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.
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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 →
Abstract: This article analyses the role that the emic category of understanding plays in creating new forms of personhood and new worlds for sign language using deaf people in south India. As an ethnographic study of the production, dissemination, and circulation of Indian Sign Language Bible DVDs by an international non-denominational Christian missionary organization, this article analyses how the power of sign language as heart language lies in the potentiality of becoming a fluent signer and a member of a deaf sociality. Bringing the Anthropology of Christianity in conversation with the Anthropology of deafness/sign language studies, this article argues that anthropologists have ignored practices of verifying understanding in our interlocutors. In utilizing the concept of affective audits, this article analyses the practices by which understanding comes to take place. In addition, this article also argues that anthropologists must attend to how research on sensory formations might be presuming a ‘normal’ sensing body.
Abstract: Exploring missionary study at an Assemblies of God Bible college through ethnography and training manuals demonstrates systematic pedagogies that cultivate sensory capabilities encouraging yielding, opening to rupture, and constraint. Ritual theory and the Anthropology of Christianity shift analytic scales to include “cultivation,“ a “third term“ enabling simultaneous apprehension and consolidating of the oppositions (experience–doctrine, revival–church, or spontaneous rupture–restrained continuity) internal and central to Pentecostalism. Further, cultivation complicates valorizations of the disjunctive “event“ as militant radical icon.
Abstract: The missionary encounter between the London Missionary Society and Sotho-Tswana communities of southern Africa has been explored by Jean and John Comaroff as work that took place at the level of both signs and practices. In this article, I consider what a Peircean semeiotic might offer to this narrative. I argue that it provides ways to disrupt the sometimes binary relationship of signs and practices while also providing opportunities for productive interdisciplinary conversations about the affective, material, and processual nature of changes in belief and practice.
Abstract: This article reflects on gender strategies developed by Brazilian Pentecostal missionaries linked to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God/United Family, in the city of Barcelona,Spain. From a comparative study of the daily life of the missionaries, the paper discusses how ‘feminized’ and ‘manly’ character, respectively, define important boundaries between Catholic charismatic and Evangelical groups.The ethnographic data demonstrate how certain religious particularities of immigrants can act as a source of social differentiation that highlights opportunities and specific doctrinal strategies for women and men, in the context of diaspora.