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.
Tomlinson, Matt and Sekove Bigitibau. 2016. Theologies of Mana and Sau in Fiji. In Matt Tomlinson and Ty P. Kāwika Tengan, eds., New Mana Transformations of a Classic Concept in Pacific Languages and Cultures. Canberra: ANU Press.
Excerpt: Our purpose in this chapter is not to argue over translations, however. As more than a century of scholarship has shown, isolating the word mana to search for a context-free meaning is not a productive enterprise, and there is an obvious danger in what Michael Lempert (2010: 394) has called ‘word prospecting’—pulling terms out of context and treating them as emblems, or fetishising them. There is significant variability in how mana is used in different contexts within a society, between societies, and over time—and the larger point is that terms in language never precisely map onto concepts, practices, or effects. We focus, rather, on the ways that mana has become an object of analysis by indigenous Fijian Methodist theologians. In the first half of this chapter, we examine mana’s association with speech and with the term sau, a word with which mana is often paired and sometimes contrasted. In the second half, we turn to Fijian Methodist theologians’ analyses of mana as well as sau, especially as they compare the authority and effectiveness of church leaders with that of hereditary chiefs. Ultimately, we aim to rethink Fijian mana as something which is not necessarily miraculous, but is instead a poetic expression used to articulate and evaluate models of divine and human speech.
A Reply to Reviewers
By: Matt Tomlinson (Australian National University)
I am grateful to the reviewers for their engaged readings of Ritual Textuality and to AnthroCyBib for hosting this forum. It is both daunting and exhilarating to watch one’s own book—such an intimately strange creation!—move into conversationsof critique. The reviewers have carefully described the argument and been generous in their responses. Individually and collectively, they raise insightful questions, especially about dimensions of metaphor, the utility of typologies, and the limits of language. I will address each reviewer’s contribution individually. Continue reading
By: Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)
This is the kind of book that you will want to read. It is based on twenty-eight months of research in Fiji (Kadavu and Suva) and explores the overlapping themes of Pentecostal Christianity, Methodism, tradition and politics. It is also theoretically insightful and relevant because it takes you beyond Fiji, Christianity, tradition and politics. Tomlinson’s book is both short and eloquently written. It is an Introduction, four chapters and a “Full Stop” (his conclusion) long and is designed to both inform and effectively teach readers how discourse and written texts, which emerge in ritual performances, can be broken down into distinctive patterns. There are four basic patterns to all ritual performances Tomlinson suggests – sequence, conjunction, contrast and substitution – and once you know what these patterns are and how they function and converge, a new door of analysis opens up. All you have to do is walk in. Even if this book is not explicitly framed as an invitation, it implicitly invites you to try these methods for yourself. The content of its pages leaves the reader with important conceptual tools with which to analyze an array of ritual performances in motion and to understand how the various components of these rituals converge in different ways and to varying effects. Continue reading
By: Rodolfo Maggio (University of Manchester)
Matt Tomlinson’s Ritual Textuality is a fascinating and capturing interplay between conceptual categories and ethnographic data. From the very beginning of the book the reader is intrigued by the degree of precision with which Tomlinson defines the concepts through which he comprehends the objects of his analysis. Dipping into the introduction, one’s mind’s eye seems to observe a chemist who prepares his tubes and kits himself out for a daring experiment. Continue reading
By: Courtney Handman (Reed College)
In 1976 Michael Silverstein’s landmark paper outlining the opposition between presupposing and creative indexicality helped usher in a new focus within linguistic anthropology about practice and performance. Dependent upon – indeed dedicated to – Roman Jakobson, Silverstein seemed to pry open a new corner in studies of ritual that focused on the very contingent nature of even the most scripted events. While Levi-Strauss had relegated rituals in “primitive” societies to foregone conclusions – sporting events in which the game only ended when the ritually scripted result had been achieved – and the structural-functionalists had seen in rituals largely the playing out of social structural orders, Silverstein’s focus on creativity (also called entailing indexicality) put some stakes back into the ritual game. Not only should all interactions be seen as more or less ritualized, but all such interactions had serious consequences should those entailments not go according to plan. Continue reading
By: Omri Elisha (Queens College, CUNY)
I know I’m not alone when I say that my love of anthropology began with the study of ritual. As an undergraduate I was enchanted by the subject, captivated by all the drama, symbolism, and effervescence of the concentrated cultural tinderbox that was “Ritual.” My first anthropology professor, a master storyteller and something of an ethnographic traditionalist, introduced me to a rich lineage of dissecting ritual anatomies and signs, and of theoretical models revealing hidden patterns and intrinsic functions. Continue reading
Publisher’s Description: A classic question in studies of ritual is how ritual performances achieve-or fail to achieve-their effects. In this pathbreaking book, Matt Tomlinson argues that participants condition their own expectations of ritual success by interactively creating distinct textual patterns of sequence, conjunction, contrast, and substitution. Drawing on long-term research in Fiji, the book presents in-depth studies of each of these patterns, taken from a wide range of settings: a fiery, soul-saving Pentecostal crusade; relaxed gatherings at which people drink the narcotic beverage kava; deathbeds at which missionaries eagerly await the signs of good Christians’ “happy deaths”; and the monologic pronouncements of a military-led government determined to make the nation speak in a single voice. In each of these cases, Tomlinson also examines the broad ideologies of motion which frame participants’ ritual actions, such as Pentecostals’ beliefs that effective worship requires ecstatic movement like jumping, dancing, and clapping, and nineteenth-century missionaries’ insistence that the journeys of the soul in the afterlife should follow a new path. By approaching ritual as an act of “entextualization”-in which the flow of discourse is turned into object-like texts-while analyzing the ways people expect words, things, and selves to move in performance, this book presents a new and compelling way to understand the efficacy of ritual action.
Abstract: The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard offers two concepts that can strengthen anthropological analyses of Christianity. The first is “repetition,“ or the act of “recollecting forward,“ which provides a model of transformation that depends neither on deep continuity nor on decisive break. The second is “absurdity,“ the faithful but painful acceptance of paradox as irreducible to logical resolution, which challenges eudemonic understandings of Christianity as a religion oriented toward comfort and satisfaction. I demonstrate the usefulness of Kierkegaard’s concepts through an analysis of indigenous Fijian Methodists‘ interest in repeatedly engaging with curses from ancestors as a way to overcome them.
By: Matt Tomlinson (Australian National University)
This book is an innovative attempt to understand the relationship between language and materiality in terms of the Protestant doctrine of consubstantiation, “that view of the Christian Eucharist that attempts to explain the real (material and spiritual) presence of the body and blood of Jesus as existing alongside the real material presence of the bread and the wine” (208). It is anthropology with a theological aura, but also a skillfully crafted ethnography that will appeal to scholars who don’t normally mix the anthro- and the theo-.
Webster’s ethnographic subjects are elderly fishermen and their wives in the northeast Scottish village of Gamrie. They provide a boatload of evidence that they live in a world that is, as the author puts it, both modern and enchanted. Many are members of Brethren churches and radical individualists as well as strict fundamentalists. As individualists, they distrust any authority except their own, leading one critic to characterize their attitude as “every man is his own skipper and he can go wherever he likes” (59; n.b., as they go wherever they like, they are likely to be watched by their neighbors, who keep binoculars at home “to see what others were up to further down the brae” ). As fundamentalists, they hold the Bible to be literally true, and they enthusiastically track signs of the end of the world.