Abstract: This article explores how in Samoa, Christians from diverse denominational backgrounds regularly talk about and critique church giving practices ranging from weekly announcements of offerings to tithing. By comparing Pentecostal and mainstream Christian giving practices, Pentecostals discursively created denominational difference through valuation: the comparative process of differentiating between ways of giving. Pentecostals created a socially embedded subject position through giving critiques, demonstrating how denominational comparison is religious practice. By looking at the metapragmatics of giving—that is, how accounts of giving are used in everyday life—discussions of giving become a primary means to navigate the institutional mediation of individualism evident in giving practices. This article thus shows how critiques of giving collapse the distinction between “religious” and “economic” spheres showing that they are often co-constitutive.
Kormina, Jeanne, and Sonja Luehrmann. 2018. “The Social Nature of Prayer in a Church of the Unchurched: Russian Orthodox Christianity from Its Edges.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 86 (2): 394-424.
Abstract: The Russian Orthodox Church portrays itself as a hierarchically ordered and socially influential “public religion,” but occupies quite a tenuous position in contemporary Russian society. Following Marcel Mauss’s idea of prayer as a social phenomenon, we argue that lay intercessory prayer as a way of assuming social responsibility is key to extending the Church’s reach into the lives of casual believers (so-called zakhozhane). Although individualization of religious practice does occur in post-Soviet Russia, contemporary Russian Orthodox prayer is less about personal self-culti- vation than about claiming and exercising competence within interper- sonal networks. The notion of prayer as practical competence helps to understand the role of lay prayer in a clerically dominated church, and explains the enduring role of established, mainstream denominations as ambient faith in a secular society.
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Abstract: Anthropological insights are not produced or constructed through reasoned discourse alone. Often they appear to be given in “leaps of faith” as the anthropologist’s conceptual grasp upon the world is lost. To understand these peculiar moments, we adopt the Kierkegaardian concept of religious faith, not as certitude in some transcendental principle, but as a deeply paradoxical mode of knowing, whose paths bend and twist through glimpses of understanding, doubt, and existential resignation. Pointing to the ways in which such revelatory and disruptive experiences have influenced the work of many anthropologists, we argue that anthropology is not simply a social science, but also a theology of sorts, whose ultimate foundation might not simply be reason but faith.
In this introduction, we take our point of departure in the question: what difference does Christianity make? We argue that the anthropology of Christianity must encompass believers, skeptics and observers, in that the differences Christianity makes never are simple or singular. We pose the play between foregrounds and backgrounds as a viable way to venture, but argue that this must be paired with a focus on the particular assemblage made in and across contexts. The effect of Christianity is therefore best conceived of in the very bundling of affects, forms, ideologies and practices. We contend that a focus on Christianity within anthropology should not be conceived as yet another subdisciplinary move, but is a focus that revitalizes the discipline of anthropology writ large. The theoretical elaboration on foregrounds and backgrounds we argue is of purchase beyond the focus on Christianity.