Macdonald, “‘God Was Here First'”

Macdonald, Fraser. 2018. “‘God Was Here First’: Value, Hierarchy, and Conversion in a Melanesian Christianity.” Ethnos.

Abstract: Throughout the world, conversion to evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity produces what Joel Robbins calls ‘duplex cultural formations’, whereby surviving aspects of local cosmology and worldview are brought into tension with paramount Christian values through a process of critical evaluation. I explore the dynamics of this process within Oksapmin understandings of human and cosmic origins. Traditional anthropogonic models explaining the emergence of lineages from primordial figures have been brought into tension with more-valued understandings of God as creator of the universe through the process of diabolisation, in this case, local figures being associated with fallen angels expelled from Heaven. I argue that these beings are permitted to continue because the anthropogenic and historic nature of their power does not significantly contradict the cosmogonic and eternally present conception of God’s creative capacity, but are diabolised owing to their continued existence as symbols of creative power and the source of sinful ritual practices.

Falck, “The Thomas-Souls Ministry”


The Thomas Souls Ministry is a prayer group founded by Catholics from the middle Sepik. It is led by a spirit of the dead called Thomas who takes possession of a Nyaura (West Iatmul) woman to preach, prophesy, counsel, and heal. While a prominent debate within the Anthropology of Christianity argues for radical change and rupture with the pre‐Christian self and society, I suggest that continuity within change is found in the way my interlocutors have made Christianity their own. I argue that the local concept of the person defined by aspects of dividualism and reflecting ontological premises of people’s lifeworld has strongly influenced the way Christianity was appropriated. In current religious practices people put these premises into action and reinforce them in intersubjective encounters with the divine other. Analysing people’s ‘onto‐praxis’, I argue that the Thomas Souls Ministry can be understood as part of a re‐empowerment process that re‐appropriates local meanings, spirits, and practices despite, and in fact against, the influence of the Catholic mission proselytizing in the region.

Handman, “Critical Failures”

Handman, Courtney. “Critical failures.” Critical Research on Religion 6, no. 1 (2018): 16-20.

Critique in evangelical Christian contexts has usually been seen as a practice in service of finding the universal. However, I examine a number of contexts in which Christian critique seems to produce serial difference. I suggest that this seriality may itself be seen as a basis on which possibility and alternatives can be found, rather than just as serial failures to reach the universal. I briefly compare different events of serial transformations, in the United States as well as in Papua New Guinea, the site of my ethnographic research on denominational difference.

Handman, “Walking Like a Christian”

Handman, Courtney.  2017. Walking like a Christian: Roads, translation, and gendered bodies as religious infrastructure in Papua New Guinea.  American Ethnologist.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Homologies between so-called soft infrastructures like language and hard ones like roads depend on ethnographically variable metaphors of circulation. In these homologies, speakers understand language to propel or inhibit forms of physical movement, affecting the embodied experiences of transportation or locomotion. In the case of Guhu-Samane Christians in Papua New Guinea, people focus on language as a kind of infrastructure as they grapple with postcolonial feelings of disconnection from divine powers that were once manifest in a New Testament translation. They channel this sense of disconnection into ongoing complaints about their lack of a vehicular road and the pain of walking, particularly walking like a heavily burdened woman. If a road were built into their valley, this would signal the New Testament’s transformation into Christian infrastructure.

Eriksen, “Pentecostal Gender Paradox”

Erisken, Annelin. 2016. Pentecostalism and Egalitarianism in Melanesia: A Reconsideration of the Pentecostal Gender Paradox. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 7: 37-50.

Abstract: In this article I discuss ‘the Pentecostal gender paradox’, famously coined by Bernice Martin. I do so by comparing Melanesian and Pentecostal forms of egalitarianism. My argument centers on the contention that in order for this paradox to emerge, specific concepts of equality and gender have to be kept fixed across contexts where they may not necessarily be stable. Pentecostalism has a specific effect on the role of women in the church, such as giving them access to the spirit, while also impacting on the notion of equality and ideas about the nature of gender. I conclude that in Pentecostalism gender is seen as an individual quality and that gender relations are viewed as power relations.

Barker and Hermkens, “The Mothers’ Union goes on strike”

Barker, John and Anna-Karina Hermkens. 2016. The Mothers’ Union goes on strike: Women, tapa cloth and Christianity in a Papua New Guinea society. The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.

Abstract: This paper explores the story of the formation and subsequent activities of a church women’s group in Maisin villages and women’s experiences of Christianity more broadly, in relation to the changing production and uses of traditional bark cloth (tapa), a signature women’s product which has become a marker of Maisin identity. While the influence of the local Mothers’ Union has waxed and waned over the past 60 years, tapa cloth has had a continuing influence upon its fortunes. Tapa cloth has been the chief means for church women to raise funds to support their activities and the local church. However, we argue that, more fundamentally, tapa has shaped women’s gendered Christian identities, experiences and history, mediating relationships with men, between generations of women, and with various sorts of ‘missionaries’ who have often justified their intrusions in terms of improving women’s lives.

Bonnemère, “Church presence and gender relations”

Bonnemère, Pascale.  2016. Church presence and gender relations in the Wonenara valley (Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea). The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.

Abstract: Since 1951, date of the First contact, the Baruya of the Wonenara valley have twice been a pioneering frontline for Protestant missions. First in the 1960s, when several Lutheran and SDA pastors moved in, and the second time at the beginning of the 2000s, when three ‘New Evangelical Churches’ settled in the valley. After presenting the history of the presence of these five Churches, I analyse the pastors’ ideas, as expressed during services or in informal discussions, about the place of women in daily life and in church, and about gender relations more generally. The observation of church services reveals a possibility of women speaking in public that was hitherto unknown. Moreover, the pastors’ origins (Baruya or non Baruya) seem to play a role in the way they talk about women during their services, whatever their Church may say.

Eriksen, “The virtuous woman and the holy nation”

Eriksen, Annelin. 2016. The virtuous woman and the holy nation: Femininity in the context of Pentecostal Christianity in Vanuatu. The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.

Abstract: In this paper I connect an anthropology of Christianity to an anthropology of the body and an anthropology of the nation. I try to achieve this by looking at changing notions of femininity in the Pentecostal context of Vanuatu. I do this on two different levels; on the one hand I show how the meaning of womanhood is changed in what I call the ‘pentecostalised’ neighborhoods of the capital Port Vila, and on the other I show how the household and the nation become contexts into which this new notion of femininity is played. Thus, in the first part of the paper I look at the ways in which Pentecostal Christianity change the meaning of gender, whereas in the second part of the paper I look at how this new form of gendered meaning has relevance for our understanding of wider social contexts.

Lind, “Henry has arisen”

Lind, Craig.  2016. Henry has arisen: Gender and hierarchy in Vanuatu’s Anglican Church. The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.

Abstract: Although Christianity and kastom can be opposed in many important respects, ni-Vanuatu are far from limited by the different opportunities that they each offer. Here, I draw on gender as an ethnographically derived form of description to stress that the relations composing encounters of Christianity and kastom, church leader and chief, allow ni-Vanuatu to imagine and create possibilities for engaging these alternatives in order to share, exchange or take on their specific capacities. I consider the example of an event in which a Church leader offered to extend an emplaced island identity, through the Anglican Church, in exchange for a kastom chief’s assistance to scale-up the appearance of his clan support during his ordination ceremony. In this case gendered difference, and not opposition or conflict, characterises kastom and Christianity’s relationship.


van Heekeren, “Hiding Behind the Church”

van Heekeren, Deborah.  2016. Hiding Behind the Church: Towards an Understanding of Sorcery in Christian Papua New Guinea. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 17(1): 1-16.

Abstract: This paper considers the assumption that the long-term success of the Christian Churches in some parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG) will eliminate or even regulate the magical practices that are nowadays commonly described as ‘sorcery’. Among the Vula’a of PNG men seeking prestige and influence turn to the Church, and some of them are said to be sorcerers who ‘hide behind it’. Most deaths continue to be attributed to sorcery, and fear of sorcery and the need to counter it with other sorcery eclipses Christian proscriptions. It is power – rather than the introduced concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ brought by Christian colonizers that dominates current discourse – that contributes to the persistence of sorcery albeit in a variety of new and introduced forms. Sorcery is effective because it creates a culture of fear. I conclude, then, by applying Heidegger’s analysis of fear to Vula’a sorcery to suggest that an anthropology of fear will contribute to a better understanding of sorcery in contemporary PNG.