Bubandt, “The Empty Seashell”

Bubandt, Nils. 2014. The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Publisher’s DescriptionThe Empty Seashell explores what it is like to live in a world where cannibal witches are undeniably real, yet too ephemeral and contradictory to be an object of belief. In a book based on more than three years of fieldwork between 1991 and 2011, Nils Bubandt argues that cannibal witches for people in the coastal, and predominantly Christian, community of Buli in the Indonesian province of North Maluku are both corporeally real and fundamentally unknowable.

Witches (known as gua in the Buli language or as suanggi in regional Malay) appear to be ordinary humans but sometimes, especially at night, they take other forms and attack people in order to kill them and eat their livers. They are seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The reality of gua, therefore, can never be pinned down. The title of the book comes from the empty nautilus shells that regularly drift ashore around Buli village. Convention has it that if you find a live nautilus, you are a gua. Like the empty shells, witchcraft always seems to recede from experience.Bubandt begins the book by recounting his own confusion and frustration in coming to terms with the contradictory and inaccessible nature of witchcraft realities in Buli. A detailed ethnography of the encompassing inaccessibility of Buli witchcraft leads him to the conclusion that much of the anthropological literature, which views witchcraft as a system of beliefs with genuine explanatory power, is off the mark. Witchcraft for the Buli people doesn’t explain anything. In fact, it does the opposite: it confuses, obfuscates, and frustrates. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia—an interminable experience that remains continuously in doubt—Bubandt suggests the need to take seriously people’s experiential and epistemological doubts about witchcraft, and outlines, by extension, a novel way of thinking about witchcraft and its relation to modernity.

Howell, “Battle of Cosmologies”

Howell, Signe. 2016. Battle of Cosmologies: The Catholic Church, Adat, and “Inculturation” among Northern Lio, Indonesia. Social Analysis 61(4): 21-39.

Abstract: Based on ethnography from Lio, Indonesia, I explore effects on values, categories, and practices that followed the introduction of Catholicism to the area. Hierarchy is treated both as a model of value, conveyed through asymmetrical relations, and as a system of social organization. Hierarchy is employed as a way to order elements of value, to include the social-political sphere of stratification, and as a conceptual tool to analyze the relationship between adat (cosmology) and the Catholic Church. In adat, hierarchical relations constitute a means of social and ritual organization and practice in which the whole is considered superior to the individual, while Catholicism is based on an ideology of egalitarianism. Unlike adat, which pervades every aspect of life, the Catholic religion in Lioland occupies only a delineated niche of religion.

Duncan, “Violence and Vengeance”

Duncan, Christopher. 2013. Violence and Vengeance: Religious and Its Aftermath in Eastern Indonesia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Between 1999 and 2000, sectarian fighting fanned across the eastern Indonesian province of North Maluku, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. What began as local conflicts between migrants and indigenous people over administrative boundaries spiraled into a religious war pitting Muslims against Christians and continues to influence communal relationships more than a decade after the fighting stopped. Christopher R. Duncan spent several years conducting fieldwork in North Maluku, and in Violence and Vengeance, he examines how the individuals actually taking part in the fighting understood and experienced the conflict.

Rather than dismiss religion as a facade for the political and economic motivations of the regional elite, Duncan explores how and why participants came to perceive the conflict as one of religious difference. He examines how these perceptions of religious violence altered the conflict, leading to large-scale massacres in houses of worship, forced conversions of entire communities, and other acts of violence that stressed religious identities. Duncan’s analysis extends beyond the period of violent conflict and explores how local understandings of the violence have complicated the return of forced migrants, efforts at conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Rodemeier, “Everyone is a potential leader”

Rodemeier, Susanne.  2012.  “Everyone is a potential leader” – attractiveness of a charismatic Church in Solo, Java (Indonesia).  Ekonomia 3(20)/2012: 45-58.

Abstract:  The evangelical-charismatic Family of God Church (GBI-KA: Gereja Bethel Indonesia – Keluarga Allah) was founded in the Javanese town of Solo and is currently booming, especially in predominantly Muslim surroundings. The reason why so many Christians prefer specifically this church over several other churches in town is still unknown. After doing ethnographic field research in 2011, I suggest that the reasons for its boom are not so much the economy or successful business relations, as was perhaps the case up tol five years ago. To prove my findings, I will take a closer look at the Family of God Church’s economic and social system as well as its internal structure. It is quite obvious that this church, like many other churches, fills a gap in Indonesian social politics. But what is different about the Family of God Church is its inner cell-structure, which sees everyone as a potential leader. This structure picks up the idea of the International Charismatic Mission Church (ICMC) of G12 cell churches. The idea is to build an endlessly growing organism of cells and then add a spiritual component by organising these cells in groups of twelve to evoke the idea of Jesus and his twelve apostles. Next to the attractive spiritual component, this organisational structure stands out in contrast to the Javanese traditional social system as it offers individuals the chance to move up the hierarchical ladder. Furthermore, the masses of the fast growing population are broken down into small groups who share the same aim, i.e. to experience Jesus or to be “born again” (melahirkan kembali), as they call it.

Chao, “Blessed Fetishism”

Chao, En-Chieh (2011) “Blessed fetishism: Language ideology and embodied worship among Pentecostals in Java” Culture and Religion 12(4):373-399

Abstract: A prominent trend of late Christianity has been a cultivation of ‘unmediated’ inspiration realised in embodied worship, notably glossolalia, ecstasy and verbal exuberance. Speaking unfathomable language and embracing spontaneous feelings, Pentecostals in Java have relied on and reworked local language ideologies by passionately employing both the babbling and yelling forms of code-switching in Indonesian, English, Hebrew and glossolalia, in an aspiration to achieve ‘true worshiper-hood’. A closer scrutiny of some elements of this embodied worship against the larger religiously heterogeneous context, furthermore, reveals the salient impacts of cross-religious relations on the process of shaping Pentecostal Christianity. This article argues that specific forms of Pentecostal worship can be better understood when situated in Muslim–Christian relations. Specifically, they speak to a thriving form of religious fetishism that is locally primed for a distinct voice out of the flourishing movements of Islamic resurgence.