This article examines religious language in a contested public sphere by analyzing performances of linguistic creativity among creationists in the United States. The public creation‐evolution debate has been a central speech event in the development of modern creationism, and functions as a key site for claiming cultural legitimacy. Focusing on three creation‐evolution debates spanning 33 years, I advance the concept of “creationist poetics” to capture how framing, stance taking, and speech play define the performance repertoire of creationists in the debate context. In particular, I illustrate how creationist speakers work to create a conspiracy‐populist frame and a revealer stance. Together, these strategies sketch a lifeworld that envisions elitist “secular” actors suppressing scriptural authority and creationists as humble, clear‐eyed people exposing the conspiracy through scriptural fidelity. I argue that this system of poetics is a key expressive resource in the ongoing struggle to wrest authority away from evolutionary science and claim it for biblical fundamentalism. Ultimately, this analysis of creationist poetics informs our understanding of how authority as a contingent social process is discursively mediated, a central theme in the study of both religious and political language.
A personal relationship with God is central to Evangelical belief. It unfolds as believers interpret internal sensations as coming from outside—from God. How does the formulaic design of testimonies present the audience with a personal relationship with God as a pursuit that is both feasible and deeply desirable? Analyzing the discursive rules structuring the appearance of emotion in the most popular testimonies on the online platform of Christianity Today reveals that such texts expertly present a microcosm in which the experience of reading mirrors the trajectory toward belief writers describe. To read a testimony from start to finish, readers must choose to tolerate the unfamiliar: that is, feel emotions that specifically belong in an Evangelical frame. Online written testimony relies on compelling storytelling to move readers, making them practise what it feels like to hand over part of one’s own story to God.
Abstract: This article provides an overview of recent scholarship on the language of evangelism and missionization within the anthropology of Christianity. Attention to Christian evangelism and forms of circulation was minimized as scholars worked to distinguish the study of Christianity from the study of colonialism, often treating missionaries and missionization as a prologue to a more central analysis of transformation organized through local people and local cultural change. However, issues of circulation are at the heart of many Christian experiences, especially for those within evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic worlds. This research is discussed here in terms of Christian cultures of circulation specifically and of models of communicative circulation more generally. Framing the language of evangelism in terms of circulation allows for the integrated discussion of a wide range of related issues, including work on translation, missionary training practices, and material formations of evangelism
Barkataki-Ruscheweyh, Meenaxi. 2018. “Fractured Christianity amongst the Tangsa in Northeast India- Bible Language Politics and the Charm of Ecstatic Experiences.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 41(1): 212-226
This paper examines the proliferation of Christian denominations among the small Tangsa community in Northeast India. While resentment over the language chosen by the Baptist Church for the official Tangsa Bible triggered the initial fissures, the recent arrival of Pentecostal and charismatic churches has brought about further divisions. These divisions have not helped the cause of pan-Tangsa unity. However, in the everyday lives of most Tangsa, it is the Christian/non-Christian divide that is more relevant. Hence, the Tangsa situation is different from that of the neighbouring Mizo and Naga communities, in which Christianity has become a defining part of their identities.
Abstract:In Christian traditions of “speaking in tongues,” glossolalia refers to an explicitly linguistic form of involvement with the deity, one carried out through denotationally unintelligible behavior. Its religious legitimacy depends on its being speech and not merely speech-like. South Korean Christians practice glossolalia widely across denominations, commonly in cacophonous settings of group prayer. Combined, glossolalia and cacophony impose limits on “normal” linguistic functions while reinforcing ideological commitments to language itself. Glossolalia should be conceptualized as cultural semiosis that is said to contain, and can therefore be justified by, an ideological core of language, but that is in fact produced at the ideological limits of language. This dynamic shapes how practitioners discern the nature of communication with their deity and with one another.
Abstract: Homologies between so-called soft infrastructures like language and hard ones like roads depend on ethnographically variable metaphors of circulation. In these homologies, speakers understand language to propel or inhibit forms of physical movement, affecting the embodied experiences of transportation or locomotion. In the case of Guhu-Samane Christians in Papua New Guinea, people focus on language as a kind of infrastructure as they grapple with postcolonial feelings of disconnection from divine powers that were once manifest in a New Testament translation. They channel this sense of disconnection into ongoing complaints about their lack of a vehicular road and the pain of walking, particularly walking like a heavily burdened woman. If a road were built into their valley, this would signal the New Testament’s transformation into Christian infrastructure.
Ryan Schram, 2016. “Tapwaroro is true”: Indigenous Voice and the Heteroglossia of Methodist Missionary Translation in British New Guinea” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology.
Abstract: In the semiotic ideology of many Christian discursive practices, it is assumed that any language can convey the same message of salvation, and any person is capable of true belief, no matter how it is expressed. Evangelism, especially by Western missions, thus centers on translating Christian texts into vernacular languages. This article considers these understandings and practices by examining the written discourse of Australian Methodist missionaries in the early colonial period in New Guinea. These missionaries desired an encounter with heathens in an unevangelized field, but they operated in a colonial terrain defined by the politics of past encounters between Australians and Melanesians. In their writings, missionary authors parody the voices of indigenous speakers and present a world in which missionary and native cannot arrive at a shared understanding of religion. Their parody usually involves quoting one term, taparoro, as a word used by natives for the mission and its activities. Having presented a world defined by a persistent gap in understanding, missionaries appropriate this particular sign of their own otherness to others as a basis for a new mission register into which they can translate Christian ideas. In so doing, they do not simply impose one dominant code as a metalinguistic standard, but fashion a new discourse out of available materials in a complex field of interlingualism.
Engberg, Aron. 2016. Walking on the Pages of the Word of God: Self, Land, and Text among Evangelical Volunteers in Jerusalem. Doctoral Dissertation, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies. Lund, Sweden: Lund University.
Excerpt: During the last 30 years, the Evangelical relationship with the State of Israel has drawn much academic and popular attention, particularly from historical, theological, and political perspectives. This dissertation engages with this literature but also complements it with an ethnographic account of the discursive practices of Evangelical Zionists through which, it is suggested, much of the religious significance of the contemporary state is being produced. The study is based on ethnographic fieldwork among Evangelical volunteer workers in Jerusalem, focusing on their stories about themselves, the land, and the biblical text.
Naomi Haynes, 2016. “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way: language and personhood on the Zambian Copperbelt,” Religion, early online publication: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1225906
Abstract: This article examines the role of prayer in the production of the Pentecostal person on the Zambian Copperbelt. While Pentecostal prayer is partly focused on private concerns, and therefore reinforces a classic Protestant notion of bounded, individualised personhood, success in this practice depends on a believer’s ability to incorporate the language of the Pentecostal community. Prayer is also therefore dependent on a model of personhood in which permeability has an important part to play. One of the implications of this latter element of Pentecostal prayer is that it turns individual believers into iconic representations of their communities.
Abstract: Although Q’eqchi’-Maya Mainstream Catholics and Charismatic Catholics in the Guatemala highlands share many of the same physical and social spaces, the relationship between them is a tense one due to their differing modes of ritual practice. Although this conflict rarely comes to a head directly, on one particular occasion a highly ranked member of a Mainstream congregation, and indeed an outspoken critic of the Charismatics, entered the village chapel during the latter’s weekly service and proceeded openly to criticize their ritual practices, leaders’ religious knowledge, and relationship to the larger institutional Catholic Church. This article analyzes this event as a means of furthering our understanding of what happens when unexpected circumstances threaten the integrity of a religious group’s ritual. How do participants try to circumvent, mitigate or otherwise manage such an occurrence? Examining the spoken and embodied actions taken by both the speaker criticizing the congregation and his intended audience sheds light on the interactive strategies each used to manage their social and ethical standing during the uneasy interaction. This article draws critical attention to the way adherents to two related but distinct forms of Christianity establish and contest their modes of religious authority through language, discourse, and bodily behavior. By investigating an episode in which two modes of Christian practice came into direct confrontation with each other, we can better understand how differing ways of being Christian are dialogically constituted.