Abstract: Exploring missionary study at an Assemblies of God Bible college through ethnography and training manuals demonstrates systematic pedagogies that cultivate sensory capabilities encouraging yielding, opening to rupture, and constraint. Ritual theory and the Anthropology of Christianity shift analytic scales to include “cultivation,“ a “third term“ enabling simultaneous apprehension and consolidating of the oppositions (experience–doctrine, revival–church, or spontaneous rupture–restrained continuity) internal and central to Pentecostalism. Further, cultivation complicates valorizations of the disjunctive “event“ as militant radical icon.
The following is an interview with Brian Howell conducted by Josh Brahinsky in September 2013.
Josh: What motivated this book?
Brian: I would ask students at the beginning of an intro class and would hear about these really extraordinary travel opportunities that they had to places where people don’t normally go: northern Ghana and Mongolia and such places, but what was most striking about it was the ways that they talked about their trips, that they were similar to one another regardless of where they gone in the world including people who gone to Europe versus people who gone to Latin America or remote parts of Asia or Africa. I was struck that something was going on that either these trips had converged in some way, or had been produced in some way. The narratives about them were coming from somewhere, and I was really curious how that happened.
Josh: Was this one of the founding questions of the book? Narrative versus experience, or how was this made? How did this come to be spoken this way?
Brian: When I started doing research into the literature, particularly the anthropology of tourism, I could see that this was an idea many anthropologists have followed up on, looking at how the narratives of particular places shape those experiences of those places. So, what you could call my hypothesis was that the narratives produced around short-term missions were strongly influencing the experience people had of the places that they went when they were calling these short-term missions.
By: Joshua Brahinsky (University of California, Santa Cruz)
While anthropology and religion have a checkered and ambivalent dynamic, relations between anthropology and missiology – Christian mission theory – are far more enmeshed and, perhaps, grating. This animates a sharp division between the two. Anthropologists can imagine religion as out there, a behavior to study, more or less connected to transcendent reality. By contrast, missions, as many have noted, cut much closer to the bone (Priest 2001). Not only was the core anthropological notion of culture likely first articulated among missionaries, but also, by most accounts, missionaries surpass even the most assiduous anthropologist when it comes to their defining practice: ethnography (Herbert 1991). Even an exceptionally long three-year anthropological field stay cannot touch the decades common to missions. This makes discussions of missions uncomfortable for anthropologists. Further, simply noticing mission’s effects ties awkward knots within anthropological tales of the noble savage or those that valorize postcolonial agency, especially when that agency involves appropriating previously Western religions (Sanneh 2003). Finally, Short Term Missions (STM), are especially ephemeral phenomena, and as such, easily escape the anthropological eye. In other words, aside from the significance of a project that involves 1.6 million US youth traveling the world each year, simply talking STM and anthropology together makes Brian Howell’s study of Short Term Missions worthwhile.