Wintrup, “Speaking With Vampires and Angels”

Wintrup, James. 2019. “Speaking With Vampires and Angels: The Ambient Afterlives of Christian Humanitarianism in Rural Zambia.” History and Anthropology

Abstract: During the course of fieldwork at a Christian mission hospital in southern Zambia, I discovered that vernacular healers in the surrounding rural area were being visited by ‘angel spirits’ (bangelo) who offered them efficacious advice on how best to treat the patients under their care. According to the healers who encountered them, these angel spirits physically resembled white people (bakuwa), they dressed in white clothing, and their behaviour was inherently unpredictable. In this article, I consider what the presence of these angel spirits can tell us about moral attitudes towards humanitarian biomedicine in the region. But rather than focusing on these angel spirits alone, I situate them alongside a different non-human actor that has also been strongly identified with humanitarian biomedicine in southern Africa: the munyama or ‘vampire’. By describing the behaviour of the human and non-human actors who have been historically associated with medical humanitarianism in southern Zambia – vampires, angels, and European and American medical missionaries – I argue that it is possible to better understand why people in the region, from the mid-twentieth century to the present-day, have developed such a morally ambivalent attitude towards humanitarian biomedicine.

Arrington, “Songs of the Lisu Hills”

Arrington, Aminta. 2020. Songs of the Lisu Hills: Practicing Christianity in Southwest China. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. 

Abstract: The story of how the Lisu of southwest China were evangelized one hundred years ago by the China Inland Mission is a familiar one in mission circles. The subsequent history of the Lisu church, however, is much less well known. Songs of the Lisu Hills brings this history up to date, recounting the unlikely story of how the Lisu maintained their faith through twenty-two years of government persecution and illuminating how Lisu Christians transformed the text-based religion brought by the missionaries into a faith centered around an embodied set of Christian practices.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork as well as archival research, this volume documents the development of Lisu Christianity, both through larger social forces and through the stories of individual believers. It explores how the Lisu, most of whom remain subsistence farmers, have oriented their faith less around cognitive notions of belief and more around participation in a rhythm of shared Christian practices, such as line dancing, attending church and festivals, evangelizing, working in each other’s fields, and singing translated Western hymns. These embodied practices demonstrate how Christianity developed in the mountainous margins of the world’s largest atheist state.

A much-needed expansion of the Lisu story into a complex study of the evolution of a world Christian community, this book will appeal to scholars working at the intersections of World Christianity, anthropology of religion, ethnography, Chinese Christianity, and mission studies.

Handman, “A Few Grass Huts”

Handman, Courtney. (2019) “A Few Grass Huts: Denominational Ambivalence and Infrastructural Form in Colonial New Guinea.” Anthropological Quarterly. 92(4):1019-1038.

Abstract: In this article, I analyze the dynamics of Protestants’ ambivalence about their own institutional existence in the context of inter-denominational fighting between Lutheran and Catholic missions in colonial New Guinea. I argue that denominational conflict became a crucial part of the Lutheran missiological method. In particular, it gave them the chance to embrace their Lutheran infrastructure by comparing what they thought of as its lifegiving capacities to the dead or false forms of Catholic missionization. Ethnographically, I focus on a moment in the 1930s when two Catholic priests were killed by local people, as well as the ensuing Lutheran response. The priests were killed, according to the Lutherans, because they did not have a spirit-filled infrastructure. The institutional life of the denomination is recognized and yet mitigated through a process of animation, a way of making the most mundane infrastructure the stuff of lifegiving force.

Handman, “The Language of Evangelism”

Handman, Courtney. 2018. “The Language of Evangelism: Christian Cultures of Circulation Beyond the Missionary Prologue.” Annual Review of Anthropology. 47: 149-65.

Abstract: This article provides an overview of recent scholarship on the language of evangelism and missionization within the anthropology of Christianity. Attention to Christian evangelism and forms of circulation was minimized as scholars worked to distinguish the study of Christianity from the study of colonialism, often treating missionaries and missionization as a prologue to a more central analysis of transformation organized through local people and local cultural change. However, issues of circulation are at the heart of many Christian experiences, especially for those within evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic worlds. This research is discussed here in terms of Christian cultures of circulation specifically and of models of communicative circulation more generally. Framing the language of evangelism in terms of circulation allows for the integrated discussion of a wide range of related issues, including work on translation, missionary training practices, and material formations of evangelism

Hovland, “Beyond Mediation”

Hovland, Ingie. 2018. Beyond Mediation: An Anthropological Understanding of the Relationship Between Humans, Materiality, and Transcendence in Protestant Christianity. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 86(2): 425-453. 

Abstract: How does a relationship come about between religious practitioners and supernatural beings? According to the mediation turn—which has recently taken hold in the material religion field and the anthropology of religion—religious communities use sensational forms to mediate the presence of an otherwise invisible transcendent. This article will apply the mediation framework to a case study of a particular Protestant group—namely world-renouncing, evangelical missionaries in nineteenth-century Southern Africa. I will argue that in this case the concept of mediation limits our understanding of the multiple God-human relationships involved. This raises questions concerning how and in which contexts the mediation turn can be analytically useful. In conclusion, the article will suggest that there is a dynamic range of modes of relating God and humans in Protestant Christianity, including modes that go beyond mediation.

Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda: Book Review

Bruner, Jason. 2017. Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Reviewed by: Emma Wild-Wood (University of Edinburgh)

Since its beginnings in the 1930s the East African Revival has had a lasting influence on the religious culture of the region. It began in Uganda and Rwanda as a lively, internal critique to the orderly and hierarchical Anglican Church of Uganda and spread into Kenya, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi. Revivalists sought to transform all aspects of society in conformity with their strict code of conduct and their expansive vision of Christianity. With this volume Jason Bruner makes a significant contribution to the study of the Revival. He takes the movement beyond the parameters of mission history, and beyond an interest in its leadership figures. He shows that the distinct spiritual culture of revivalists was a response to the late colonial social context. Continue reading

Tomlinson, “Try the Spirits.”

Tomlinson, Matt. 2017. “Try the Spirits: power encounters and anti-wonder in Christian missions,” Journal of Religious and Political Practices 3(3): 168-182.

Abstract: Missionaries who attempted to convert Pacific Islanders to Protestant Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often engaged in public contests meant to demonstrate the power of Jehovah and the weakness of indigenous gods. These ‘power encounters’, as they came to be called, depended on a relationship between wonder and anti-wonder: missionaries were fully invested in the concept of wonder as radical alterity, as the success of their efforts depended on local populations’ willingness and capacity to open up to the previously unimaginable; but to make new encounters with wonder possible, missionaries had to challenge local expectations of spiritual efficacy, denying local sites’ original potential to evoke wonder. In this article, I begin by examining several cases of power encounters in Oceania, including Fiji, Tonga, and Solomon Islands. I then turn specifically to trees as spiritual sites that were prominent in old Fiji – and therefore the target of ax-wielding missionaries – but remain today as sites of a perceived fundamental, indigenous, land-based spiritual efficacy.

Handman, “Figures of history: Interpreting Jewish pasts in Christian Papua New Guinea”

Handman, Courtney. 2016. Interpreting Jewish pasts in Christian Papua New Guinea. HAU 6(1):237-260. 

Abstract: This article examines two competing historical formations that expatriate missionaries and Papua New Guineans respectively have used to create connections between local ethnic groups and “the ancient Jews” of the Bible. In part through 1970s publications analyzed here, missionaries introduced redemptive and repetitive historicist models that established Melanesian ethnic groups as generically and iconically Jewish. The article then examines the ways in which Guhu-Samane Christians in rural Papua New Guinea take up these missionary narratives in order to produce indexical, genealogical connections to biblical Jews. Ancient Jews have become “figures” of Guhu-Samane history through interpretive discourses in which local people discover the prophetic revelations of their Jewishness that anticipate a future Christianity. Guhu-Samane Christians thus particularize their relationship to Christianity by taking up the history of another group, a Christian historical imagination that runs counter to secular forms of history that orient around issues of autonomous identity.

Elazar, “Translating culture”

Elazar, Gideon.  2016. Translating culture: missionaries and linguists in contemporary Yunnan Province.  Asian Ethnicity.  Early online publication.

Abstract: In an attempt to emulate early modern missionaries to Yunnan who engaged in the invention of writing systems for various ethnic groups, contemporary evangelical missionaries in Yunnan have become heavily involved in the realm of linguistics, focused on the preservation of endangered languages. While such activity may potentially be perceived as a challenge to the state-Chinese linguistic hegemony, I argue that the presence of missionary linguists is acceptable to the Chinese authorities as it does not threaten the paramount position of Putonghua but rather serves to integrate minority people into the state system. In addition, based on interviews conducted with a missionary working to produce texts for Kunming’s Buoyi population in their language, I aim to demonstrate how missionary linguists attempt to remold local culture by attempting to reconstruct ethnic identity around a language core. The article is based on fieldwork conducted in Yunnan in 2009–2010 and 2012.

Revival and Awakening: Book Review

Becker, Adam. 2015. Revival and Awakening: American Evangelical Missionaries in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

By: Secil Dagtas (University of Waterloo)

What is the relationship between the modern categories of “religion” and “nation”? The general tendency in popular and academic works has been to approach this relationship as one of tension, contradiction, or replacement. Revival and Awakening takes a different approach and unearths the co-constitution of these categories in the borderlands between Qajar Iran and the Ottoman Empire with a particular focus on the global underpinnings of this process.   Continue reading