Abstract: Debtera are Ethiopian Orthodox ritual specialists known for their advanced religious education, as well as for engaging in illicit magic. This article traces how their secret magical knowledge and practices emerge from the official Orthodox tradition. Yet, while drawing on this tradition, the debtera’s ritual repertoire also transgresses some of its central proscriptions. Transgression, in this context, does not abolish the boundaries it violates, but reinstates their legitimacy. This dynamic prompts debtera to engage in imaginative ethical reassessments of the unstable relationship between illicit knowledge and official tenets. Through their transgressive performances, debtera enable their clients to secretly address and actualise sinful desires that otherwise remain unacknowledged or are suppressed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. By examining this ritual management of covert desires, I conclude that the study of debtera’s secrecy illuminates fundamental complexities and contradictions in Ethiopian Orthodox sociality which operate beneath the surface of public moral discourse.
Over the past decades, biblical scholars have gradually become more aware of the importance of the social sciences for their own field. This has produced a steady flow of studies informed by work that was done in the fields of group formation psychology, the sociology of emerging movements and the sociology of religion, and historical anthropology. This volume offers the proceedings of a conference that brought together a number of expert biblical scholars, specialists of ancient religious practices, and proponents of an anthropological approach to ancient Christian and Greco-Roman religious tradition. It was the explicit purpose not to focus exclusively on purely methodological reflections, but to explore and evaluate how methodological concepts and constructs can be developed and then also checked in applying them on specific cases and topics that are typical for understanding earliest Christianity.
This article examines the performance practices of U.S. gospel magicians, evangelical Christians who convey religious messages with conjuring tricks. Emphatically denying that they possess supernatural powers and scrupulously avoiding effects that resemble biblical miracles, they take pains to present their tricks as unambiguously skillful performances intended to entertain, uplift, and instruct. When patterned on a Christian motif, otherwise self-referential magic tricks constitute a versatile signifying medium. Addressing the poetics of gospel magic in the setting of instructional workshops, this analysis explores a variety of ways performers utilize iconic resemblances between conjuring effects and Christian referents to produce complex and evocative expressions of faith. At the same time, they carefully manage signifiers of virtuosic agency that are intrinsic to the efficacy of gospel magic performance, but that also threaten to undermine their Christian message.