Abstract: Inspired by Norget, Napolitano, and Mayblin’s suggestion that anthropologists attend more closely to the mechanisms of Catholicism’s worldwide spread, this article juxtaposes two organizations—the Holy Childhood Association and Unbound—to explore “paganism,” conversion, and its legacy among U.S. laypeople. In the process, it makes two major points. The first concerns the recourse to “culture” as a rhetorical and ideational hinge connecting the singularity of Christian universalism and new valuations of local multiplicity. The second focuses on the U.S. Catholic relationship to institutional structures of missionary work, which they both associate with positive attributes of a vibrant society, while also being much more critical than their Protestant counterparts of their own Church’s role abroad. It ends by noting how Unbound and its supporters contend with ongoing inequalities by cultivating an imagined global parity where Catholic people choose to send their “gifts” to each other.
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.
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.
Abstract: In the 16th and 17th centuries, Jesuit missionaries began to translate Christian doctrine and mythology into Indian languages. Most critical became the question how the very name(s) of God and gods can be translated. Artfully composed texts known as Christian Purāṇas borrowed from the religious terminology and literary styles of Indian devotional literature and are praised today for mediating between the cultures of Christians and Hindus (the latter called ‘gentiles’ in the contemporary sources). At the same time, the Portuguese-Catholic regime in India launched a ruthless iconoclastic campaign against the culture of the Indian gentiles, destroying their temples and images and denigrating their allegedly ‘false gods.’ Against this background, the article addresses the questions of what the relation was between translation and violence; how hermeneutics and destruction coexisted; and how the idea that the translations facilitated the modern emergence of religious pluralism is to be qualified.
Abstract: While a great deal of social science literature has examined the explosion of pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in the Global South as well as conservative and anti-modern forms of resurgent Christianity in the United States, little work has been done to investigate the causal effects of the former on the latter. Drawing from existing literature, interviews, and archives, this article contributes to filling that gap by arguing that in the mid-twentieth century, evangelical missionary concerns about competition from global Pentecostalism led to an intellectual crisis at the Fuller School of World Missions; this crisis in turn influenced important Third Wave figures such as John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner and is linked to key moments and developments in their thought and pedagogy.
Abstract: Polynesia has a particular place in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The region that heralded the Church’s first overseas missions includes seven of the world’s top ten nations in terms of the proportion of Mormons in the population, and it is home to six Mormon temples. The Polynesian Latter-day Saint population is increasing in both percentage and absolute numbers, and peoples in the Pacific “islands of the sea” continue to play a central role in the Mormon missionary imaginary. This article explores Polynesians in the LDS Church and critically evaluates different theories seeking to explain this growing religious affiliation. Scholars of Mormonism and commentators explain this growth in terms of parallels between Mormonism and indigenous Polynesian traditions, particularly family lineage and ancestry, and theological and ritual affinities. After evaluating these claims in light of scholarly literature and interviews with Latter-day Saints, however, I conclude that other reasons—especially education and other new opportunities—may equally if not more significantly account for the appeal of Mormonism to Polynesians.
Abstract: Scholars argue that Christians from the Global south will shape world Christianity as they come to dominate demographically. Pentecostals speak of a shared kingdom culture and see transnational networks as flat and decentralized. But Pentecostal rhetoric often draws on Euro-American neoliberal theories of individual “mindset transformation” and corporate management and resonates with earlier colonial rhetoric. This suggests that Christians from the global south might embrace Euro-American ideas instead of offering a significantly different vision. This paper examines an independent Fijian Pentecostal church that sends Fijian and Papua New Guinean missionaries to several areas of the world. Shared kingdom culture is undermined when each local church transforms common ideology to construct a positive local identity. The same process undermines the dominance of Euro-American neoliberal and neocolonial ideas and constructs an imagined world community of Christians based on submission to local leaders rather than promoting individual entrepreneurialism and global hierarchies.
Publisher’s Description: In Mission Station Christianity, Ingie Hovland presents an anthropological history of the ideas and practices that evolved among Norwegian missionaries in nineteenth-century colonial Natal and Zululand (Southern Africa). She examines how their mission station spaces influenced their daily Christianity, and vice versa, drawing on the anthropology of Christianity. Words and objects, missionary bodies, problematic converts, and the utopian imagination are discussed, as well as how the Zulus made use of (and ignored) the stations. The majority of the Norwegian missionaries had become theological cheerleaders of British colonialism by the 1880s, and Ingie Hovland argues that this was made possible by the everyday patterns of Christianity they had set up and become familiar with on the mission stations since the 1850s.
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: When compared to the extensive historiography on missionary activity, the anthropology of missions is a relative newcomer, emerging as such in the context of the recent critique of the colonial system. In view of the importance of historiographical literature in outlining the subject, on the one hand, and of the impact of the decolonization of the African continent on anthropology, on the other hand, my purposes in this essay are, firstly, to examine how the historiography of colonial America and of African colonialism has handled the subject of missions; secondly, to describe the role of missionary activity in the historiographical debate in the context of the crisis of colonialism; and, lastly, to analyze how post-colonial critique has given rise to a new anthropology of missions.