Abstract: Within the anthropology of Christianity, much attention has been paid to the convergence of Christianity with modern understandings of language. In this essay, I review scholarship that traces the historical connections between modern and Christian views of language, particularly in British colonial attacks on Hindu language practices, and I examine two recent ethnographies that offer different vantage points on the variety of ways in which contemporary Christians use language in a self-consciously modern way.
Hoenes del Pinal, Eric. 2015. “From Vatican II to speaking in tongues: theology and language policy in a Q’eqchi’-Maya Catholic parish” Language Policy DOI 10.1007/s10993-015-9364-0 [Pre-Publication Release]
Abstract: One of the most far-reaching reforms undertaken by the Catholic Church as part of the Second Vatican Council was the adoption of vernacular languages in the liturgy. The transition from Latin to vernaculars was not unproblematic, how- ever, as it raised several practical and theoretical questions regarding the relation- ship between local churches and their languages. This paper examines the issues of language choice in the liturgy of an ethnically homogenous Q’eqchi’-Maya parish in Guatemala. While the aims of Vatican II have largely been met in the parish with Q’eqchi’ functioning as its de facto language, within the last decade Charismatic Catholicism has presented a challenge to Q’eqchi’ liturgical monolingualism. Catholic Charismatics’ theological commitment to unmediated experience of the divine is manifested through linguistic practices that subvert Q’eqchi’s status in the parish. Specifically Charismatics’ use of Spanish in their services has become an issue of contention in the parish. Though members of both congregations are equally likely to be functionally bilingual in Spanish and Q’eqchi’, language choice in ritual settings has become a marked and highly charged point of contention between them. In examining the conflict this paper proposes that the congregations’ language practices can be understood as de facto policies authorized by their distinct constructions of the role of language in religion. The paper contextualizes this local debate in light of the historical changes in the Catholic Church’s policies regarding the use of vernaculars in the liturgy.
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: This article ethnographically analyzes the practices of deaf young adults in Bangalore, India. As sign language is not used by families, schools, or other institutions, the church is a crucial educational space. Churchgoing provides deaf young adults with opportunities to orient themselves toward other deaf young adults, to develop new ideas of self and other, and to value sign language.
Hein, Emily Jane Carter. 2013. The Semiotics of Diaspora: Language Ideologies and Coptic Orthodox Christianity in Berlin, Germany. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
Abstract: The dissertation is based on field research in Coptic Orthodox Church congregations in Germany, where Copts are living after emigration from Egypt. The data for the study are drawn from participant-observation, interviews, and recordings in these communities and include analysis of texts collected during fieldwork. The focus is on Copts’ ideologies of language in the diaspora, where their linguistic repertoires – Coptic (sacred language of religious texts), Arabic (most community members’ first language, spoken within the home or with other Copts), and German (language of the new location) – are being reconfigured. The dissertation has these main arguments: (1) in the liturgy and in its textual representations, the three languages are being interpreted as in a temporal progression, in which Arabic – devalued for its association with Islam and Arabs– is to be replaced by German, although there are some tensions surrounding this as yet incomplete process; (2) Copts are making a rhetorical effort, and (in effect) sociological project, to be identified with whites, Europe, and Christendom (seen as overlapping categories), thus evading German anti-immigrant prejudice and becoming part of the majority. This identification entails a semiotics of temporality as well, in the assertion that Christ came “out of Egypt” (as, more recently, did the Copts) – thus Egypt is to be included as the root domain of Christianity, rather than excluded from it because of its Muslim majority. This narrated past is part of Copts’ claim to inclusion in the (future) ecumene of Christianity. The author contends that the temporal progression implicit in the language shift in progress (1) can be seen as part of this wider semiotics of temporality (2). The present work contributes to debates on diaspora and the narrative construction of time and space. Its central themes of language ideologies, code repertoires, and textuality and performance are important topics in linguistic anthropology, the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of the Middle East and Europe. Detailing how Copts in the diaspora bring to life a dead language, while enthusiastically shifting to German, the dissertation is an ethnography of language contact and language shift.
Abstract: How is it that confession – a highly ritualized, dialogically structured speech act – appears to transparently reflect and reveal the inner states of confessants? This article explores this question by closely engaging select post-Vatican II defences of the Sacrament of Penance, which lay out the requirements of ‘modern’ confession in striking detail. A close reading of these theological texts demonstrates that felicitous confession is the product of three correlated (meta-)semiotic processes: (1) the figuration of the pentinent memory as a storehouse for sin; (2) the management of ritual time into discrete stages of ‘private’ meaning-making and ‘public’ pronouncement; and (3) the erasure of the social scenery of the confessional utterance. In concert, these processes render indexical signs as iconic ones and, in so doing, naturalize confession as the cathartic revelation of inner truths, already constituted as such.
King, Rebekka. 2012. The New Heretics: Popular Theology, Progressive Christianity, and Protestant Language Ideologies. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. for the Study of Religion. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto.
Abstract: This dissertation investigates the development of progressive Christianity. It explores the ways in which progressive Christian churches in Canada adopt biblical criticism and popular theology. Contributing to the anthropology of Christianity, this study is primarily an ethnographic and linguistic analysis that juxtaposes contemporary conflicts over notions of the Christian self into the intersecting contexts of public discourse, contending notions of the secular and congregational dynamics. Methodologically, it is based upon two-and-a-half years of in-depth participant observation research at five churches and distinguishes itself as the first scholarly study of progressive Christianity in North America. I begin this study by outlining the historical context of skepticism in Canadian Protestantism and arguing that skepticism and doubt serve as profoundly religious experiences, which provide a fuller framework than secularization in understanding the experiences of Canadian Protestants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In doing so, I draw parallels between the ways that historical and contemporary North American Christians negotiate the tensions between their faith and biblical criticism, scientific empiricism and liberal morality. Chapter Two seeks to describe the religious, cultural and socio-economic worlds inhabited by the progressive Christians featured in this study. It focuses on the worldviews that emerge out of participation in what are primarily white, middle-class, liberal communities and considers how these identity-markers affect the development and lived experiences of progressive Christians. My next three chapters explore the ways that certain engagements with text and the performance or ritualization of language enable the development of a distinctly progressive Christian modality. Chapter Three investigates progressive Christian textual ideologies and argues that the form of biblical criticism that they employ, along with entrenched concerns about the origins of the Christian faith ultimately, leads to a rejection of the biblical narrative. Chapter Four examines the ways in which progressive Christians understand individual ‘deconversion’ narratives as contributing to a shared experience or way of being Christian that purposefully departs from evangelical Christianity. The final chapter analyses rhetoric of the future and argues that progressive Christians employ eschatological language that directs progressive Christians towards an ultimate dissolution.
Abstract: In October 2009, a dramatic event shook the existing sociolinguistic setting in Kanjimei village in East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. Possessed by a Christian spirit, a woman harshly reproached the most important village leaders. The ensuing verbal fight between ‘the spirit’ and the village prayer leader became a battle of languages: the Christian spirit spoke the community’s native language, Awiakay, overpowering those in authority, who are the most frequent users of the national lingua franca Tok Pisin. As it was believed that it was the spirit of the Virgin Mary who channelled herself through the possessed woman, it was legitimate for people to discuss her words. The spirit possession thus enabled the otherwise condemned social practices: gossip and public criticism, which have the power of changing existing power relations in the village. The analysis of this event shows the complexity behind the ever-changing linguistic ideologies.
McDougall, Debra. 2012. Stealing foreign words, recovering local treasures: Bible translation and vernacular literacy on Ranongga (Solomon Islands). The Australian Journal of Anthropology 23(3): 318–339.
Abstract: In Oceania, which is arguably both the world’s most linguistically diverse region and its most Christian, Bible translation projects are sites where ordinary people pay attention to the kind of ‘interlingual articulations’ that are the focus of this special issue. This article focuses on an ongoing vernacular revival movement that arose from the translation of the New Testament into Luqa, an Austronesian language of Ranongga Island in the Solomon Islands’ Western Province. In 2000, the head translator began running workshops that encouraged native speakers to appreciate the lexical diversity and learn the grammatical structures of their language. In the context of the Bible translation and these language workshops, the vernacular is understood to be, simultaneously, an adequately transparent vehicle for God’s Word and something of value in and of itself. In elevating the status of the vernacular, participants also hope to elevate the status of local territories and communities marginalised in an increasingly English-speaking regional world.
Abstract: In December 2008, a team of American Pentecostals visited Fiji and conducted ‘crusades’ in a public park. In this article, I show how a sermon and altar call at one of the performances modelled for listeners a particular quality of the believer’s relation to the otherness of God, figured via linguistic otherness. The American preacher and his Fijian translator approached the event as a teaching opportunity. They explained to audience members how to pray for repentance and how to speak in tongues (glossolalia) and stated that when a person spoke in tongues, this was really the Holy Ghost ‘praying through’ a person. In glossolalia, the words are supposed to be semantically unintelligible, pointing to the otherworldly, even miraculous, fact of their utterance; but pragmatically, their utterance is supposed to manifest the Holy Ghost’s presence in the speaker, and this presence is held to be the meaning that matters.