Kravchenko, Black Orthodox “Visual Piety”: People, Saints, and Icons in Pursuit of Reconciliation

Kravchenko, Elena. 2020. “Black Orthodox ‘Visual Piety’: People, Saints, Icons in Pursuit of Reconciliation.” Journal of Africana Religions 8(1): 84-121.   

Abstract: African Americans regularly join Eastern Orthodox churches in the United States. By focusing on what practitioners do with Orthodox icons, this case study explores the processes through which specific experiences and expressions of being an Orthodox Christian become possible and meaningful for African American practitioners. This article suggests that saint veneration became a compelling Orthodox practice to practitioners because it provided a unique way to connect to the divine and to resist continuing racial discrimination in the United States. With the help of icons, African American men and women demonstrated that African people were saints, that African women contributed significantly to the history of Christianity, and that African Americans performed saintly acts. In this way, practitioners aimed to cultivate a reconciled Christian community where the full and equal membership of people of African descent is taken for granted. In following how Orthodox Christians put the materiality of their icons to work to deconstruct the assumption that whiteness is a universal default for religious experience, this article urges scholars of African American religions to make room for Eastern Orthodoxy as yet another tradition that supplies African Americans with creative tools to craft a compelling way of being a religious person.

 

Keane, “Rotting Bodies”

Keane, Webb. 2014. Rotting Bodies: The Clash of Stances toward Materiality and Its Ethical Affordances. Current Anthropology DOI:10.1086/678290

Abstract: Any community supposedly identified with a “single” kind of Christianity is likely to contain conflicts and divisions due to the different logics and temporalities associated, respectively, with ecclesiastical institutions, popular practices, and scriptural texts. These conflicts may extend even to basic ontological assumptions. This article looks at clashes concerning popular practices surrounding relics and icons in Eastern Orthodoxy. It asks what are the ethical stakes when people insist on the powers of material things even in the face of withering criticism and contempt from inside and outside their church. That criticism, which can have both theological and atheistic bases, often focuses on the allegedly instrumental reasoning and selfish motives of people who expect to receive divine intervention from objects such as relics and icons. I argue that popular practices that focus on the agency of objects may above all be responding to material properties as ethical affordances. These affordances provide ways of treating the world as ethically saturated. In the Eastern Orthodox context, this may be one way for ordinary villagers to take lofty theological claims about the divine nature of humans in concrete terms.