Publisher’s description: This book argues that the runaway popularity of Pentecostal Christianity on the Zambian Copperbelt is a result of this religion’s capacity to produce novel forms of value realization. A close analysis of the relationships that form in Pentecostal churches reveals that Pentecostal social life is structured around an animating idea – a value – called ‘moving by the Spirit.’ Moving by the Spirit entails personal advancement both with regard to material prosperity and religious skill or charisma. While moving by the Spirit makes Pentecostalism attractive, it is difficult for Pentecostal believers to balance prosperity against charisma without reproducing divisions in economic status. These divisions undermine the social world of the church by limiting the access of poorer believers to the relationships with their leaders – relationships through which the value of moving by the Spirit is most effectively realized.
Abstract: This essay reviews several of the main ways in which scholars of religion have depicted relationships between religion and market economies in the United States. It traces sociological, historical, and ethnographic approaches to the study of religion and market economies, examining how scholars have navigated the tensions between religious declension, on the one hand, and celebration of free market ideals, on the other. It then suggests some directions for further study, including better integration of the studies of material goods, labor, and capitalism with studies of religion and market economies; new studies of religion and finance; greater attention to non-capitalist systems in U.S. history; and studies that recognize the permeable and co-constructed nature of religion and market economies.
Abstract: This article explores Catholic, transnational Latin American migration to Rome as a gendered and ethnicized Atlantic Return, which is figured as a source of ‘new blood’ that fortifies the Catholic Church but which also profoundly unsettles it. I analyze this Atlantic Return as an angle on the affective force of history in critical relation to two main sources: Diego Von Vacano’s reading of the work of Bartolomeo de las Casas, a 16th-century Spanish Dominican friar; and to Nelson Maldonado-Torres’ notion of the ‘coloniality of being’ which he suggests has operated in Atlantic relations as enduring and present forms of racial de-humanization. In his view this latter can be counterbalanced by embracing an economy of the gift understood as gendered. However, I argue that in the light of a contemporary payback of evangelization related to the original ‘gift of faith’ to the Americas, this economy of the gift is less liberatory than Maldonado-Torres imagines, and instead part of a polyfaceted reproduction of a postsecular neoliberal affective, and gendered labour regime.
Mayblin, Maya. 2013. The Untold Sacrifice: The Monotony and Incompleteness of Self-Sacrifice in Northeast Brazil. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology (early digital release DOI:10.1080/00141844.2013.821513).
Abstract: There is no such thing as an accidental sacrifice. Sacrifice is always pre-meditated, and if not entirely goal-oriented, at the very least inherently meaningful as a process in itself. This paper is about how we might begin to understand sacrifices that do not conform to these rules. It concerns the question: does sacrifice exist outside of its (often) dramatic, self-conscious elaboration? Within the Brazilian Catholic tradition everyday life – ideally characterised by monotonous, undramatic, acts of self-giving – is ‘true sacrifice’. For ordinary Catholics, the challenge is not how to self-sacrifice, but how to make one’s mundane life of self-sacrifice visible whilst keeping one’s gift of suffering ‘free’. In this paper I describe, ethnographically, the work entailed as one of ‘revelation’ and use the problems thrown up to reflect upon both the limits and advantages of Western philosophical versus anthropological understandings of Christian sacrificial practices to date.
Abstract: In this article, I draw on ethnography from the Zambian Copperbelt to examine the social productivity of the Pentecostal prosperity gospel, a Christian movement centered on the idea that it is God’s will for believers to be wealthy. In the light of the challenges that recent economic history has posed to Copperbelt relational life, Pentecostalism has become an important source of hierarchy—and, therefore, of social organization. This social productivity is evident in the complex patterns of exchange that emerge as believers make gifts to God and religious leaders. An analysis of Pentecostal exchange reveals that the hierarchical relationships forged through religious adherence are often in danger of being undermined by economic concerns, and prosperity gospel practice is therefore continually mobilized to protect these ties. In this discussion, I foreground the position of Pentecostalism among the repertoire of ideas, practices, and beliefs involved in negotiating social life in times of economic uncertainty.
Abstract: Despite significant scholarship in anthropology and tourism studies related respectively to gifts and souvenirs, little is known about why and to whom people give souvenir gifts. Using an American case study, this article shows how Holy Land pilgrimage and its attendant gift-giving are a crucial way that older women navigate tensions specific to the consumer culture and religious patterns of the 21st-century US. By giving souvenirs, pilgrims uphold the importance of individuality (as consumers and as believers), while also fulfilling what they believe is their special responsibility to bolster collective faith, particularly amongst networks of female friends and family. Crucial in this endeavor is how pilgrims negotiate the fluid line between commodity and religious object. Sometimes they imbue these commercial objects with divine presence, thereby creating powerful tools for asserting ‘soft’ authority at home. At other times, they present religious souvenirs as commodities, downplaying their spiritual value in order to circumvent rejection.
Tomlinson, Matt (2012) “Passports to Eternity: Whales’ Teeth and Transcendence in Fijian Methodism,” in Lenore Manderson, Wendy Smith, & Matt Tomlinson (eds) Flows of Faith: Religious Reach and Community in Asia and the Pacific (Springer, New York).
Abstract: Christianity is often considered a religion of transcendence, in which divinity “goes beyond” human space and time. Recent anthropological scholarship has noted, however, that claims to transcendence must be expressed materially. This chapter examines the ways in which Fijian Methodists attempt to achieve a kind of Christian transcendence in which they escape negative influences of the vanua (land, chiefdoms, and the “traditional” order generally). They do so by offering sperm whales’ teeth to church authorities in order to apologise and atone for the sins of ancestors. Such rituals do not achieve the transcendence they aim for, however, as the whales’ teeth–the material tokens offered to gain divine favour–gain their ritual value precisely because of their attachment to the vanua.
Abstract: I present here a review and critique of social scientific analyses of the global spread of Prosperity Christianity. My argument is that at least two phases of research can be discerned: an initial phase where economic factors are given strong causal explanatory force in accounting for the upsurge in Health and Wealth congregations; and a more recent phase that complicates our understandings of the relationships between religious and economic action. My review of the literature reveals that sacrifice is a theoretical trope common to both phases of writing, and in the latter half of the chapter I explore the ways in which notions of the sacrificial economy can point to nuanced understandings of the forms of materiality deployed in many Prosperity contexts. The wider implications of this chapter refer in part to how we might understand notions of rational and irrational action in relation to economic behavior; and also to an appreciation of the ways in which ritual action can be productive of, and not merely a response to, perceived ambiguity and risk.
Abstract: Drawing on an ethnographic description of hymns, prayers, and requests for material goods among Apostolic Christians in Botswana, this article considers how styles of asking bring aspects of the person to the attention of divine and human others. Apostolic believers regard personal well-being under circumstances of vulnerability as hinging in part on styles of prayer and asking, which entail forms of both self-assertion and engagement with the personhood of others. Experiences of vulnerability compel Apostolics’ awareness of how partible aspects of their persons, including the voice, move among them so as ideally to build up well-being. Thus prayers to God as the ultimate source of well-being frame persons in aesthetic terms so that they may be well apprehended by divine and human others. In light of Mauss’s theory of the gift, the article considers how verbal requests can foster well-being by conveying aspects of the person to divine and human hearers in ways that assert personal standing while sustaining moral consideration. An avenue is presented for comparative inquiry into the ways in which asking opens spaces of agency and obligation in religious and humanitarian discourses.
Publisher’s Description: In this evocative ethnography, Omri Elisha examines the hopes, frustrations, and activist strategies of American evangelical Christians as they engage socially with local communities. Focusing on two Tennessee megachurches, Moral Ambition reaches beyond political controversies over issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and public prayer to highlight the ways that evangelicals at the grassroots of the Christian Right promote faith-based causes intended to improve the state of social welfare. The book shows how these ministries both help churchgoers embody religious virtues and create provocative new opportunities for evangelism on a public scale. Exploring aspects of evangelical life that are largely overlooked in existing studies, Elisha challenges conventional views of U.S. evangelicalism as narrowly individualistic. Instead he elucidates the inherent conflicts and contradictions that activists face in their efforts to reconcile religious conservatism with a renewed interest in compassion, poverty, racial justice, and urban revivalism.