Publisher’s Description: The Empty Seashell explores what it is like to live in a world where cannibal witches are undeniably real, yet too ephemeral and contradictory to be an object of belief. In a book based on more than three years of fieldwork between 1991 and 2011, Nils Bubandt argues that cannibal witches for people in the coastal, and predominantly Christian, community of Buli in the Indonesian province of North Maluku are both corporeally real and fundamentally unknowable.
Witches (known as gua in the Buli language or as suanggi in regional Malay) appear to be ordinary humans but sometimes, especially at night, they take other forms and attack people in order to kill them and eat their livers. They are seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The reality of gua, therefore, can never be pinned down. The title of the book comes from the empty nautilus shells that regularly drift ashore around Buli village. Convention has it that if you find a live nautilus, you are a gua. Like the empty shells, witchcraft always seems to recede from experience.Bubandt begins the book by recounting his own confusion and frustration in coming to terms with the contradictory and inaccessible nature of witchcraft realities in Buli. A detailed ethnography of the encompassing inaccessibility of Buli witchcraft leads him to the conclusion that much of the anthropological literature, which views witchcraft as a system of beliefs with genuine explanatory power, is off the mark. Witchcraft for the Buli people doesn’t explain anything. In fact, it does the opposite: it confuses, obfuscates, and frustrates. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia—an interminable experience that remains continuously in doubt—Bubandt suggests the need to take seriously people’s experiential and epistemological doubts about witchcraft, and outlines, by extension, a novel way of thinking about witchcraft and its relation to modernity.
Abstract: Within the anthropology of Christianity, much attention has been paid to the convergence of Christianity with modern understandings of language. In this essay, I review scholarship that traces the historical connections between modern and Christian views of language, particularly in British colonial attacks on Hindu language practices, and I examine two recent ethnographies that offer different vantage points on the variety of ways in which contemporary Christians use language in a self-consciously modern way.
Publisher’s Description: Combining insider and outsider perspectives, Women in Lebanon looks at Christian and Muslim women living together in a multicultural society and facing modernity. While the Arab Spring has begun to draw attention to issues of change, modernity, and women’s subjectivity, this manuscript takes a unique approach to examining and describing the Lebanese “alternative modernities” thesis and how it has shaped thinking about the meaning of terms like evolution, progress, development, history, and politics in contemporary Arab thought. The author draws on extensive ethnographic research, as well as her own personal experience.
Abstract: This paper is the result of research into the road towards and the road from institutional Orthodoxy and the experiences of four individuals, mutual acquaintances, who in the 1990s found “refuge in a search for meaning of life” in the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC). However, towards the end of the 2000s, they decided to abandon institutionalized religion and to move from the so-called theological-ecclesiastic model of Christian religiosity to an alternative model which negotiates between Christianity as doctrine and non-religious life-styles and “life philosophies”, as they are colloquially termed. Once torn between the conservativeness of institutional Orthodoxy and the modernity of their social environment (friendship groups, networks of people with similar interests, etc.), the four former members of the SOC declare that the SOC today is a community that has problems integrating cosmopolitan worldviews and is incapable of dealing with modernity and the diversity of contemporary society.
Abstract: This paper explores the social and economic implications of indigenous Christian discourses and practices in the Wenzhou Chinese diaspora in Paris, France. Popularly known as China’s Jerusalem, the coastal Chinese city of Wenzhou is home to thousands of self-started home-grown Protestant churches and a million Protestants. Drawing on multi-sited fieldwork, this study provides an ethnographic account of a group of Wenzhou merchants who have formed large Christian communities at home, along with migrant enclaves in Paris. The study shows how these migrant entrepreneurs and traders have brought their version of Christianity from China to France and how they perceive and deal with issues of illegality, moral contingency, native-place based loyalty and national belonging. It highlights the thoroughly intertwined relationship between an indigenised Chinese Christianity and the petty capitalist legacy of coastal southeast China in a secularised, exclusionary European context, and suggests that Christianity provides a form of non-market morality that serves to effectively legitimate Wenzhou’s pre-modern household economy in the context of market modernity.
Hindiyya al–’Ujaimi, a young eighteenth–century nun whose faith was matched by her ambition and intellect, lies at the heart of this absorbing history of Middle Eastern Christianity. At the age of twenty-six, Hindiyya left her hometown of Aleppo to establish a convent in the mountains of Lebanon. Her order and her growing public profile as a visionary and living saint met with stiff opposition from Latin missionaries and with mistrust from the Vatican. Church authorities were suspicious of feminine spirituality and independent religious authority, eventually subjecting her to two Inquisitions by the Vatican. Sentenced to spend her entire life imprisoned, Hindiyya died in 1798 in her cell, leaving a legacy that shaped the church for many years to come.
Compelling in its cinematic scope—resplendent with the requisite villains and mysterious events infused with sinister and sexual tensions, tragedy, and pathos—Hindiyya’s story holds within its folds a larger tale about the construction of a new Christianity in the Levant. Khater skillfully reveals what her story tells us about religious minorities in the Middle East, early modern cultural encounters between the West and the Middle East, and the relationship between gender, modernity, and religion.
Abstract: In recent decades many anthropological studies have suggested new approaches to conversion in order to grasp the connections between local Christianities and modernities. However, the relationship between conversion in indigenous societies and modernity remains problematic. The notion of transformation is often used as an ideological concept, which gives little information on the nature of the process of conversion, which is organized by complex processes of transitions and continuities. A better understanding of the various forms of indigenous Christianity is crucial to the development of an anthropology of Christianity.
Excerpt: In this essay I question widely held assumptions that the emergence of the individualist blob is connected with particular currents of Christianity and, more generally, the invocation of religious ideas to explain changes in societal organization. This is tangential to Bloch’s agenda, but I shall return at the end to his concern with personhood. The assumptions I critique are so widespread that they can be taken for granted by the readership of a new internet journal in anthropology. Mauss himself explicitly invoked the Protestant sects in support of his evolutionist argument linking individualism to modernity. True, some anthropologists have countered these notions. Meyer Fortes and many others reported rich inner states among non-Europeans who had not yet been exposed to Christian missionizing. Not everyone was convinced by Alan Macfarlane’s efforts to locate the origins of individualism in England, or by Louis Dumont’s contrasting of the hierarchies of South Asia with the egalitarian individualism of modern Europe. But these writings have been highly influential, as has Marilyn Strathern’s opposition between the Euro-American individual and the “dividual” of Melanesia. In their very different ways, all these scholars tell stories of Western exceptionalism. Bloch avoids a black and white categorization, but he does not tell us how the statistical difference came about. Is the number of diachronics in Madagascar and elsewhere expanding more rapidly than the global population of episodics? Can we identify tipping points? Is this the Rubicon beyond which we find Bloch’s own version of modernity?
It is widely acknowledged that anthropology was for a long time insufficiently reflexive concerning its own origins in Western social thought and, behind this, in specific currents of Christianity. Much of the discussion has focused on the notion of “belief” (Asad 1993; Cannell 2005; cf. Needham 1972). This essay, too, is concerned to probe long histories of Western bias, including distortions in anthropological work on Christianity itself. I focus on Max Weber rather than Mauss because his contributions have been so massively influential for the whole of Western social science. After giving examples of the shadows he casts in contemporary anthropology, I proceed to note recent criticisms and extensions of Weber’s argument with respect to Catholicism. Protestantism and Catholicism are the largest Christian communities worldwide, and it is therefore not surprising that they have dominated studies of Christianity by socio-cultural anthropologists. Large “Eastern” communities have been neglected.They complicate the familiar models: neither “other” in the sense of a Naturvolk, nor “at home in the West” as we have come to define it. I shall take some examples from the burgeoning literature on Eastern Orthodox traditions with these larger issues in mind. Is there a distinctive Eastern Christian person, corresponding to a unique Orthodox culture or civilization – or modernity?
Making good the deficits in studies of Eastern and Oriental Christians is more than a matter of filling gaps in the ethnographic record. The work now getting under way i) exposes distortions in the large corpus of work on Western Christianity; ii) raises more general issues of theory and method in the study of religion; iii) bears directly on larger debates concerning the interplay between ideas and material transformations in longue durée history. My conclusion is that anthropologists should be wary of all attempts to explain a “breakthrough to modernity” in terms of personhood and theologies, whether those of Protestantism or of earlier Axial Age civilizations. The comparative Weberian agenda remains endlessly fascinating; it can perhaps be freed of its most Eurocentric premises and its idealism; but causalities are complex and in future research it may prove advantageous to pay more attention to the ways in which the emergence of churches and sects, asceticism and mysticism, and our notions of interiorized, text-based belief have all been shaped by evolving technologies of production and communication, rather than the other way around.
Werth, Paul (2011) “Lived Orthodoxy and Confessional Diversity
The Last Decade on Religion in Modern Russia” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 12(4):849-65
Article Excerpt: “A decade ago in these pages, Gregory Freeze critiqued the historiography of religion since the fall of the USSR, remarking that it had “done little to illuminate the meaning of Orthodoxy in modern Russian society and culture.” Ten years on the situation looks rather different—in more ways than one. The meaning of Orthodoxy in a range of contexts has become a central preoccupation for historians of both the modern period and earlier eras. Indeed, in this essay I propose that a deep engagement with “lived Orthodoxy”—a concern for that religion as an adaptive cultural system and the variety of ways in which it was internalized and practiced—represents one of the principal accomplishments of the last decade.2 Nowhere has this development been more significant than in work on Orthodoxy in the rapidly changing conditions of late imperial Russia, which serves as the central focus of this essay. Indeed, the relationship between Orthodox piety and “modernity” has accordingly emerged as another central vector of the last decade’s scholarship. At the same time, it has become clear that Russia’s [End Page 849] religious history can no longer be contained under the heading “Russian Orthodoxy,” as was the case in Freeze’s essay. The scope of investigation has expanded substantially to include the other religions of Russian history—principally, but not only, Islam. These major themes—lived Orthodoxy, modernity, and multiconfessionalism—represent the three most significant trends in the scholarship of the last decade.”