Faith in Flux: Book Review

Premawardhana, Devaka. 2018. Faith in Flux: Pentecostalism and Mobility in Rural Mozambique. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 

Reviewed by: Michael Lambek (University of Toronto Scarborough)

Faith in Flux combines limpid ethnography with a sustained and lively argument that is at once both about the Makhuwa, people who live in the interior of northern Mozambique, and about, or rather, against, certain assumptions associated with the anthropology of Christianity as espoused by Joel Robbins and his disciples. Despite the original and insightful anthropological work on Christianity by Fenella Cannell, Webb Keane, and others that stands outside this paradigm, it has become, says Premawardhana repeatedly, the dominant paradigm. It proposes an anthropology “of Christianity” rather than an anthropology of worlds that people who happen to be Christian inhabit and cohabit with others who are either not Christian or not the same kind of Christian, worlds that encompass more than can be encompassed under the label “Christianity.” Hence the anthropology of Christianity paradigm begins by reifying its object of study. By contrast, a phenomenological approach, as Premawardhana takes it up, renders Pentecostalism [or Christianity, religion, etc.] “less autonomous, distinctive, and determinative than it tends to appear in studies predefined as studies of Pentecostalism [Christianity, religion, etc.]” (p. 156).

Inevitably, Premawardhana overgeneralizes from the Makhuwa case, but along the way he makes a number of significant points. Rather than conducting a chapter by chapter synopsis as many of the reviews on this site do, I’ll begin with some of his reflections on religion, Christianity, Pentecostalism and the anthropology of those fields and then turn to a few words on the Makhuwa. Where Robbins (in Premawardhana’s depiction) argues that Christianity is premised on rupture, Premawardhana offers a more nuanced account in which, first, such rupture is not an inevitable feature or accompaniment of Christianity, and second, in which when looked at over a broader frame of time, each ostensible rupture is one of a sequence, followed by returns. Rupture, in other words, is temporally and experientially relative. Furthermore, the appreciation of change or rupture is not unique to modernity or to conversion to Christianity but may well have been an accepted feature of life in many precolonial and pre-missionized societies. Continue reading

Boddy and Lambek (eds.), “A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion”

Boddy, Janice and Michael Lambek, eds. 2013. A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion. London: Wiley-Blackwell.

Release Date: October 21, 2013

Publisher’s Description: A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion presents a collection of original, ethnographically-informed essays that explore the variety of beliefs, practices, and religious experiences in the contemporary world and asks how to think about religion as a subject of anthropological inquiry.

  • Presents a collection of original, ethnographically-informed essays exploring the wide variety of beliefs, practices, and religious experiences in the contemporary world
  • Explores a broad range of topics including the ‘perspectivism’ debate, the rise of religious nationalism, reflections on religion and new media, religion and politics, and ideas of self and gender in relation to religious belief
  • Includes examples drawn from different religious traditions and from several regions of the world
  • Features newly-commissioned articles reflecting the most up-to-date research and critical thinking in the field, written by an international team of leading scholars
  • Adds immeasurably to our understanding of the complex relationships between religion, culture, society, and the individual in today’s world

Table of Contents:

What Is “Religion” for Anthropology? And What Has Anthropology Brought to “Religion”? 1
Michael Lambek

Part I Worlds and Intersections 33

1 Presence, Attachment, Origin: Ontologies of “Incarnates” 35
Philippe Descola

2 The Dynamic Reproduction of Hunter-Gatherers’ Ontologies and Values 50
Sylvie Poirier

3 Cohabiting an Interreligious Milieu: Reflections on Religious Diversity 69
Veena Das

4 Religious and Legal Particularism and Universality 85
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Part II Epistemologies 101

5 Are Ancestors Dead? 103
Rita Astuti and Maurice Bloch

6 Coping with Religious Diversity: Incommensurability and Other Perspectives 118
Eva Spies

7 Varieties of Semiotic Ideology in the Interpretation of Religion 137
Michael Lambek

8 Religion and the Truth of Being 154
Paul Stoller

Part III Time and Ethics 169

9 Ethics 171
James Laidlaw

10 The Social and Political Theory of the Soul 189
Heonik Kwon

11 Ghosts and Ancestors in the Modern West 202
Fenella Cannell

12 The Work of Memory: Ritual Laments of the Dead and Korea’s Cheju Massacre 223
Seong-nae Kim

13 The Globalization of Pentecostalism and the Limits of Globalization 239
Girish Daswani

Part IV Practices and Mediations 255

14 Food, Life, and Material Religion in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity 257
Tom Boylston

15 Trading with God: Islam, Calculation, Excess 274
Amira Mittermaier

16 Ritual Remains: Studying Contemporary Pilgrimage 294
Simon Coleman

17 Mediation and Immediacy: Sensational Forms, Semiotic Ideologies, and the Question of the Medium 309
Birgit Meyer

Part V Languages and Conversions 327

18 Translating God’s Words 329
Wendy James

19 Christianity as a Polemical Concept 344
Pamela E. Klassen

20 Reconfi guring Humanity in Amazonia: Christianity and Change 363
Aparecida Vilaça

21 Language in Christian Conversion 387
William F. Hanks

Part VI Persons and Histories 407

22 Canonizing Soviet Pasts in Contemporary Russia: The Case of Saint Matrona of Moscow 409
Jeanne Kormina

23 Reflections on Death, Religion, Identity, and the Anthropology of Religion 425
Ellen Badone

24 Spirits and Selves Revisited: Zâr and Islam in Northern Sudan 444
Janice Boddy

Part VII Powers 469

25 The Political Landscape of Early State Religions 471
Edward Swenson

26 A Syariah Judiciary as a Global Assemblage: Islamization and Beyond in a Southeast Asian Context 489
Michael G. Peletz

27 The Catholicization of Neoliberalism 507
Andrea Muehlebach

28 The Sacred and the City: Modernity, Religion, and the Urban Form in Central Africa 528
Filip De Boeck