Hardin, “Faith and the Pursuit of Health”

Hardin, Jessica. 2018. Faith and the Pursuit of Health: Cardiometabolic Disorders in Samoa. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 

Publisher’s DescriptionFaith and the Pursuit of Health explores how Pentecostal Christians manage chronic illness in ways that sheds light on health disparities and social suffering in Samoa, a place where rates of obesity and related cardiometabolic disorders have reached population-wide levels. Pentecostals grapple with how to maintain the health of their congregants in an environment that fosters cardiometabolic disorders. They find ways to manage these forms of sickness and inequality through their churches and the friendships developed within these institutions. Examining how Pentecostal Christianity provides many Samoans with tools to manage day-to-day issues around health and sickness, Jessica Hardin argues for understanding the synergies between how Christianity and biomedicine practice chronicity.

Golomski, “Funeral Culture”

Golomski, Casey. 2018. Funeral Culture: AIDS, Work, and Cultural Change in an African Kingdom. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: Contemporary forms of living and dying in Swaziland cannot be understood apart from the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to anthropologist Casey Golomski. In Africa’s last absolute monarchy, the story of 15 years of global collaboration in treatment and intervention is also one of ordinary people facing the work of caring for the sick and dying and burying the dead. Golomski’s ethnography shows how AIDS posed challenging questions about the value of life, culture, and materiality to drive new forms and practices for funerals. Many of these forms and practices―newly catered funeral feasts, an expanded market for life insurance, and the kingdom’s first crematorium―are now conspicuous across the landscape and culturally disruptive in a highly traditionalist setting. This powerful and original account details how these new matters of death, dying, and funerals have become entrenched in peoples’ everyday lives and become part of a quest to create dignity in the wake of a devastating epidemic.

Seeman, et al., “Blessing Unintended Pregnancy”

Seeman, Don, et al. 2016. Blessing Unintended Pregnancy: religion and the discourse of women’s agency in public health. MAT: Medicine Anthropology Theory 3(1):29-54.

Abstract: Within public health and medical anthropology research, the study of women’s agency in reproductive decision making often neglects the role of religion and women’s spirituality. This article is based on ethnographic research conducted at a shelter for homeless (mostly African American) mothers in the southeastern United States. We explore the inadequacy of rational choice models that emphasize intentionality and planning, which our research shows are in tension with the vernacular religious and moral ethos of pregnancy as a ‘blessing’ or unplanned gift. Our findings confirm that young and disadvantaged women may view pregnancy and motherhood as opportunities to improve their lives in ways that mediate against their acceptance of family planning models. For these women, the notion of ‘blessing’ also reflects an acceptance of contingency and indeterminacy as central to the reproductive experience. We also question the increasingly popular distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ in contemporary public health.

Everett & Ramirez, “Healing the Curse of the grosero Husband”

Everett, Margaret & Michelle Ramirez. 2015.  Healing the Curse of the grosero Husband: Women’s Health Seeking and Pentecostal Conversion in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Journal of Contemporary Religion, 30(3): 415-433.

Abstract: Drawing on anthropological research in Oaxaca, Mexico, this article describes the role of health seeking in women’s experiences with Pentecostal conversion. The present study confirms that Pentecostalism’s promise of reforming problematic male behavior is a significant draw for women. Women’s stories of conversion are strikingly consistent in their accounts of male drinking, womanizing, and domestic violence. However, the findings also demonstrate that when efforts to domesticate men fail—and they often do—women still find significant ways in which Pentecostalism addresses suffering. The study provides a unique contribution to the literature by exploring that paradox in detail.

Hardin, “Christianity, Fat Talk, and Samoan Pastors”

Hardin, Jessica. 2015. “Christianity, Fat Talk, and Samoan Pastors: Rethinking the Fat-Positive-Fat-Stigma Framework.” Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society. DOI: 10.1080/21604851.2015.1015924

Abstract: Anthropology, public health, and epidemiology have long researched meanings of body size and factors that contribute to epidemiological transition. The author draws attention to a dichotomous framework operating with these fields where fat-positive and fat-negative cultures are represented as oppositional. Drawing from fieldwork among Samoan evangelical Christians, the author argues that contextual analysis of fat reveals ambiguity and ambivalence. In Samoa, negative and positive meanings associated with fat are dynamically engaged. In conclusion, she argues that representing fat in dichotomous terms is Othering because “the West” is represented as the fat-negative while “the rest” is represented as fat-positive.

Qi, Liang & Li, “Christian Conversion and the Re-imagining of Illness and Healthcare in Rural China”

Qi, Guboi, Zhenhua Liang & Xiaoyun Li. 2014.  Christian Conversion and the Re-imagining of Illness and Healthcare in Rural China, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 15(5): 396-413.

Abstract: Faced by disparities in the fast-growing economy and the institutional weaknesses of public healthcare, poorer people in rural China have struggled to obtain effective health treatment. Christianity has played an important role in identifying and redefining the nature of this problem. The fieldwork for this article was conducted in and around a village church in eastern Henan in central China during 2012–13. The article argues that when poorer villagers’ expectations of treatment encountered the special features of Christianity and its localisation in China, a mixture of cultural idioms was created through the process of Christian conversion that furnished the rural poor with new models for treatment. The spread of Christianity as related to illness treatment in rural China thus cannot be reduced to utilitarian logic for it entails the re-imagination of illness and of the nature of the healthcare system.

A Matter of Belief: Book Review

Joshi, Vibha. 2012. A Matter of Belief: Christian Conversion and Healing in North-East India. New York: Berghahn Books.

Reviewed by Jessica Hardin (Pacific University)

This is a book about how animism and Christianity are practiced together among Angami people in Nagaland in North-East India. Vibha Joshi provides a wide overview of indigenous religious practices, the contemporary Christian landscape, and colonial/missionary history building on fieldwork spanning from 1985 through to 2011. Most broadly, the book aims to show how Christianity provides a framework for political peace for conflict arising between Naga nationalist groups and the Indian government. Specifically, Joshi argues that Christianity provides a language and organization for reconciliation, even if she remains skeptical of its capacities to truly “heal society.” The motivation for this book is to provide a deep overview of the historical complexity of the emergence of Christianity and the ways Christianity is intertwined with nationalism in North-East India. The book provides a wide scope of historical, political, and geographic context and, as such, is less a book about Christianity per se and more about (1) the relationship between indigenous religions and Christianity in beliefs and practice and (2) the political uses of Christianity from colonialism through to contemporary calls for peace, reconciliation, and unity.

Continue reading

A Matter of Belief: Book Review

Joshi, Vibha. 2012. A Matter of Belief: Christian Conversion and Healing in North-East India. New York: Berghahn Books.

Reviewed by Jessica Hardin (Pacific University)

This is a book about how animism and Christianity are practiced together among Angami people in Nagaland in North-East India. Vibha Joshi provides a wide overview of indigenous religious practices, the contemporary Christian landscape, and colonial/missionary history building on fieldwork spanning from 1985 through to 2011. Most broadly, the book aims to show how Christianity provides a framework for political peace for conflict arising between Naga nationalist groups and the Indian government. Specifically, Joshi argues that Christianity provides a language and organization for reconciliation, even if she remains skeptical of its capacities to truly “heal society.” The motivation for this book is to provide a deep overview of the historical complexity of the emergence of Christianity and the ways Christianity is intertwined with nationalism in North-East India. The book provides a wide scope of historical, political, and geographic context and, as such, is less a book about Christianity per se and more about (1) the relationship between indigenous religions and Christianity in beliefs and practice and (2) the political uses of Christianity from colonialism through to contemporary calls for peace, reconciliation, and unity.

The book is explicitly situated in conversation with the Anthropology of Christianity (5-11). Joshi writes that she did not start this project as a study of Christianity, but instead came to study Christianity through her work with Angami healers. She writes, “one could say that my research at the outset and throughout has focused on Naga as a people, including its healers, some of whom are Christian” (6). Nonetheless, Joshi frames the book as about conversion to Christianity. She explores both “the pragmatic” and “the passionate” (3) dimensions of large-scale conversion and aims to draw attention to the contradictions and tensions that arise when Christianity is put to the work of nationalism, calls for cultural homogeneity, and peace. One of the contradictions that Joshi highlights is that the rituals, attire, and art that expresses Naga-ness, which were originally discouraged by missionaries in the early phases of evangelism, are now taking center stage at public Christian celebrations. Joshi does not expand on how this tension is experienced by her interlocutors as much as suggests points of interaction between indigenous religion, Christianity, and historical context. Overall Joshi asks, “what, then, can a new religion offer, and what is appropriated by the converts?” (7). Continue reading

Mayblin, “The way blood flows: the sacrificial value of intravenous drip use in Northeast Brazil”

Mayblin, Maya. 2013. The way blood flows: the sacrificial value of intravenous drip use in Northeast Brazil.  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 19(s1):S42–S56

Abstract: This paper examines a preference among rural Catholics in Northeast Brazil to treat generalized forms of malaise with isotonic solution administered intravenously, even where such treatment goes against biomedical advice. It situates this practice within a nexus of local ideas about the value of blood and sacrifice, which emerge out of socio-historical and environmental factors particular to the region. In this context blood is merely one in a sequence of substances linked to the regenerative martyrdom of Jesus, to the agricultural cycle, and to the economic struggle for existence in a drought-affected region. The materialization of blood, sweat, and tears on the surface of the body indexes social relationships built on sacrifice. The appearance of such substances, often between categories of close kin, are ideally characterized by the loss or flow of substance in a single direction. In such contexts replenishing the blood with isotonics maintains a uni-directional flow, preserving the value of sacrifice.

Williams, “Spirit Cure: A History of Pentecostal Healing”

Williams, Joseph. 2013. Spirit Cure: A History of Pentecostal Healing. New York: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Joseph W. Williams examines the changing healing practices of pentecostals in the United States over the past 100 years, from the early believers, who rejected mainstream medicine and overtly spiritualized disease, to the later generations of pentecostals and their charismatic successors, who dramatically altered the healing paradigms they inherited. Williams shows that over the course of the twentieth century, pentecostal denunciations of the medical profession often gave way to ”natural” healing methods associated with scientific medicine, natural substances, and even psychology. By 2000, figures such as the pentecostal preacher T. D. Jakes appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, other healers marketed their books at mainstream retailers such as Wal-Mart, and some developed lucrative nutritional products that sold online and in health food stores across the nation. Exploring the interconnections, resonances, and continued points of tension between adherents and some of their fiercest rivals, Spirit Cure chronicling adherents’ embrace of competitors’ healing practices and illuminates pentecostals’ dramatic transition from a despised minority to major players in the world of American evangelicalism and mainstream American culture.