Abstract: Drawing on ethnography from central Greece, this article is about the way people narrate their encounters with the devil. Although it echoes the idea that life as told and life as lived are structured in the same way, it takes the argument a step further by suggesting they are structured through a narrative plot wherein the present and the future of the story-tellers pre-date the past of which their stories tell. It also foregrounds the link between this structure and a particular kind of morality which replicates the narrative logic of the stories, giving rise to an inherently relational personhood – a personhood that, just like the way in which its narration destabilizes the logic of before and after, destabilizes the distinction between self and other. Lastly, contextualizing the current economic crisis in the lives of such persons, the article suggests we need to think of it in relation to the devil and the stories people tell of him.
de la Cruz, Deirdre. 2017.”To Which Earthly Categories Do Not Apply: Spirit Photography, Filipino Ghosts, and the Global Occult at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Material Religion, 13(3): 301-328 .
Abstract: In this article I examine an album of spirit photographs published in Barcelona circa 1903. The album comprises two photograph collections, one of photos taken in a studio in Manila, the Philippines, another belonging to Dr. Theodore Hansmann, a German immigrant to the USA who was one of the country’s most ardent advocates and researchers of spirit photography. Apart from their overt share in a genre, it is unclear what connects these two collections and who exactly brought them together. I draw from this ambiguity in order to explore the tension between spiritism as a philosophy and practice that traveled via historically specific colonial routes and were localized to particular political and cultural contexts, and spiritism as a global occult movement founded precisely on the promise of transcending metaphysical and spatial boundaries.
Martin, Dominic A. (2017), “Loyal to god: Old Believers, oaths and orders,”History and Anthropology, 28 (4): 477-496.
Abstract: Since the reign of Peter the Great, the Russian sovereign, be it Tsar, Soviet or Putin, has required demonstrations of ‘loyalty’ that evidence subjects’ interior as well as exterior states. This article explores, through historical and current ethnographic examples, how Old Believers, a dissenting movement of Russian Orthodox Christians, have sought to reconcile this worldly demand with their overarching allegiance to the Kingdom of God, and their refusal to acknowledge a separation between the spiritual and the temporal. This dichotomy is particularly problematized around the swearing of oaths of fealty and the giving and receiving of decorations and orders that vouchsafe loyalty to state or sovereign.
Seth Schermerhorn, 2016. “Walkers and their Staffs: O’odham Walking Sticks by Way of Calendar Sticks and Scraping Sticks,” Material Religion 12, 476-500.
Abstract: As archaeologist J. Andrew Darling and Akimel O’odham traditional singer and cultural preservation officer Barnaby V. Lewis have previously shown, scraping sticks encode geographical knowledge, while calendar sticks encode historical knowledge. Like these other sticks, the staffs of O’odham “walkers,” or pilgrims, to Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico, similarly contain both geographical and historical knowledge, evoking memories of past journeys in the present and the presence of Magdalena. Moreover, these staffs are spoken of and treated as people, or at least as an extension of O’odham walkers. For O’odham walkers with their staffs, or walking sticks, Magdalena, Saint Francis, and all of the blessings associated with them are never too far away. And the memories of these journeys that they have taken with their sticks and the stories that they together tell, inextricably link walkers and their sticks, sticks and stories, people and places, as well as the past and the present. Thus, Magdalena is palpably present in the everyday lives of the walkers who cannot help but be transported by their sticks to stories—whether told or untold—and memories made along the road to Magdalena as well as dreams of future journeys.
Redden, Jason. 2016. “‘‘Boil them Hearts’’: The Role of Methodist Revivalist Piety in Indigenous Conversion and Evangelization in Late Nineteenth-century Coastal British Columbia.” Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses DOI: 10.1177/0008429816660883
Abstract: This paper addresses the academic conversation on Protestant missions to the Indigenous peoples of coastal British Columbia during the second half of the nine- teenth century through a consideration of the role of revivalist piety in the conversion of some of the better known Indigenous Methodist evangelists identified in the scholarly literature. The paper introduces the work of existing scholars critically illuminating the reasons (religious convergence and/or the want of symbolic and material resources) typically given for Indigenous, namely, Ts’msyen, conversion. It also introduces Methodist revivalist piety and its instantiation in British Columbia. And, finally, it offers a critical exploration of revivalist piety and its role in conversion as set within a broader theoretical inquiry into the academic study of ritual and religion.
Bielo, James S. 2016. Creationist History-Making: Producing a Heterodox Past. In Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices, 81-101. Edited by Jeb J. Card and David S. Anderson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Excerpt: The past, though quite real, is forever and densely mediated by this production of histories. As a cultural process, history-making is a social and ideological accomplishment that is achieved through material means and infrastructure. In turn, the anthropology and ethnography of history-making confronts important questions: how are different relationships to the past cultivated? What strategies and resources are marshaled to perform history-making? And, what is up for grabs in competing acts of history-making? A key contribution of this volume is to develop better ways of thinking about how non-professional historians and scientists perform the work of history-making (cf. Beisaw this volume). The Answers in Genesis creative team reminds us with little subtlety that the past is ideologically contested and that even the most scientifically established historical claims can be actively challenged. As the historian Raphael Samuel writes: “History is not the prerogative of the historian, nor even, as postmodernism contends, a historian’s ‘invention.’ It is, rather, a social form of knowledge; the work, in any given instance, of a thousand different hands” (1994: 8). Moreover, those thousand hands are not working in concert, which means the present hosts multiple historical narratives vying for cultural authority. Anthropologically, our remit is to understand whose hands are doing what and to seek a full ethnographic account of all history-making projects, including those of creationists. To aim for any less is to shrug off our most profound scholarly responsibility.
Abstract: J. D. Y. Peel’s Frazer Lecture of 2000, published here posthumously, presented his early thoughts about the three-sided comparison that would culminate his trilogy of works on Yoruba religion. Working through these arguments would occupy another decade and a half until the publication of Christianity, Islam, and Orisa religion: Three traditions in comparison and interaction (2016, University of California Press). As a historian and sociologist, John was by turns stimulated and exasperated by anthropologists. An ethnographic method was essential to comparison he accepted, but anthropologists were poor at temporality in a number of senses: when locating their own researches, the lives of those they met, the sources they used, their own notes; and when delineating what they meant by context, what it meant to their subjects, and where it came from; and most germane here, in recognizing the historical trajectories imparted to religions by their histories, discourses and practices. In short, for all they wrote a deal about it, anthropologists were practically poor when describing the consequences of humans being beings in time. The lecture proposes solutions to these lacks.
By: Martin Lindhardt (University of Southern Denmark)
Kate Bowler’s book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel is an important and highly readable contribution to our understanding of the history and significance of the so-called prosperity gospel, a Christian message of physical, financial and spiritual mastery that has become an increasingly dominating force within North American popular religion. The prosperity gospel has been successfully exported across the world, especially to the global south. It seems safe to say that this version of Christianity, which not only emphasizes the material blessings to which true believers are supposedly entitled, but also the duty to pay tithes and make donations, is as controversial as it is popular, with many (mainline theologian and other) observers wondering why people buy into it and expressing criticism of the excesses of prosperity pastors who have become media celebrities. Bowler’s agenda is not to provide any kind of theological or biblical evaluation of prosperity teaching and its main proponents, but the question of why it appeals to a large number of ordinary North Americans (17 percent of all American Christians openly identify with the movement, she informs us at one point) is a central one in her study. The argument, which she carefully develops throughout the book, is that the Prosperity Gospel, as exotic and un-familiar as it may seem at first glance, is in fact intimately entangled with different aspects of North American popular culture such as optimism, individualism, consumer culture and a firm belief in the transformative power of one’s personal will. The prosperity gospel, in other words, is presented by Bowler as a quintessentially American movement. At the end of the book, we do get brief nods to the Prosperity Gospel’s global expansion and different local appropriations, but Bowler’s main project is to unravel the history of the movement as it has unfolded in the US.
The prosperity movement as we know it took shape in the last half of the twentieth century, but Bowler provides a much longer history and traces its origin back to the late nineteenth century and the interweaving of three important streams: Pentecostalism with its emphasis on divine healing, an offshoot of Christian Science called New Thought, and finally a widespread popular belief in individualism and upward mobility. What New Thought added to this cocktail was an understanding of the power of mind to actually shape material reality. In the early history of the prosperity movement, the Holiness Pastor E.W. Kenyon was a particularly important figure in combining existing religious and cultural streams into an instrumental vision of faith as an activator of world transforming spiritual forces. In Kenyon´s vision it was in particular the spoken word such as positive confessions and prayers, sometimes framed more as demands than as petitions, that served as the template for activating spiritual power.
The development and growth of the Prosperity movement were further triggered by post Second World War healing revivals and, a decade later, by a charismatic revival that brought Pentecostal themes into mainstream churches. In this period, the theology of mind power and the electrified view of faith went from being minor to major themes. At the same time a number of preachers began to enlarge their vision of the miraculous results that faith and Christian speech could be expected to achieve. Key figures in popularizing the word of faith theology beyond denominational boundaries (in part through television ministries) included Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, William Branham Kenneth Copeland, and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.
The prosperity movement of the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by what Bowler calls “hard prosperity” preaching and teaching, which made financial miracles an everyday prospect and involved straightforward assertions of hard causality between acts of faith such as tithing and prayers and blessings. Bowler describes how formulas for receiving financial blessings from God grew increasingly specific, with some believers whispering their desires as they placed their envelope with tithes in the offering and others scribbling confessions on dollar bills. However, by the 1990s, a softer version of the prosperity message had become increasingly dominant. The “soft prosperity” message has a more therapeutic touch with prominent preachers such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer offering tools in the form of relationship guides and focusing on emotional healing, self-esteem as well as fitness and weight loss. This gradual transformation enabled the prosperity message to broaden its appeal and establish more points of contact and overlap with popular secular culture. Bowler provides interesting examples of such overlap as she explores how America´s diet and fitness culture captured the religious imagination of Christians who evaluated obesity on spiritual terms and started to look to the fitness of their own bodies as evidence of faith and spiritual progress. She further notes how the language of deliverance from demonic forces commonly held responsible for physical conditions was supplemented by nutritional and fitness advice.
All in all, Bowler’s book offers a comprehensive and very helpful exploration of the prosperity movement and the way it has shaped the religious imagination of many North Americans. Bowler’s project is mainly a historical one, but an ethnographic analysis based on her own field work in North American prosperity oriented ministries adds significant nuances to the study. In particular, ethnography enables Bowler to shed some light on how ordinary lay members interpret their experiences and life situations within a prosperity framework and, interestingly, how they sometimes question church authorities and come up with interpretations, for instance of illness and the absence of healing, that are contrary to official church teachings. The prosperity movement, in other words, is portrayed it its empirical complexity. As such the book is valuable reading for scholars and students with an interest in the Prosperity Movement, in Pentecostalism/charismatic Christianity in general, and in the history of Christianity and popular culture in North America.
Abioje, Pius Oyeniran. 2015. Christianity in Contemporary African Religious Space. In, Contemporary Perspectives on Religions in Africa and the African Diaspora. Ibigbolade Aderibigbe and Carolyn M. Jones Medine, ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. Pp. 79-99.
Abstract: This chapter is comparative in the sense that it tries to situate Christianity within the religious plurality of Africa in order to determine its spread and the quality of its influence. It is done from the perspective of a systematic doctrinal theologian, but history features prominently, wherever it is considered necessary for illumination and clarification.
Abstract: Kingdom tok is an expression that is increasingly used in Honiara. It describes a set of ideas and practices related to what Solomon Islanders see as a recent ‘season’ in their history. Such a season is characterised by the reappropriation of particular meanings of their faith that they perceive as influenced by recent historical processes such as the colonial era, the introduction of Christianity, and the first few decades from independence. In terms of ‘Kingdom’, they envision the possibility to challenge political hierarchies, social stratification, and issues of governance, as well as to re-define their identities in relation to a general state of empowerment. In Honiara, Pentecostal churches and groups with a strong identification with Judaism make use of Kingdom tok discourses. I claim that they experience the actualisation of Kingdom tok as concrete projects of social action and service provision, which they see as concrete alternatives to historical churches, the state, and the ‘way of the waitman’.