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’.
Carroll, Timothy. 2017. “Axis of Incoherence: Engagement and failure between two material regimes of Christianity. In The Material Culture of Failure: When Things Do Wrong, edited by David Jeevendrampillai, Aaron Parkhurst, Timothy Carroll, and Julie Shackelford, 157-176. London: Bloomsbury.
Excerpt: In this chapter, I work with a more processual phenomenon of ‘failure.’ Rather than the material conforming and then not, the materials discussed in this chapter – a parish church building, to be exact – never fully matches the aspirations of the community.
Antohin, Alexandra. 2017. “Holy Water, healing and the sacredness of knowledge.” In The Material Culture of Failure: When Things Do Wrong, edited by David Jeevendrampillai, Aaron Parkhurst, Timothy Carroll, and Julie Shackelford, 75-94. London: Bloomsbury.
Excerpt: This chapter traces the processes by which people confront and seek to address failures in their lives by looking at one specific material: holy water. The following analyses will consider several key questions for evaluating when things go wrong by specifically interrogating the processes of knowledge production when using materials to achieve desired effects. In particular, what is the relationship between the expectation of individuals seeking a radical change and the reality of that change failing to take place?
Abstract: Many scholars have debated the potential results of pilgrimage, but few have tracked how pre-trip goals actually relate to post-trip outcomes. Based on research with US evangelicals, this article argues that, despite being confronted with the possibility of disrupted meaning, nearly every pilgrim comes to see the trip as a success. To understand why, I draw on studies that frame Christian rituals as processes that are partial and in flux. Firstly, I explore how gendered notions of relationality affect perceptions of efficacy and lead to multiple goal-setting. Secondly, I show how the journey is couched within broader epistemologies that define a Christian life as incremental improvements, where one ‘grows’ with God. Thus the meaning making associated with pilgrimage is never fully complete, but is compelled into a future where further interpretations and presumed successes are inchoate. Ultimately, the belief in future meaning is as important—perhaps more so—than immediate ritual success.
Abstract: Ritual is a domain of analysis shared across Christian confessions and continents. Yet in anthropological work on Christianity, studies of ritual have thus far remained piecemeal and disjointed, unwittingly perpetuating distinctions between north and south, ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ publics, Pentecostals and ‘the rest’. This introductory essay charts the analytic potential of developing a robust cross-cultural analysis of ritual from the perspective of anthropologists of Christianity. We employ ritual risk and efficacy to expand the ongoing study of the practice of Christian sociality, which we explore through three themes. Firstly, this collection is united by a shared interest in ritual inefficacy—the ‘infelicitous’ moments when ritual go awry— and the societal and metaphysical risks that may result. Secondly, the collection examines the social ‘work’ of ritual in defining and authorizing particular forms of Christianity. Finally, the essays explore the ways Christian futures are imagined and created through ritual.
Abstract: This article discusses some recent theoretical and methodological trends in studies of pilgrimage, a field that has grown significantly as of late. It begins by exploring how scholars might study failure during pilgrimage, and the difficulties therein. It moves on to discuss the fruitful, but also fitful, coexistence of scholars and practitioners who contribute to studies of pilgrimage. It ends by tracing some avenues for further research that would move beyond the confines of a subfield, creating the potential for work on pilgrimage to shape important conversations in multiple disciplines and areas of expertise.