This article explores the theoretical and political potential of ethnographic research for World Christianity by focusing on the “subversive power” of this methodology. Through a discussion of four aspects of ethnographic research: the use of the term “informants,” a commitment to holism, the political power of participant-observation, and the “double location” of ethnographic practice, I argue that the primary objective of ethnography is to decenter a scholar’s view of the world, often by taken the position of those at society’s margins. The political potential of this move is clear, and World Christianity as a discipline is perhaps especially well positioned to make good on its possibilities, given its capacity to draw on social scientific and theological models in equal measure.
Abstract: This article examines themes of religion tourism, presence, devotional labour, and place-making from the vantage point of a ‘forgotten’ Christian attraction in the United States. I integrate archival, oral history, and ethnographic data to analyze the accumulations throughout the 60-year life course of the Garden of Hope, a site in northern Kentucky (USA): from distinctly Protestant and distinctly Catholic material features, more ambiguous theological features, stories of supernatural intervention and stories of human ingenuity, competing claims to authority and authenticity, choreographed rituals, and multiple forms of devotion. I argue for an interpretation of the Garden that accounts for the ways in which Christian engagements with the problem of presence accumulate promises of presence: the expectation, anticipation, and potentiality that a desired spiritual intimacy will be actualised. In particular, I highlight the devotional labour of custodians and visitors as integral for defining, narrating, and maintaining this promise.
Over the past decades, biblical scholars have gradually become more aware of the importance of the social sciences for their own field. This has produced a steady flow of studies informed by work that was done in the fields of group formation psychology, the sociology of emerging movements and the sociology of religion, and historical anthropology. This volume offers the proceedings of a conference that brought together a number of expert biblical scholars, specialists of ancient religious practices, and proponents of an anthropological approach to ancient Christian and Greco-Roman religious tradition. It was the explicit purpose not to focus exclusively on purely methodological reflections, but to explore and evaluate how methodological concepts and constructs can be developed and then also checked in applying them on specific cases and topics that are typical for understanding earliest Christianity.
Abstract: This paper draws upon over three years’ research among Eastern Orthodox (principally Antiochian and Greek) communities in London and Mount Athos, Greece. This research came to engage theology quite heavily as part of the ethnographic facts of the fieldsites. This paper reviews some of the existing ways that theology (as both discipline and practice) relate to ethnographic enquiry, particularly as it has arisen in the dialogue with the Anthropology of Christianity and frames this in light of the historical development of Anthropology and its relationship to theology and Christianity. The paper then advances a methodological argument, in favour of further means of relation, specifically in terms of theology as a cultural artefact. Drawing on local practices of liturgical theology and Eastern Orthodox forms of allegorical interpretation, I argue for the inclusion of theological insight and practice within the social scientific study of religion. Working in an Orthodox setting requires the investigation of liturgical theology and brings to light important aspects of the relationship between temporal and sempiternal domains of action. Particularly as it relates to liturgical theology and the practices of interpretation, ethnographic enquiry into Orthodox theology asks for a reconsideration of social scientific methods of analysis and representation.
Abstract: In the wake of the postsecular turn, we propose to reappraise both the religious as studied in anthropology and how anthropologists who have religious or spiritual interests can contribute to an emerging postsecular anthropology. Such an anthropology recognizes the failure of secularization theory to dissolve the dichotomy between the religious and the secular. We propose that as anthropologists we consciously occupy the ontological penumbra, an ambiguous and plural space in which we engage with various counterparts, both human and nonhuman. This means that we have to be open to the real possibility of the existence of gods, spirits, and other nonhuman entities. These should not only be treated as subjects of study, but also recognized as valid counterparts with whom we can engage in the ethnographic encounter. While this necessitates relinquishing the former privileged position of secular and Western epistemology, it opens up the discipline to a potentially unprecedented ethnographic productivity that is epistemologically and ontologically innovative. Without neglecting its secular heritage, such a theologically minded postsecular anthropology places anthropology in a better position to explore what it is to be human, especially in terms of understanding religious and spiritual experiences.
Abstract: Anthropologists have framed ethnographers as participant-observers, strangers, and friends and have written about ethnographic research encounters in terms of the productive spaces between researchers and research collaborators. Informed by my review of research literature on ethnographic relationships, my application of de-colonial, feminist, and postmodern research methodologies, and my experience of being reconstituted as a “[church] sister” by the members of an Afro-West Indian and African American evangelical church association, I argue that characterizations of research encounters by research collaborators hold important implications for ethnographic research and writing.
Abstract: Throughout the world there are over 200 sites that materialize the Bible, that is, sites that transform the written words of biblical scripture into physical, experiential attractions. These sites are definitively hybrid, integrating religion and entertainment, piety and play, fun and faith, commerce and devotion, pleasure and education. Religious studies scholars and anthropologists have published insightful works about selected sites, but no genre-wide analytical appraisal exists. In this article, I focus on how religiously committed visitors approach and experience these sites. Framed in a comparative register with research in religious tourism and pilgrimage studies, I propose analytical and methodological frameworks for the ethnographic study of Bible-based attractions.
Excerpt: “The scope of this chapter is to draw the map of the pentecostal cultural landscape and make an inventory of actors and factors, patterns and processes. The expansion of Pentecostalism amid profound changes in the world will first lead to a discussion of two recent trends in the world cultural situation: a chance in perspective and a recognition of the human capacity for meaning-making. Subsequently four aspects of the relationship between Pentecostalism and culture receive attention: that Pentecostalism appears to offer a ‘portable identity,’ the question of the degree to which continuity and rupture with the surrounding culture occur, the conversion process, and a repertoire model of a church 0r community. A section on the methodology of the study of the cultural dimension of Pentecostalism appears before the concluding summary …..”
Abstract: The biblical narratives are inspired texts to the Pentecostals, as they are to many other Christians. Most Pentecostals accept that these biblical narratives offer the guiding templates through which a religious worldview is constructed. This paper is informed by how ‘narratives’ are positioned within Pentecostalism, and similarly adopts ‘narrative’ as a methodological heuristic mechanism. To this end the narratives of a small group of individuals are used as a heuristic device to understand the ‘call’ to ministry, as received and understood by them as they go on to assume pastoral duties within the Church that they belong to. It is felt that such calls to ministry offer a rare window into a decidedly understudied phenomenon within black ministry.
Abstract: This article discusses the unique methodological challenges that 2 secular researchers encountered while studying an evangelical collegiate enclave. The article showcases the researchers’ retrospec- tive sense making of their fieldwork and offers insights for qualitat- ive researchers interested in studying faith-based organizations.