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.
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.
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, 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Abstract: Papua New Guinean imaginings of Israel as a potential development partner draw on Christian renderings of the Bible, but they also reflect an understanding of Israel as a modern, technologically advanced nation. As middle-class Papua New Guineans reflect on the failures of national development since gaining independence from Australia, they express ambivalence about the appropriateness of Western models of development for the Papua New Guinean context. However, the influx of Asian investment is also seen as lacking, or even threatening; therefore, Asian models of development also fail to offer an appealing hope for the future. In this paper, I argue that these racialised understandings of modernity represent a ‘post-colonial racial triangle’, a discursive field within which the moral implications of development are understood and debated. Within this triangle, Melanesians are thought to have ‘culture’ and (Christian) ‘morality’ but lack ‘development’. Australians or ‘whitemen’ are thought to have ‘development’ and ‘morality’ but to lack ‘culture’. ‘Asians’ are thought to have ‘development’ and ‘culture’ but to lack (Christian) morality. Taking this moral framing of race into account, Israel emerges as a possible aid donor with the credentials to reconcile these three positions as it is seen to be the possessor of ‘development’, ‘culture’, and ‘morality’.
Abstract: In early 2000s, a large group of Gogodala-speaking villagers in the Western Province (WP) of Papua New Guinea, led by a man I refer to as Henry, claimed to be members of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Henry and his supporters arranged for the visit of Tudor Parfitt, then Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of London, to WP. In this paper, I suggest that an ongoing local interest in ‘origins’ has been framed in light of biblical teachings, and this more recent claim of a connection between the Gogodala ancestors and the Lost Tribes of Israel. I explore the generation of such ideas and claims through an examination of the significance of babala (‘rules’ or ‘laws’) as practices vital to the maintenance of village-based life, and biblical teachings on behaviour and practice focused on by the local Unevangelised Fields Mission. In this context, I explore the implications of the conjuncture of babala and the Bible, and the visits by Parfitt and his team, through the recent development of a ‘Messianic Church’ in Balimo with explicit forms of worship associated with Judaism.