Abstract: The discipline called the “anthropology of Christianity” began to gain traction in the early to mid-2000s when interested scholars focused on Christianity as an object of collaborative and comparative cross-cultural analysis. Along with several landmark works of Joel Robbins, one foundational text is Fenella Cannell’s edited volume The Anthropology of Christianity, published in 2006. In her introductory essay, Cannell poses a pointed question for the volume and the discipline itself: “What difference does Christianity make?” Bracketing the question of whether “difference” can or should be defined (Green 2014), several anthropologists have taken inspiration from Cannell, including Naomi Haynes (2014) in the concluding essay to a recent special issue of Current Anthropology, and myself and Debra McDougall (2013) in an edited volume on Christian politics in Oceania. Difference, as the criterion by which continuity and transformation are evaluated, is arguably the key concept for an effective anthropological engagement with Christianity.
Abstract: Place-making is a central activity for Christian groups. Yet the scholarly literature contains little comparative conversation on local Christian theories of place. This article ‘thinks across’ ten ethnographic descriptions of evangelical communities in order to pay attention to what these Christians pay attention to in their everyday place-making. It discusses seven problematics that commonly recur in evangelical place-work (namely linguistic, material, temporal, personhood, translocal, transcendent, and worldly concerns). This analysis nuances current anthropological debates on Protestant materiality, temporality, and personhood. The article argues that a central tenet of evangelicals’ place- making is a simultaneous taking apart and bringing together of faith and place. This results in a simultaneous fusing and ‘unfusing’ of situation and setting, which cannot be labeled either displacement or thorough emplacement. More broadly, evangelical place-making provides a modern example of deterritorialization that is different from placelessness. It also speaks to the complex interplay between ideals, intentionality, and agency.
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.
Coleman, Simon. 2015. “Christianity: An (In-)Constant Companion?.” In The Ashgate Research Companion to Anthropology, edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew J. Strathern, 209-226. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Excerpt: This chapter is about the shifting relationship between anthropology and Christianity. Any relationship has different dimensions—some that are openly acknowledged, and some that are concealed; some that may reflect imbalances between two parties, and others that express ideals of equality. Relationships can go through periods of harmony or occasionally descend into mutual incomprehension or enmity. A common view of anthropology is that it developed as a secular discipline, actively distancing itself from theology and the latter’s Christian associations. Up until at least the 1980s it was common to hear anthropologists say that they had encountered Christian missionaries in the field but had tried to ignore them while they studied the “local” culture. Christianity in many conventional fieldwork contexts was seen as a troubling remnant of colonial times, while its presence in Western societies was regarded as of little interest. Nonetheless, these comments do not tell the whole story of the relationship. The fact that for much of the twentieth century anthropology paid relatively scant ethnographic attention to Christianity may suggest a combination of hostility and indifference; but it also reflects a more complex, ambivalent set of interactions. The term “companion” derives from the Latin word companio, which in literal terms means “one who eats bread with another,” implying not merely separate identities but also mutual bonds expressed through proximity, parallel practices and even a hint at consubstantiality. It points in other words to both conjunctions and distinctions. In this chapter, we shall explore examples of both.
What, then, of my use of “constant” and “inconstant”? In its mathematical sense a constant implies a non-varying value, but I do not suggest that either Christianity or its connections with anthropology have remained unchanged. One reason to introduce this temporal metaphor is to indicate how the relationship between Christianity and anthropology has so often been defined by their respective relationships to time, change, and historical process. In his famous work The Golden Bough (1890) the Victorian anthropologist James Frazer tried to consign Christianity to the same dustbin of history that he reserved for other forms of religion; but a century or so later anthropologists have actually been observing striking increases in Christian adherence and practice across large parts of the world. More and more, they have come to understand the need to analyze how the spread of Christianity raises questions over the supposed disruptions of modernity. But this new analytical impulse does not involve a simple assumption that Christian influence produces a uniform, linear modelof Westernization. The task is rather to develop a critical and nuanced understanding of whether and how encounters with Christianity have produced transformations in cultures around the world. This new focus on Christianity also involves anthropologists taking a more historically informed look at themselves. The aim has been to understand whether anthropological conceptions of cultural coherence, of transcendence, of divisions between sacred and profane time and space, have links with Christian roots in ways that have not hitherto been fully acknowledged.
Following on from such points, categories of time, history and identity will help to form the structure of this chapter. Over the last 15 years or so, a self-conscious sub-field has emerged within the discipline dedicated to studying Christianity. In acknowledgement of this development, I divide my analysis into three periods. The first—with apologies to archeologists—I call “B.A.C.” (Before the Anthropology of Christianity); the second “A.C.” (the era of the Anthropology of Christianity); and finally, I provide some suggestions of possible futures for studies of the religion. However, I invoke such categories with irony. I approach them critically, especially their linear assumptions, and show how they represent only a limited view of how anthropology can continue to approach this religion …
Abstract: I present here a review and critique of social scientific analyses of the global spread of Prosperity Christianity. My argument is that at least two phases of research can be discerned: an initial phase where economic factors are given strong causal explanatory force in accounting for the upsurge in Health and Wealth congregations; and a more recent phase that complicates our understandings of the relationships between religious and economic action. My review of the literature reveals that sacrifice is a theoretical trope common to both phases of writing, and in the latter half of the chapter I explore the ways in which notions of the sacrificial economy can point to nuanced understandings of the forms of materiality deployed in many Prosperity contexts. The wider implications of this chapter refer in part to how we might understand notions of rational and irrational action in relation to economic behavior; and also to an appreciation of the ways in which ritual action can be productive of, and not merely a response to, perceived ambiguity and risk.