Publisher’s Description: The Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.
Excerpt: This chapter sets out to explore the identity of contemporary Catholic English Benedictine monasticism in relation to the wider society of which it is part. Contrary to the characterisation of monasteries as an anti-social ‘flight from the world’, I focus on the many ways in which monastic communities exist in continuity with wider society and secular norms. This performance of proximity – grounding monastic identity in the continuity between the monastic and lay life, rather than the sharp contrasts – is illustrated in three domains: food, kinship, and work.
Excerpt: The motivation to write this paper was sparked during conversations with public health practitioners and Pacific scholars after returning from preliminary fieldwork trips over the course of three years. Whenever I would mention to Pacific scholars working in the United States or public health practitioners working with Pacific islanders that I was doing research on fasting, the response was generally: “Samoan people fast?” This motivated me to explore why the Samoan practice of fasting seems like such a contradictory idea.
The first part of this puzzle is that anthropologists often associate Samoans with lavish food presentations as a key dimension of exchange relationships; this association informs not only social relationships but also bodily idioms and subjectivity. For many public health practitioners, Samoa elicits an image of fast foods, fatty meats, obesity, and attendant diseases. The question arises, then, how and why is the practice of fasting a common topic of discussion among Samoan Christians when it seems, at least on the surface, to contradict Samoan food ideologies and anthropological understanding of the connection between consumption, body size, and abundance? How is fasting appropriated into a food ideology that values large body sizes and views eating as a central dimension of sociality?
Abstract: Today’s scholarship on Christianity’s relationships with, to, and through foods, performatively, theologically, and ethically, must address global constituents and claims. Recent scholarship on Christianity and food moves from the usual markets of textual research, socio-cultural histories, and ethnography to more interdisciplinary approaches stirred by global Christian communities and concerns. This article highlights shifts in more traditional, field-related scholarship about Christianity and food while demonstrating why global Christian perspectives not only build from that research but also push beyond it. The field-related scholarship is reviewed using four frames or categories, offered as organizing and heuristic help. They are the following: socio-cultural and comparative; lived religion and ethnography; feminist, womanist, and liberatory; and global. Two types of material broadly inform these frames: historical and textual, and ethnographic and lived or practiced religion. The current and future diversity, needs, and claims of global Christian communities and contexts cannot be contained or wedged into scholarship traditionally bound to these field-situated approaches. Scholarship related to Christianity, and food must embrace interdisciplinary and innovative strategies shared among world-wide scholars and practitioners. From questions about community identity, to celebratory feasting and observant fasting during, cultural and seasonal cycles, including Eucharist and earth care, the future of research in global Christianity and food promises a feast of possibilities. Scholars will find a rich range of challenging issues involving faith and practice tuned to global viewpoint on ritual and performance, theologies, colonial resistances, and global alliances and politics.
Excerpt: In this essay I capitalize on a convergence in some recent U.S. ethnography to explore the cultural power of place-making and the conceptual promises of ‘place.’ Reports of losing, forgetting, and otherwise being disconnected from place are legion in depictions of late modernity. Said (1979) called it a “generalized condition of homelessness” (18), Gupta and Ferguson (1992) described it as a “profound sense of a loss of territorial roots, of an erosion of the cultural distinctiveness of places” (9), and Appadurai (1996) termed it “deterritorialization” (49). The culprits of this anxiety in the U.S. are multiple. A post-industrial economy fuels constant mobility, creating highly flexible labor regimes and others that are not reliant on geographic locale. Expanding urbanization disrupts relationships to land, transforming farm acreage into ultra-planned exurbia. Neoliberal corporate infrastructures prize predictable familiarity over uniqueness in order to secure service industry profits. There are, as well, technological and media empires that can render the particularities of place irrelevant. We late moderns are said to struggle to maintain meaningful place attachments and places themselves struggle to be distinctive. We are increasingly uncertain of how to recover from our pandemic placeless-ness. Of course, this narrative is ideological; it contains truth and myth, history and nostalgia, is uncannily accurate for many and exaggerated for many others. Nonetheless, the threat of placeless-ness is an American social fact, very real for the discontents it generates. According to recent U.S. ethnography that addresses different cultural spheres – religion and food – this anxiety has also produced resistance. People are not simply internalizing erosion and loss, they are responding by actively cultivating senses of place. Regarding religion, I look to my own fieldwork with American evangelicals… Emerging evangelicals are not the only late modern Americans looking to place to fashion a better future. This essay ensues from a repeated observation about recent work in U.S. ethnography: first, in step with developing interests in the anthropology of food, ethnographers are writing about American food systems; and second, analyses of the sustainable food movement reveal a striking veneration of place.