Blanton, “Hittin’ the Prayer Bones.”

Blanton, Anderson. 2015. Hittin’ the Prayer BonesMateriality of Spirit in the Pentecostal South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 

Publisher’s description: In this work, Anderson Blanton illuminates how prayer, faith, and healing are intertwined with technologies of sound reproduction and material culture in the charismatic Christian worship of southern Appalachia. From the radios used to broadcast prayer to the curative faith cloths circulated through the postal system, material objects known as spirit-matter have become essential since the 1940s, Blanton argues, to the Pentecostal community’s understanding and performances of faith.

Hittin’ the Prayer Bones draws on Blanton’s extensive site visits with church congregations, radio preachers and their listeners inside and outside the broadcasting studios, and more than thirty years of recorded charismatic worship made available to him by a small Christian radio station. In documenting the transformation and consecration of everyday objects through performances of communal worship, healing prayer, and chanted preaching, Blanton frames his ethnographic research in the historiography of faith healing and prayer, as well as theoretical models of materiality and transcendence. At the same time, his work affectingly conveys the feelings of horror, healing, and humor that are unleashed in practitioners as they experience, in their own words, the sacred, healing presence of the Holy Ghost.

Napolitano, “Anthropology and traces”

Napolitano, Valentina. 2015. Anthropology and traces. Anthropological Theory 15(1): 47–67.

Abstract: This article explores the trace as a methodological tool and theoretical pathway in anthropology and beyond. Traces signal the limits of representation; they are the mater- ials of knots of histories at the margins, as well as auratic presences. Through a critical reading of key ethnographic works, including an analysis of a Casa del Popolo in Rome which has been turned into a squat by Peruvian migrants, this article argues that the study of traces has an important genealogy in anthropology. This study invites us to explore the mattering of things (as forms becoming of importance), new ways of conjuring and operationalizing ethnographic ‘details’ and to broaden our debate of an anthropology beyond the subject, in the light of the mattering of histories.

Robbins, “The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions”

Robbins, Joel. 2014. The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678289

Abstract: This article reviews the development of the anthropology of Christianity and considers the new questions and approaches introduced by the articles in this special issue of Current Anthropology. The article first addresses the contested history of the anthropology of Christianity, suggesting that there is intellectual value in seeing it as largely a development of the new century. It goes on to locate the rise of the anthropology of Christianity in relation to a number of important changes both in the place of religion in the world and in the academic study of religion that also occurred during this period. It then considers the foci of the articles collected here. These include such relatively novel topics as the nature of Christian social institutions, social processes, space-making practices, and constructions of gender, as well as questions concerning the boundaries of Christianity. Several articles also focus on considerations of recent developments in the study of long-standing topics in the anthropology of Christianity, such as discontinuity, reflexivity, experience, and materiality. Throughout the discussion of these issues, I take up critical debates around the anthropology of Christianity, for example, the charge that it is wholly idealist in orientation, and consider how these articles contribute to the further development of these discussions.

Bandak, “Reckoning with the Inevitable”

Bandak, Andreas.  2014. Reckoning with the Inevitable: Death and Dying among Syrian Christians during the Uprising.  Ethnos (Early Online Publication).

Abstract: Since 15 March 2011, Syria has seen a humanitarian crisis escalate and we are now witnessing outright civil war in many parts of the country. From a relatively peaceful start, the whole affair has turned ugly. Bombs are exploding not just in remote parts of Syria but in its largest cities. Death and dying has now become a salient feature of Syrian life, both inside and outside its national borders. It is this salience of death and dying that I explore in this paper. My focus will be on Syrian Christians and their ways of perceiving the materiality of death. Most centrally, I argue that the fear of extinction that death and dying evoke in the minority prevents them from embracing oppositional politics and is instead used by the regime to propagate the fact that it alone will be able to ensure a future for all of the country’s citizens.

Heo, “The Divine Touchability of Dreams”

Heo, Angie. 2014. “The Divine Touchability of Dreams.” In Sensational Religion, edited by Salley M. Promey. Yale: Yale University Press.

Excerpt: “In Port Said, a city between Egypt’s Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, an icon of the Virgin Mary exudes holy oil …. [s]ince 1990, year after year the image had attracted thousands of Coptic Christian pilgrims to the Church of Saint Bishoi, where it is housed. Unlike other surrounding icons in the sanctuary, painted and consecrated by priestly hands, this one is an ‘autoconsecrating’ poster replica. It produces and reproduces holy oil by itself. This oil leaves behind worn paper traces in its liquid trail as it travels from the Virgin’s outstretched hands to the plastic canopy that captures the oil beneath her feet. From there, the priests of the church collect and distributes the oil as a form of remembrance …..

Devotees understand the origin of the icon’s miraculous activity to reside in the drama of one women’s dream. On the evening of February 20, 1990, the Virgin Mary (by way of saintly visitation) healed Samia Youssef Badilious of breast cancer. Samia dreamed that the Virgin, assisted by three other saints, preformed surgery on her. Within the space of the dream, Samia lay down on a white table as the saints held her hands. Then the Virgin touched the cancerous breast. Startled by a burning bolt of sensation that rushed through her body, Samia pulled her right hand away. The Virgin grabbed it back and held her hand. When Samia awoke, she discovered that she had been healed….”

Heo, “The Divine Touchability of Dreams”

Heo, Angie. 2014. “The Divine Touchability of Dreams.” In Sensational Religion, edited by Salley M. Promey. Yale: Yale University Press.

Excerpt: “In Port Said, a city between Egypt’s Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, an icon of the Virgin Mary exudes holy oil …. [s]ince 1990, year after year the image had attracted thousands of Coptic Christian pilgrims to the Church of Saint Bishoi, where it is housed. Unlike other surrounding icons in the sanctuary, painted and consecrated by priestly hands, this one is an ‘autoconsecrating’ poster replica. It produces and reproduces holy oil by itself. This oil leaves behind worn paper traces in its liquid trail as it travels from the Virgin’s outstretched hands to the plastic canopy that captures the oil beneath her feet. From there, the priests of the church collect and distributes the oil as a form of remembrance …..

Devotees understand the origin of the icon’s miraculous activity to reside in the drama of one women’s dream. On the evening of February 20, 1990, the Virgin Mary (by way of saintly visitation) healed Samia Youssef Badilious of breast cancer. Samia dreamed that the Virgin, assisted by three other saints, preformed surgery on her. Within the space of the dream, Samia lay down on a white table as the saints held her hands. Then the Virgin touched the cancerous breast. Startled by a burning bolt of sensation that rushed through her body, Samia pulled her right hand away. The Virgin grabbed it back and held her hand. When Samia awoke, she discovered that she had been healed….”

Kaell, “Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage”

Kaell, Hillary. 2014. Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage. New York: New York University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: Since the 1950s, millions of American Christians have traveled to the Holy Land to visit places in Israel and the Palestinian territories associated with Jesus’s life and death. Why do these pilgrims choose to journey halfway around the world? How do they react to what they encounter, and how do they understand the trip upon return? This book places the answers to these questions into the context of broad historical trends, analyzing how the growth of mass-market evangelical and Catholic pilgrimage relates to changes in American Christian theology and culture over the last sixty years, including shifts in Jewish-Christian relations, the growth of small group spirituality, and the development of a Christian leisure industry.

Drawing on five years of research with pilgrims before, during and after their trips, Walking Where Jesus Walked offers a lived religion approach that explores the trip’s hybrid nature for pilgrims themselves: both ordinary—tied to their everyday role as the family’s ritual specialists, and extraordinary—since they leave home in a dramatic way, often for the first time. Their experiences illuminate key tensions in contemporary US Christianity between material evidence and transcendent divinity, commoditization and religious authority, domestic relationships and global experience.

Hillary Kaell crafts the first in-depth study of the cultural and religious significance of American Holy Land pilgrimage after 1948. The result sheds light on how Christian pilgrims, especially women, make sense of their experience in Israel-Palestine, offering an important complement to top-down approaches in studies of Christian Zionism and foreign policy.

Reinhardt, “Soaking in tapes: the haptic voice of global Pentecostal pedagogy in Ghana”

Reinhardt, Bruno. 2014. Soaking in tapes: the haptic voice of global Pentecostal pedagogy in Ghana. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20(2):315-336.

Abstract: Can a voice touch? This possibility is indeed what underlies ‘soaking in tapes’, a devotional practice performed in Anagkazo Bible and Ministry Training Center, a Pentecostal seminary based in Accra, Ghana. Soaking in tapes is a form of impartation, or grace transmission, homologous to the biblical method of laying on of hands. In this article, I explore the conditions of possibility of this transposition of touch into speaking and hearing, arguing that the haptic voice of soaking in tapes is predicated upon a cultivated receptivity and a specific bond connecting addresser and addressee. I situate the practice in the school’s broader pedagogical apparatus, where it operates simultaneously as a spiritual exercise, a method of discipleship, and a technology of church government. I conclude by showing how soaking in tapes gives a pedagogical inflection to the general tactility and flow-orientated materiality of global Pentecostal power.

Harkness, “Songs of Seoul”

Harkness, Nicholas. 2013. Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Release Date: December 13, 2013

Publisher’s Description: Songs of Seoul is an ethnographic study of voice in South Korea, where the performance of Western opera, art songs, and choral music is an overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian enterprise. Drawing on fieldwork in churches, concert halls, and schools of music, Harkness argues that the European-style classical voice has become a specifically Christian emblem of South Korean prosperity. By cultivating certain qualities of voice and suppressing others, Korean Christians strive to personally embody the social transformations promised by their religion: from superstition to enlightenment; from dictatorship to democracy; from sickness to health; from poverty to wealth; from dirtiness to cleanliness; from sadness to joy; from suffering to grace. Tackling the problematic of voice in anthropology and across a number of disciplines, Songs of Seoul develops an innovative semiotic approach to connecting the materiality of body and sound, the social life of speech and song, and the cultural voicing of perspective and personhood.

Webster, “The Immanence of Transcendence”

Webster, Joseph. 2013. The Immanence of Transcendence: God and the Devil on the Aberdeenshire Coast. Ethnos 78(3): 380-402.

Abstract: In Gamrie (a Scottish fishing village of 700 people and 6 Protestant churches), local experiences of ‘divine providence’ and ‘demonic attack’ abound. Bodily fluids, scraps of paper, video cassettes and prawn trawlers were immanent carriers of divine and demonic activity. Viewed through the lens of Weberian social theory, the experiences of Scottish fisher families show how the life of the Christian resembles an enchanted struggle between God and the Devil with the Christian placed awkwardly in-between. Because, locally, ‘there is no such thing as coincidence’, these Christians expected to experience both the transcendent ordering of life by divine providence through God’s immanence and the transcendent disordering of life by demonic attack through the Devil’s immanence. Where this ordering and disordering frequently occurred through everyday objects, seemingly mundane events – being given a washing machine or feeling sleepy in church – were experienced as material indexes of spiritual reality. Drawing on the work of Cannell (on transcendence), Keane (on indexicality) and Wagner (on symbolic obviation), this paper argues that attending to the materiality of Scottish Protestantism better equips the anthropology of religion to understand Christian experience by positing immanence as a kind of transcendence and transcendence as a kind of immanence.