Evangelical Conversion and the Transformation of the Self in Amazonia and Melanesia: Christianity and the Revival of Anthropological Comparison. Comparative Studies in Society and History 56(3):559–590.
Abstract: The last several decades have seen both a renewed anthropological interest in the possibility of cross-cultural comparison and the rapid rise of the anthropology of Christianity. These two trends should be mutually supportive. One of the promises of the anthropology of Christianity from the outset has been that it will allow people to compare how processes of Christianization have unfolded in different parts of the world and to consider how the resulting Christian configurations are similar to and different from one another. But to this point, relatively little detailed comparative empirical work on Christianity has appeared. Our aim here is to contribute to remedying this situation. Drawing on recent theoretical work on comparison, we set comparative work on Christianity on a new footing. Empirically, we examine how processes of Evangelical Christianization have transformed notions of the self in one Amazonian society (Wari’) and two unrelated societies in Melanesia (Bosavi and Urapmin). We define the self for comparative purposes as composed of ideas of the mind or inner self, the body, and relations between people. In our three cases, Christianization has radically transformed these ideas, emphasizing the inner self and downplaying the importance of the body and of social relations. While our empirical conclusions are not wholly unexpected, the extent to which the details of our three cases speak comparatively to one another, and the extent to which the broad processes of Christian transformation they involve are similar, are surprising and lay a promising foundation for future comparative work in the anthropology of Christianity.
Abstract: This dissertation examines how rising rates of metabolic disorders are interpreted by evangelical Christians in Samoa as evidence of the need for (re)Christianization. Evangelical Christians critique mainline Christianity as a source of suffering, and posit a relationship between church-based exchange and metabolic disorders. Metabolic disorders are particularly difficult to heal in the cultural context of Samoa because they require individuals to change their everyday lives in ways that challenge common Samoan practices of well-being, including food-sharing and feeding. Metabolic disorders also require Samoans to reformulate the associations power and potency have with large body size. This dissertation explores the ways medicalized ideas of food, fat, and fitness travel into evangelical Christian contexts in order to examine the generative intersection of religion and medicalization. While the medicalization of food, fat, and fitness is readily accepted, many Samoans struggle with how to actualize changes to their health behaviors (i.e., to eat differently, to exercise) because of the constraints of church and family obligations, and cash-poverty. Evangelical churches offer new ways to participate in church-based exchange, which are explicitly directed at alleviating cash-poverty, and evangelical Christianity has, through the linking of salvation and healing, developed ways for born-again Samoans to change health behaviors. Through conversion and healing practices, many born-again people also examine the relationships that may be a source of suffering. Data was collected over two years of ethnographic fieldwork between 2008 and 2012; fieldwork included participant observation in biomedical facilities (hospitals and clinics), in churches (Sunday services, healing ministries, Bible study, and prayer groups), and in two households. In-depth interviews were also conducted with a range of Christians and health practitioners. In a time of deepening socio-economic inequalities and increased dependence on cash, this dissertation argues that evangelical notions of well-being, in conversation with medicalization, bring into focus the socio-economic inequalities that cause metabolic disorders––inequalities that medicalization alone tends to eschew. In turn, evangelical Christians come to examine the embodied evidence of disease (e.g., stress, anger, high blood pressure) as evidence of those inequalities.
This article argues that there is an epistemological style associated with much American evangelical Christianity that is strikingly different from that found in never-secular Christianities. This epistemological style is characterized by a playful, self-consciously paradoxical framing of belief-claims in which God’s reality is both clearly affirmed and qualified. One can describe this style as using an “epistemological double register” in which God is described as very real—and as doubted, in some way. The representation of God generated by this complex style is a magically real or hyper-real God, both more real than everyday reality and in some way fictive. The article goes on to argue that these epistemological features can be understood as generated by and generative of particular theories of mind. The article argues for the development of an anthropological theory of mind in which at least four dimensions are important: boundedness, interiority, sensorium, and epistemic stance.
Drawing on my research among foreign religious workers and young converts, I explore here the changing religious landscape in the Kyrgyz Republic. Although many people in Kyrgyzstan are aware of the material benefits enjoyed by people who convert to new faiths (money, food and professional opportunity), to understand the appeal of these faiths among young people it is important to look beyond material factors. I argue that Christianity’s success must be understood in the context of the current social and economic crisis and is a result of Christian leaders’ ability to link young people’s spiritual lives to projects of national renewal. The story of evangelical Christianity in Kyrgyzstan speaks to an ongoing debate in the social sciences about the usefulness of studying conversion as an individual experience of changed belief versus as a response to social and political realities. The emphasis, in Kyrgyz churches, on the importance of individual converts to national renewal reveals that the individual and social dimensions of conversion must be understood together.