Abstract: This article examines the rhetorical invocation of “secular ethnicity” among diasporic Syriac Orthodox Christian activists living in the Netherlands as they seek political recognition as an endangered, indigenous ethnoreligious group of the Middle East from the UN Human Rights Council, the Dutch state, and their local municipal government. In tracing how their efforts to stake a politically salient ethnic identity on the holy rites and rituals of the Syriac liturgical tradition are legible to some audiences while remaining illegible to others, I analyze how secularity intertwines with theologically informed ritual practices in geographically variable ways to shape how Syriac Christian kinship is reproduced in diaspora. I analyze these intertwined forms of legibility and illegibility through the notion of perforation, which I offer as an alternative to the one-dimensional metaphor of secular rupture, in order to show how diasporic Syriac Orthodox kinship is premised on the conviction that Christianity is an inherent, rather than an optional, dimension of human personhood. Ultimately, I argue that secular power and its effects are subsumed within other historical processes of division and reconciliation in a broader contest over the proper dispensation of political and ritual power throughout the history of Christianity.
Abstract: The article addresses a conflicting encounter of two ideologies of kinship, ‘natural’ and ‘religious’, among the newly established Evangelical communities of Nenets in the Polar Ural and Yamal tundra. An ideology of Christian kinship, as an outcome of ‘spiritual re-birth’, was introduced through Nenets religious conversion. The article argues that although the born-again experience often turned against ancestral traditions and Nenets traditional kinship ties, the Nenets kinship system became a platform upon which the conversion mechanism was furthered and determined in the Nenets tundra. The article examines missionary initiatives and Nenets religiosity as kin-based activities, the outcome of which was twofold. On one side, it was the realignment of Nenets traditional kinship networks. On other side, it was the indigenisation of the Christian concept of kinship according to native internal cultural logic. Evangelical communities in the tundra were plunged into the traditional practices of Nenets kinship networks, economic exchanges, and marriage alliances. Through negotiation of traditional Nenets kinship and Christian kinship, converted Nenets developed new imaginaries, new forms of exchanges, and even new forms of mobility.
Irvine, Richard D.G. 2017. “The Everyday Life of Monks: English Benedictine identity and the performance of proximity.” In Monasticism in Modern Times, Isabelle Jonveaux and Stefania Palmisano, eds. 191-208. London: Routledge.
Excerpt: This chapter sets out to explore the identity of contemporary Catholic English Benedictine monasticism in relation to the wider society of which it is part. Contrary to the characterisation of monasteries as an anti-social ‘flight from the world’, I focus on the many ways in which monastic communities exist in continuity with wider society and secular norms. This performance of proximity – grounding monastic identity in the continuity between the monastic and lay life, rather than the sharp contrasts – is illustrated in three domains: food, kinship, and work.
Abstract: This article attempts to push Mauss’ work on the sociality of prayer (1909) to its fullest conclusion by arguing that prayer can be viewed anthropologically as providing a map for social and emotional relatedness. Based on fieldwork among deep-sea fisher families living in Gamrie, North-East Scotland (home to 700 people and six Protestant churches), the author takes as his primary ethnographic departure the ritual of the ‘mid-week prayer meeting’. Among the self-proclaimed ‘fundamentalists’ of Gamrie’s Brethren and Presbyterian churches, attending the prayer meeting means praying for salvation. Yet, contrary to the stereotype of Protestant soteriology as highly individualist, in the context of Gamrie, salvation is not principally focused upon the self, but is instead sought on behalf of the ‘unconverted’ other. Locally, this ‘other’ is made sense of with reference to three different categories of relatedness: the family, the village and the nation. The author’s argument is that each category of relatedness carries with it a different affective quality: anguish for one’s family, resentment toward one’s village, and resignation towards one’s nation. As such, prayers for salvation establish and maintain not only vertical – human-divine – relatedness, but also horizontal relatedness between persons, while also giving them their emotional tenor. In ‘fundamentalist’ Gamrie, these human relationships, and crucially their affective asymmetries, may be mapped, therefore, by treating prayers as social phenomena that seek to engage with a world dichotomised into vice and virtue, rebellion and submission, and, ultimately, damnation and salvation.
Abstract: Anthropologists have framed ethnographers as participant-observers, strangers, and friends and have written about ethnographic research encounters in terms of the productive spaces between researchers and research collaborators. Informed by my review of research literature on ethnographic relationships, my application of de-colonial, feminist, and postmodern research methodologies, and my experience of being reconstituted as a “[church] sister” by the members of an Afro-West Indian and African American evangelical church association, I argue that characterizations of research encounters by research collaborators hold important implications for ethnographic research and writing.
Abstract: Amid a variety of ideas of Israelite genealogies for To’abaita speakers in North Malaita, Solomon Islands, ‘Holy Land’ features as a utopian fantasy of a just nation, not in Israel but grounded in the ancestral soil of the island. I analyse this mimetic gesture as part of attempts to reconcile kastom (custom) with Christianity and as evoking a sense of an essentialised group identity. In particular for followers of the All People’s Prayer Assembly (APPA), the idea of an essentialised group of To’abaita as a nation in the canonical ‘Table of Nations’ in Genesis 10 is quite prominent. This dialectic between ‘religion’ and ‘nation’ explains the ways in which people claim to have found authentic To’abaita foundations for a nation unifying distinct lineage groups, with a religious form at the centre, namely: Jerusalem. In this article I will show that APPA’s theology weakens the claim of the ‘secular’ state while strengthening the force of religious imagination and ideas about local sovereignty and a related notion of nation.
Abstract: This ethnographic analysis of the pragmatic links among forms of address, honorifics, and narratives of spiritual maturity clarifies a conflict between two Christian models of social change in South Korea: absolute social rupture and transcendence, and progressive shifts in social orientation and institutional self-location. The focus is on a Protestant proposal for all Korean Christians to address one another with the terms hyŏngje-nim (brother) and chamae-nim (sister). While these terms promised to combine the intimacy of siblinghood with the clear marking of Christian status, they generally had the interactional effect of establishing distance where there was to be closeness and lowering where there was to be esteem. Furthermore, a simplification of address to these two basic kinship terms threatened to establish an ascetic mode of pragmatics that would override the intricate formal coding and indexing of status differentiation by the enregistered honorifics of Korean. Combined, these limited forms of address and the severe restriction of social deixis generated yet further conflict between different chronotopic formulations of social relations, namely between the narrative timespace internal to specific kinds of Korean social relations, and the generalized external narrative timespace of modern Korean Christian society at large.
Abstract: In September 2010, four young African American men filed lawsuits against Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church alleging that Long had sexually abused them as teens. Though the case generated a number of discussions about the institutional politics underwriting clerical privilege, missing was detailed attention to the interior social dynamics that connected the religious participants. Informed by an examination of the case’s legal texts and related local and electronic media, this article examines how the relationships between Long and his accusers were differentially constructed as pastoral relationships, mentorship ties, and spiritual kinship bonds. Applying anthropological frameworks that demonstrate how different forms of sociality can intersect to reinforce social structures, I use this timely investigation to argue that despite the variegated and con- tested character of the relationships, all are mutually organized by the social logic of patriarchy and the complex intimacies mediating contemporary Afro-Protestant religious belonging.
Bakker, Sarah. 2013. Fragments of a Liturgical World: Syriac Christianity and the Dutch Multicultural Debates. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California-Santa Cruz.
Abstract: This dissertation explores the reconfiguration of Syriac Orthodox liturgical tradition among Aramaic-speaking Christian refugees in the Netherlands. Under the pressures of Dutch integration policy and the global politics of secular recognition, the Syriac liturgy is rapidly losing its significance as the central axis of social life and kinship-relations in the Syriac Orthodox diaspora. As such, it has become a site for debate over how to be religiously, culturally, and ethnically distinct despite the narrative binary of Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East that dominates Dutch multiculturalism discourse. Every week, young Syriac Orthodox women and men congregate at their churches to practice singing the liturgy in classical Syriac. What they sing, and how they decide to sing it, mediates their experiments in religious and ethical reinvention, with implications for their efforts at political representation. Singers contend not only with conditions of inaudibility produced by histories of ethnic cleansing, migration, and assimilation, but also with the fragments of European Christianity that shape the sensory regime of secular modernity. Public debates over the integration of religious minorities illuminate this condition of fragmentation, as well as the contest over competing conceptions of ethical personhood inherent in the politics of pluralism in Europe.
Abstract: This paper examines a preference among rural Catholics in Northeast Brazil to treat generalized forms of malaise with isotonic solution administered intravenously, even where such treatment goes against biomedical advice. It situates this practice within a nexus of local ideas about the value of blood and sacrifice, which emerge out of socio-historical and environmental factors particular to the region. In this context blood is merely one in a sequence of substances linked to the regenerative martyrdom of Jesus, to the agricultural cycle, and to the economic struggle for existence in a drought-affected region. The materialization of blood, sweat, and tears on the surface of the body indexes social relationships built on sacrifice. The appearance of such substances, often between categories of close kin, are ideally characterized by the loss or flow of substance in a single direction. In such contexts replenishing the blood with isotonics maintains a uni-directional flow, preserving the value of sacrifice.