Feller, “Portable Power, Religious Swag”

Feller, Gavin. “Portable Power, Religious Swag: Mediating Authority in Brazillian Neo-Pentecostalism.” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. 14(3). 

Abstract: This study is an ethnographic and conceptual analysis of religious objects, their uses, and mediation of authority within the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Universal Church) in Brazil. Drawing on scholarship within media studies, religion and media, and material religion, I distinguish between artifacts used to cement implicit contracts between Universal Church followers and their church community, which I call contractual media, or swag, and those that followers bring to meetings to be blessed and then take home to mediate both good and evil forces in family, work, and social life—these I call portable media. While portable object media are seen by their owners as powerful tools, contractual media, on the other hand, create implicit power relations that keep followers tied to the institutional church in a reciprocal exchange predicated upon expected prosperity as evidence of faithful attendance, fidelity, and personal sacrifice. The physical exchange of material goods in religious spaces constitutes a perpetuation rather than a disruption of institutional religious authority. As infrastructure, contractual object media establish and maintain conditions for otherwise mundane materials to mediate power on a daily basis. Through attention toward portable and contract object media, as part of what I am calling material microstructure, we can further complicate religious authority as it is mediated through objects, not just in one-way flows but as dynamic exchanges and trade-offs between personal empowerment and institutional control.

Hovland, “Beyond Mediation”

Hovland, Ingie. 2018. Beyond Mediation: An Anthropological Understanding of the Relationship Between Humans, Materiality, and Transcendence in Protestant Christianity. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 86(2): 425-453. 

Abstract: How does a relationship come about between religious practitioners and supernatural beings? According to the mediation turn—which has recently taken hold in the material religion field and the anthropology of religion—religious communities use sensational forms to mediate the presence of an otherwise invisible transcendent. This article will apply the mediation framework to a case study of a particular Protestant group—namely world-renouncing, evangelical missionaries in nineteenth-century Southern Africa. I will argue that in this case the concept of mediation limits our understanding of the multiple God-human relationships involved. This raises questions concerning how and in which contexts the mediation turn can be analytically useful. In conclusion, the article will suggest that there is a dynamic range of modes of relating God and humans in Protestant Christianity, including modes that go beyond mediation.

Haynes, “Why can’t a pastor be president of a ‘Christian Nation’?”

Haynes, Naomi. 2018. Why can’t a pastor be president of a “Christian Nation”? Pentecostal Politics as Religious Mediation. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review. 41(1): 60-74.

Why has Nevers Mumba, one of Zambia’s most famous Pentecostal leaders, been so unsuccessful in his two presidential bids? Previous analyses have blamed Mumba’s political woes on a presumed Pentecostal belief that politics is a lesser vocation than the pastorate. In contrast to these interpretations, I argue that Pentecostals in Zambia are very committed to the notion that, at least ideally, their leaders should be pastors, and more specifically that they should be effective mediators of the divine covenant established when Zambia was declared a “Christian nation.” The problem with Mumba is, therefore, not that pastors are not supposed to be politicians, but rather that he has failed to convince believers that he is a good mediator. This article opens up new horizons in the study of Pentecostal politics, suggesting that populism in countries with high Pentecostal populations is increasingly defined by the capacity for religious mediation.

 

Boylston, “The Stranger at the Feast”

Boylston, Tom. 2018. The Stranger at the Feast: Prohibition and Mediation in an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Community. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Publisher’s DescriptionThe Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.

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Robbins, “Keeping God’s Distance”

Robbins, Joel. 2017. Keeping God’s Distance: Sacrifice, possession, and the problem of religious mediation. American Ethnologist 44(3): 464-475.

Abstract: Much contemporary work in the anthropology of religion explores how human experience of the divine is mediated. One question rarely asked, however, is why people distance the divine from themselves in the first place, such that complex practices of mediation are necessary to make it present. An answer to this question is provided by Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss in their book Sacrifice, which I read as a key precursor to current work on religious mediation. Hubert and Mauss focus on how religious mediations model and shape social mediations. I demonstrate the usefulness of an approach to mediation that draws on their work by examining a shift from sacrifice to possession as forms of mediation among Pentecostal converts in Papua New Guinea. I also show that this approach can help us further develop broader anthropological theories of mediation and social life.

Elisha, “Saved by a Martyr”

Elisha, Omri. 2016. Saved by a Martyr: Evangelical Mediation, Sanctification, and the “Persecuted Church.”  Journal of the American Academy of Religion. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfw016 [Early Pre-publication release]

Abstract: This article examines the significance of mediation in the public program- ming and activism of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an organization that offers international aid and advocacy to Christians identified as victims of persecution. Focusing on VOM’s efforts to rally Westerners, especially evangelical Protestants, I argue that the antipersecution movement urges supporters to share the mantle of martyrdom by engaging in purposeful acts of religious mediation, including the consumption and circulation of martyrological media. I explore a related tendency among evangelicals to valorize non-Western Christians in precarious circumstances as exemplars of self-sacrificing piety, whose suffering represents and inspires conditions of sanctification. Drawing on media analysis and fieldwork, I explore how practices of mediation, as forms of “witness,” invite evangelicals to embody otherwise elusive virtues and modes of agency associated with Christian martyrs, while reflecting ambiguous modern conceptions of the nature of embodied suffering and the relationship between vulnerability and power.

Butticci, “African Pentecostals in Catholic Europe”

Butticci, Annalisa. 2016. African Pentecostals in Catholic Europe: The Politics of Presence in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Over the past thirty years, Italy—the historic home of Catholicism—has become a significant destination for migrants from Nigeria and Ghana. Along with suitcases and dreams of a brighter future, these Africans bring their own form of Christianity, Pentecostalism, shaped by their various cultures and religious worlds. At the heart of Annalisa Butticci’s beautifully sculpted ethnography of African Pentecostalism in Italy is a paradox. Pentecostalism, traditionally one of the most Protestant of Christian faiths, is driven by the same concern as Catholicism: real presence.

In Italy, Pentecostals face harsh anti-immigrant sentiment and limited access to economic and social resources. At times, they find safe spaces to worship in Catholic churches, where a fascinating encounter unfolds that is equal parts conflict and communion. When Pentecostals watch Catholics engage with sacramental objects—relics, statues, works of art—they recognize the signs of what they consider the idolatrous religions of their ancestors. Catholics, in turn, view Pentecostal practices as a mix of African religions and Christian traditions. Yet despite their apparently irreconcilable differences and conflicts, they both share a deeply sensuous and material way to make the divine visible and tangible. In this sense, Pentecostalism appears much closer to Catholicism than to mainstream Protestantism.

African Pentecostals in Catholic Europe offers an intimate glimpse at what happens when the world’s two fastest growing Christian faiths come into contact, share worship space, and use analogous sacramental objects and images. And it explains how their seemingly antithetical practices and beliefs undergird a profound commonality.