Abstract: In Jesus for Zanzibar: Narratives of Pentecostal (Non-)Belonging, Islam, and Nation Hans Olsson offers an ethnographic account of the lived experience and socio-political significance of newly arriving Pentecostal Christians in the Muslim majority setting of Zanzibar. This work analyzes how a disputed political partnership between Zanzibar and Mainland Tanzania intersects with the construction of religious identities. Undertaken at a time of political tensions, the case study of Zanzibar’s largest Pentecostal church, the City Christian Center, outlines religious belonging as relationally filtered in-between experiences of social insecurity, altered minority / majority positions, and spiritual powers. Hans Olsson shows that Pentecostal Christianity, as a signifier of (un)wanted social change, exemplifies contested processes of becoming in Zanzibar that capitalizes on, and creates meaning out of, religious difference and ambient political tensions.
Anthropologist Angie Heo’s first book, The Political Lives of Saints: Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt (2018), examines saintly intercession to explore the reconfiguration of religio-political imaginaries. Rather than seal off Coptic Christians and their religious tradition, she foregrounds the shared life between Copts and Muslims, as both transformed by the modern Egyptian nation-state and by geopolitical interests in the Middle East, particularly its Christians. Her book expands the terrain of the anthropology of Christianity, pushing the limits of the subfield’s conceptual foundations by offering new avenues of investigation. Below, in a four-part interview with AnthroCyBib co-curators Candace Lukasik and Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, Heo shares her insights on discipline, methodology, and the transnational and political stakes of global Christianity.
The Political Lives of Saints examines divine intercession to illuminate the ways Copts and Muslims in contemporary Egypt imagine the otherworldly and also how they imagine each other. As an anthropologist of Christianity, what concepts, methodologies, or frameworks guided your approach? How has the subfield of the anthropology of Christianity and/or Religious Studies shaped your work?
Christian-Muslim mediation is the overarching frame of my book. By examining how Coptic Orthodoxy mediates social relations between Christians and Muslims, I sought to avert the culturalist notion that Christian ideas and practices serve to reproduce and reinforce Christian identities. This notion is especially pervasive across studies of Egypt’s Copts, a group which frequently figures as a beleaguered minority battling to assert its religious identity in the throes of persecution. For theorizing about Christianity, the problem I found with this model of cultural assertion is that it leaves intact, even affirms, the sectarian structures of communal identity that end up ghettoizing Copts and Coptic Orthodoxy in the first instance. In other words, the position of Copts in the Egyptian state and society are always and already-given ones in the political analysis, with Christianity merely providing its cultural and ideological contents for expression. Christian-Muslim mediation was my strategy for specifying how Orthodox Christianity serves as an historically specific medium for generating structures of minoritarian authoritarianism as well as potentials for overturning them. While researching and writing, I discovered that Orthodox Christianity and its modern transformations offer thick insights into intersections of state and religion, which means for Copts, important sites of Christian-Muslim governance.
Intercession – that is, advocacy on behalf of another – is a key concept that grounded me in the material technics of religious mediation. In my book, I focus on intercession to analyze two tiers of Christian-Muslim mediation at once: institutional and imaginary. My inspiration came from an illustration that I encountered several times during my fieldwork. When I asked about how saints and their holy intercession works, many Copts would invoke the metaphor of “wasta”, the “who you know” or personal connections that work for you when you need something. The simple yet striking metaphor stuck with me. There is a lot written on how the Coptic Church has assumed an increasingly centralized institutional role as an arbiter of Christian-Muslim affairs nationwide. There is less written on how this new institutionalization of communal advocacy has relied on major shifts in everyday activity of divine mediation. Intercession allowed me to consider multiple genres of religious communication, with the aim of disaggregating institutions of state power into its various forms, acts, images, embodiments, ideologies. That is, breaking apart what seem like coherent institutional actors from the bottom up and inside out.
Lucky for me, anthropologists of religion had already been contributing to vibrant conversations in religion and media as I was first exploring intercession. Here, I am thinking about the anthropologies of Christianity and Islam in particular, both fields pursuing overlapping questions around language ideologies along with the secular and global nature of modernity. While pursuing a PhD in Anthropology at Berkeley, I also had the good fortune of studying with Bill Hanks, Charles Hirschkind and Saba Mahmood who each advanced my thought on semiotics, materiality, and technology in different ways. It is true that anthropologists of Christianity have spilled significant ink on Protestantism (and I will join them for the second project!). Having trained with an historically-oriented ethnographer of Catholicism and a leading expert in indexicality, I benefited from yet another perspective on the sensory dynamics of presence that helped my work on Orthodoxy’s visual and tactile elements. Anthropological work on Islam, and with Egypt as a decidedly fruitful location, has also been formative of my approach to media, tradition and authority. I cannot even imagine how my book would have turned out without these remarkable writings which deal with the contending publics and politics of Islam and which speak volumes about religion beyond the limits of Islam.
For your second project you have shifted your focus to Evangelical South Korea, to examine late capitalist development and the legacy of the Cold War. This project also takes a transnational shift, looking at the global linkages of political conservatism. Between the Middle East and the Asian Pacific Rim, and (Oriental) Orthodox Christianity and Evangelical Protestantism, what are some of the ways your conceptual engagements with and understandings of the anthropology of Christianity shifted between these two projects? Beyond theological or ritual differences, how is the study of Orthodox and Protestant forms of Christianity different in anthropological perspective? How do transnational linkages, migration, and global connection factor into your new analytic frames?
I find these questions especially stimulating because I have been thinking lately about what the term “global Christianity” both offers and obscures for interdisciplinary scholarship in religious studies. It is too often the case, unfortunately, that “global” signifies a geopolitical hierarchy in which the originary norms of a given tradition are presumed to lie in the U.S. and Europe, while phenomena like “global religions” or “world literature” lie in the Global South. Anthropologists of Christianity, I believe, can help push for more analytic clarity on what “global” and what “Christianity” mean, and what they mean together. Your line of questions pushes exactly for this clarity. Orthodoxy and Protestantism, as Christian traditions, both organize distinct orders of universalism and empire – we could even say competing orders. They also encounter shared forces of globalization – trade, media and migration – that shape their respective orders of growth and expansion. Work gets exciting when we think about the universalizing aspects of tradition and the globalizing dimensions of political economy, conjointly and comparatively.
What is unique to Orthodox Christianity is the intrinsic centrality of the ethnos or nation to its self-identity; that is, Coptic Orthodoxy is Egyptian Christianity. This imagined link between nation and Orthodoxy relies on traditional ideologies of origin, nativism and continuity, and this link also changes across historical contexts of anticolonial nation-building and ecumenical aspirations. Of all my book’s body chapters, the second one “Redemption at the Edge” most directly tackles various entanglements of Orthodox expansion with the modern nation-form. In it, I examine how Orthodoxy prescribes forms of pilgrimage and imaginings of Holy Land, and how religious boundaries and territorial borders are defined in the process. The whole chapter revolves around the question of what Holy Egypt is, what the Egyptian nation-state is, and how these two converge in the 1960s. Vatican II and the Arab-Israeli wars, I argue, are significant historical events that shaped the specifically Egyptian character of Coptic Orthodoxy (Arab nationalism + Christian-Muslim unity) and its counter-imperial forms. To make this argument, I had to engage the broader international and global frames that determined this dual status of Egypt’s image, and thus began with two imperial frontiers, Roman Catholic and Zionist.
So while imaginings of the ethnos or nation are central to Orthodoxy, this does not mean that Orthodoxy is bound to nationalism in any primordial or essential way. I think the intellectual project is to observe Orthodoxy’s changing definitions and attachments to the nation-form, and then, to analyze what it implies on a more global scale about national and religious belonging. In The Political Lives of Saints, I trace how international contours of post-WWII imperialism shaped Orthodoxy’s claim as a distinctively “national” religious tradition. Another angle at the global aspects of Orthodox Christianity embarks from transnational and diasporic displacements of national belonging (and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading both of your dissertations on this topic!). For the Orthodox American context, I also find the longer history of Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska fascinating for historicizing questions of diasporic migration and settlement during periods of U.S. and Russian rule. From recent conference invitations I’ve received, I’m gathering that there is also budding interest in Orthodoxy’s growth across the Far Eastern borderlands, near and inside Japan, China and North Korea. Here, I can’t resist giving another shout-out to Dominic Martin‘s forthcoming book on Old Orthodoxy in a former military zone for nuclear submarine repair near Vladivostok.
This brings me to my second book project on Cold War Christianity in the Asian Pacific Rim. My second book project more squarely examines the transnational and imperial impulses internal to Evangelical Protestantism, focusing on South Korea and the divided Koreas. As in Egypt, the historical setting of anticolonial nationalism was crucial to the making of national Christianity and its liberatory identity in South Korea. Protestant Christianity’s explosive growth during the Cold War additionally meant that American-allied ideologies of anticommunism and freedom were always part of the equation. For my work on Orthodoxy in Egypt, I devoted a lot of time to thinking about materiality, images, and the tradition’s deep ties to antiquity. In Korea, I’m finding that I am consistently asking questions about transnational religion alongside questions about political economy and fervently capitalist conditions. Development and globalization set the terms of rapid religious change in South Korea, in effect, a mass conversion to Protestant Christianity that unfolded over a couple quick and spectacular decades instead of the glacial pace of millennia. This historical fact, of course, has to change the way we approach the study of Christianity in Korea and East Asia more broadly (versus the Middle East) .
While Orthodoxy has been described by scholars and journalists alike as a “national” religious tradition, you’re asking us to defamiliarize this notion by looking to the historical contexts by which such a claim emerged—post-WWII imperialism, as well as postcolonial imaginaries of the nation. While transnational and diasporic displacements have decentered the nation over the past few decades—as Orthodox populations migrate, settle, and develop new notions of belonging—how does the current far-right iterations of nationalism and growing forms of political conservatism weigh upon Orthodoxy, in its many forms? For example, the renewed power of the Russian Orthodox Church and its intimate connections to President Vladimir Putin has reinforced the narrative of Orthodoxy as archaic and such majority Orthodox countries as antithetical to the promise of political secularism. Along these lines, how does the Coptic Orthodox context compare to, say, the Russian or Greek contexts? How do non-ethnic converts to these faiths trouble Orthodoxy’s perceived “nationalist” tendencies?
The rise of far-right nationalism and right-wing populism is, unfortunately, a current and global phenomenon. Considering the high value it places on origins, Orthodoxy may slide into ideologies of nativism, purity and authenticity, especially when allied with xenophobic strands of nationalism. This is where I think race, racism, and racial hierarchies become important issues to explore alongside Orthodoxy, especially as it is linked to various forms of growth such as assimilation or invasion. During my fieldwork, I also discovered that some of the most devout Copts were adherents of racial purity, and some measure of racism carried weight in their understandings of Arab Islam and Egyptian Orthodoxy. In the Coptic Orthodox tradition of saint veneration, we also find imaginary traces of racial difference, colonialism and globalization in figures like Moses the Black (also called “the Ethiopian”), and most recently, Matthew the African (the Ghanaian migrant laborer who was among the Libya Martyrs). On the question of comparison, I still have much to learn about contemporary movements in the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, but I am sure that their mission dioceses join the Coptic Orthodox’s abroad in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Examining Orthodoxy to specify the relationship between political conservatism and political secularism would make for a fascinating project. Isn’t it precisely the authoritarian impulses internal to liberalism that have inspired so many studies in critical secularism recently? And many of them have also looked closely at Protestantism for secular-liberalism’s shadows. I don’t believe there is anything intrinsic to Orthodoxy that overdetermines its alliances with far-right or extreme nationalist governments in any context. What I find really interesting, in fact, are the resources within Orthodoxy that allow for those moments when Orthodox churches assert their autonomy from their sponsoring states. These moments include Pope Shenouda’s break away from President Sadat, as the “Arab’s pope”, when it came to maintaining the pilgrimage ban after The Camp David Accords in 1978. They also include the post-Soviet churches seeking recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople rather than the Moscow Patriarchate in 1991. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the various Ukrainian Orthodox Churches especially after the 2018 schism which is directly related to the Russian military occupation of Ukraine. I am excited to read Jeanne Kormina and Vlad Naumescu‘s writings, for example, on how this topic plays out for the Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe for the next issue of Anthropology Today (Volume 35, Issue 4).
Building off of your earlier response to the term “global Christianity,” how has studying non-Western forms of Christianity been received in the American academy, within and outside of the discipline of anthropology? Many times, when scholars write and speak of Christianity, they tend to collapse all of Christianity into Western Christianity. What implications does this have for Eastern forms of Christianity that stem from different historical contexts and genealogies? To get more specific in relation to your work in The Political Lives of Saints, how has Orthodoxy been made legible in the study of Christianity and religion more broadly? What are the possibilities of disentangling Western Christianity and the global North from studies of Christianity, in all its diversity, within the academy?
How do we locate where the East and West are in any form of Christianity? For many postcolonial subjects of Christianity, the answers may lead to either alienation or emancipation. And then, how do we specify where the East and West are within Coptic Orthodoxy in Egypt, and in ways that distinguish them from where they are within Evangelical Protestantism in South Korea? I believe these are critical questions that all scholars of global Christianity – anthropologists, historians, theologians – need to be asking. I certainly understand why people call Coptic Orthodoxy an “Eastern tradition”, or Korean Protestantism an “Eastern” or “Asian” expression of a Western tradition. In some venues, it even makes sense to deploy shorthand for complex geopolitical relations. But there is also the danger of reifying the East and West in ways that aren’t very helpful for understanding religious ideas and practices if you want to go beyond identity claims.
I gave this little prelude of qualifiers about the limited use-value of East and West because I have heard these designations amply thrown around in Christianity studies. But I suppose my real answer begins here, since I actually hear your question asking something different. Anthropologists of secularism and Islam, like Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood, exercise the genealogical method to show how concepts are entangled in unequal relations of power. The West and non-West binary allows them to stage and expose an asymmetry between various traditions of thought and practice. This asymmetry is also one in which certain elements from Christianity in Western Europe and North America become hegemonic in academic scholarship and political institutions. Few think of Asad as an anthropologist of Christianity (on this note, I find Gil Anidjar’s exchange with him to be lively and interesting). But Asad is clearly examining not only Enlightenment Christian sensibilities in human rights’ regimes, but also medieval Christian forms of ritual discipline that informed pathbreaking work on submission and agency in Islam. In my view, the first step for disentangling Western Christianity from studies of Christianity is to identify what norms govern our notions of religion and how these norms are related to imaginaries of the East / West divide. Doing this can also broaden conversation between the anthropology of Christianity and other subfields in anthropology at large.
Publisher’s Description: This volume examines the significance of spiritual kinship—or kinship reckoned in relation to the divine—in creating myriad forms of affiliations among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Rather than confining the study of spiritual kinship to Christian godparenthood or presuming its disappearance in light of secularism, the authors investigate how religious practitioners create and contest sacred solidarities through ritual, discursive, and ethical practices across social domains, networks, and transnational collectives. This book’s theoretical conversations and rich case studies hold value for scholars of anthropology, kinship, and religion.
Introduction: Re-sacralizing the Social: Spiritual Kinship at the Crossroads of the Abrahamic Religions, Thomas, Todne (et al.)
Spiritual Kinship Between Formal Norms and Actual Practice: A Comparative Analysis in the Long Run (from the Early Middle Ages Until Today), Alfani, Guido
Spiritual Kinship in an Age of Dissent: Pigeon Fanciers in Darwin’s England, Feeley-Harnik, Gillian
Kinship as Ethical Relation: A Critique of the Spiritual Kinship Paradigm, Seeman, Don
Kinship in Historical Consciousness: A French Jewish Perspective, Bahloul, Joëlle
“We All Ask Together”: Intercession and Composition as Models for Spiritual Kinship, Klaits, Frederick
“Forever Families”; Christian Individualism, Mormonism and Collective Salvation, Cannell, Fenella
Expanding Familial Ties: From the Umma to New Constructions of Relatedness Among East African Indians in Canada, Malik, Asiya
Rebuking the Ethnic Frame: Afro Caribbean and African American Evangelicals and Spiritual Kinship, Thomas, Todne
Excerpt: The study focuses on the City Christian Center, Zanzibar’s largest Pentecostal church and a major outreach of the Tanzania Assemblies of God in the archipelago, which was founded, and is growing, in conjunction with increased flows of labor migration, primarily from Mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar, over the past decades. In relation to the Zanzibar setting in general, and vis-a-vis political projects of creating a Zanzibari national identity in particular, the CCC congregation has become a locus of tension for several reasons. First and foremost, with an outspoken mission to expand Christianity – captured in the slogan “Jesus for Zanzibar” – the CCC brings a narrative of religious change to Zanzibar society.
Marti, Gerardo. 2016. “I Was a Muslim, But Now I Am a Christian”: Preaching, Legitimation, and Identity Management in a Southern Evangelical Church. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Early online publication.
Abstract: Established in 2005, “Life” is a suburban, nondenominational, evangelical church in Charlotte, North Carolina, with an almost entirely white membership, yet the lead pastor is an immigrant from the Middle East. As an ex-Muslim ethnic Pakistani who was born and raised in Kuwait, Pastor Sameer Khalid does not “fit” into southern culture, and he did not convert to Christianity until he was enrolled in college in the United States. Ethnographic data from 14 months of fieldwork reveal how Pastor Sameer uses weekly sermons to negotiate racialized stigmas, emphasize his common religious identity with the congregation, and make his immigrant background a distinctive religious resource for the church. More specifically, while all pastors require legitimation of their charismatic authority, this research focuses on the dynamics of performance through preaching within the Sunday morning services of this congregation, a performance that negotiates this lead pastor’s ethnic and religious identities and accentuates his strategic use of institutionalized evangelical narratives to subvert Islamophobic threats and buttress legitimation of his pastoral identity.
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.
Publisher’s Description: Issues of same-sex relationships and gay and lesbian rights are the subject of public and political controversy in many African societies today. Frequently, these controversies receive widespread attention both locally and globally, such as with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. In the international media, these cases tend to be presented as revealing a deeply-rooted homophobia in Africa fuelled by religious and cultural traditions. But so far little energy is expended in understanding these controversies in all their complexity and the critical role religion plays in them. This is the first book with multidisciplinary perspectives on religion and homosexuality in Africa. It presents case studies from across the continent, from Egypt to Zimbabwe and from Senegal to Kenya, and covers religious traditions such as Islam, Christianity and Rastafarianism. The contributors explore the role of religion in the politicisation of homosexuality, investigate local and global mobilisations of power, critically examine dominant religious discourses, and highlight the emergence of counter-discourses. Hence they reveal the crucial yet ambivalent public role of religion in matters of sexuality, social justice and human rights in contemporary Africa.
Introduction: Public Religion, Homophobia and the Politics of Homosexuality in Africa Adriaan van Klinken and Ezra Chitando
I The Politicisation of Homosexuality
1. ‘For God and For My Country’: Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches and the Framing of a New Political Discourse in Uganda Barbara Bompani
2. Uniting a Divided Nation? Nigerian Muslim and Christian Responses to the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act Danoye Oguntola-Laguda and Adriaan van Klinken
3. Discourses on Homosexuality in Egypt: When Religion and the State Cooperate Serena Tolino
4. ‘We Will Chop Their heads Off’: Homosexuality versus Religio-political Grandstanding in Zimbabwe Molly Manyonganise
5. ‘Un-natural, ‘un-African’ and ‘un-Islamic’: The Three Pronged Onslaught Undermining Homosexual Freedom in Kenya Hassan J. Ndzovu
6. Côte d’Ivoire and the New Homophobia: The Autochthonous Ethic and the Spirit of Neo-Liberalism Joseph Hellweg
II Global and Local Mobilisations
7. An African or Un-African Sexual Identity? Religion, Globalisation and Sexual Politics in sub-Saharan Africa Kapya Kaoma
8. The Extraversion of Homophobia: Global Politics and Sexuality in Uganda Jia Hui Lee
9. Religious Inspiration: Indigenous Mobilisation against LGBTI Rights in Post-conflict Liberia Ashley Currier and Joëlle M. Cruz
10. Islamic Movements against Homosexuality in Senegal: The Fight against AIDS as Catalyst Christophe Broqua
11. One Love or Chanting Down Same-Sex Relations? Queering Zimbabwean Rastafari Perspectives on Homosexuality Fortune Sibanda
12. Narratives of ‘Saints’ and ‘Sinners’ in Uganda: Contemporary (Re)presentations of the 1886 Story of ‘Queer’ Mwanga and Ganda ‘Martyrs’ Prince Karakire Guma III Contestation, Subversion and Resistance
13. Critique and Alternative Imaginations: Homosexuality and Religion in Contemporary Zimbabwean Literature Pauline Mateveke
14. Christianity, Human Rights and LGBTI Advocacy: The Case of Dette Resources Foundation in Zambia Adriaan van Klinken
15. ‘I Was On Fire’: The Challenge of Counter-intimacies within Zimbabwean Christianity Nathanael Homewood
16. Critical Realism and LGBTIQ Rights in Africa Richard McCarty and Jay Breneman
Appendix: African LGBTI Manifesto
Abstract: Drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic data, this article provides one of the first empirical analyses of religious classes for converts in the United States. Focusing on “new member classes” in two religious communities (a Muslim association and an evangelical Christian church), we introduce the concept of “pedagogies of conversion” to describe how religious organizations teach converts about their new religion and set up guidelines to frame the conversion process. By examining the pedagogical tools that religious instructors use on a daily basis to foster spirituality among new members, we investigate how converts learn to become religious people. We demonstrate that while there are significant differences in the doctrines (know-what) being taught in the Muslim and evangelical classrooms, the tips and pieces of advice delivered by instructors on how to be religious (know-how) are strikingly similar.
Abstract: The Soviet project was as thoroughly atheist as any geopolitical system seen on the world stage. Yet in a way that V.I. Lenin could have never imagined, one of the main objectives of Soviet authorities has now become a significant factor in Central Asian Muslims converting to Christianity. Russification is the term normally used to describe the social process, whereby non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union became acculturated into Russian patterns of life, thought and worldview during the Soviet era. The result was that many Muslims inhabited both Soviet/Russian and Muslim cultural space, thus creating a new cultural identity that facilitated religious conversion away from Islam. This field research report uses the lens of personal conversion stories to examine some aspects of this phenomenon. Also, the range of personal experiences points towards the need to understand Russification as a spectrum of acculturation.
Abstract: This article explores the limits of the debate surrounding Robert A. Orsi’s call for a “third way” in scholar-practitioner encounters in religious studies research. It argues that the debate has reached an impasse and that, as Joel Robbins suggests, an alternative approach might exist within theology—particularly, theological discussions of how the Christian is to relate to the non-Christian other. The article tests this notion by probing the writings of A. Kenneth Cragg, an Anglican theologian and Islamic Studies specialist who proposed the possibility of expanding the Christian canon within the context of interfaith encounters. The article concludes that although religious studies remains, as a field, unprepared to countenance the kind of hybridization toward which Cragg’s conception of the interfaith situation leads, his notion of “bi-scripturalism” has the potential nevertheless of opening up new questions for religious studies scholars concerned with alterity.