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.
Abstract: This article explores how in Samoa, Christians from diverse denominational backgrounds regularly talk about and critique church giving practices ranging from weekly announcements of offerings to tithing. By comparing Pentecostal and mainstream Christian giving practices, Pentecostals discursively created denominational difference through valuation: the comparative process of differentiating between ways of giving. Pentecostals created a socially embedded subject position through giving critiques, demonstrating how denominational comparison is religious practice. By looking at the metapragmatics of giving—that is, how accounts of giving are used in everyday life—discussions of giving become a primary means to navigate the institutional mediation of individualism evident in giving practices. This article thus shows how critiques of giving collapse the distinction between “religious” and “economic” spheres showing that they are often co-constitutive.
Seeking to uproot evil from people’s life, neo-Pentecostal exorcists in Brazil separate between internal and external bodily surfaces and then ‘close’ the victim’s entire body to protect against further malignant intrusion. Based on fieldwork in Brazil and the analysis of expulsion videos online, I demonstrate that exorcists self-consciously use topological imaginaries of connectedness and disjunction to generate a reality in which demons and humans occupy mutually exclusive ontological domains. I argue that the moral transformation that these rituals encourage is thus contingent on the successful disentanglement of bodily surfaces, which distinguishes inside from outside and humans from demons. I use the term ‘moral topology’ to analyze this process and call for further cross-cultural attention to the ethnographic vitality of topological imaginaries in the making of cosmological boundaries.
The first phase of anthropology’s turn toward ethics called our attention to freedom, evaluative reflection, and projects of intentional self‐cultivation. While the inclusion of such moments of intentionality and freedom provided a helpful corrective to overly determinist frameworks for the study of morality and social life, we lost sight of other aspects of ethical life and personhood that are less easily controlled. Drawing on an ethnographic case that might otherwise be considered exemplary of a Foucauldian “care of the self,” this article draws on texts from Africanist anthropology and Franciscan theology to explore how members of a community of Ugandan, Kenyan, and Tanzanian Franciscan nuns living and working at a residential home for orphans and children with disabilities in central Uganda understand and engage with the uncertain potential of moral transformation.
Abstract: The paper explores the ethical attitude of Christian evangelicals in a church in Britain and how it affects boundary-making of their community. Evangelicals in the case study seek to be accepting of the person and to refrain from being judgemental. The paper distinguishes between the person-centred ‘ethic of compassion’and the norm-centred ‘ethic of purity’. The ethic of compassion consists in accepting another and recognising the dignity of another based on shared humanity. It is a frame of mind that combines moral intention with the emotions of empathy and sympathy. In contrast, the ethic of purity privileges adherence to the moral order of the group over considerations for the person. The ‘compassionate’ frame of mind weakens boundaries, while the ‘pure’ frame of mind reinforces them. The boundaries of a community result from the interplay of the two ethics.
Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.
Klaits, Frederick, ed. The Request and the Gift in Religious and Humanitarian Endeavors (New York: Palgave Macmillan, 2017)
Publisher’s Description: This collection revisits classical anthropological treatments of the gift by documenting how people may be valued both through the requests they make and through what they give. Many humanitarian practitioners, the authors propose, regard giving to those in need as the epitome of moral action but are liable to view those people’s requests for charity as merely utilitarian. Yet in many religious discourses, prayers and requests for alms are highly valued as moral acts, obligatory for establishing relationships with the divine. Framing the moral qualities of asking and giving in conjunction with each other, the contributors explore the generation of trust and mistrust, the politics of charity and accountability, and tensions between universalism and particularism in religious philanthropy.
Abstract: This article examines the role of socio-moral space in people’s experiences of divine presence. More specifically, it addresses the questions of how social others influence people’s experiences of God and Satan among the indigenous evangelical Yine people of Peruvian Amazonia, and the consequences these interactions have for the individual believer and the collectivity. For the Yine dreams are a privileged site of human encounter with other-than-human beings, and they also feature centrally in their Christian lives. It is in dreams that they interact with angels and sometimes with the devil. By examining Yine evangelical dreams as mimetic points of encounter involving not only the dreamer but also transcendent beings and fellow believers as active agents, the article shows that Yine experiences of God’s presence cannot be conceptualised as an individual matter, but are highly dependent on the social other: they come to be as co-acted experiences of the divine.
Abstract: The special issue Connected with God: Body, the Social, and the Transcendent addresses the very topical question of the architecture of religious, especially Christian, experiences. Specifically, it examines the processes in which Christians experience the connection with, and gain knowledge of, God in and through the body, and, in particular, the role of social relatedness and morality in generating and informing these experiences. The issue challenges the view of an individual subjective relationship with God, and argues that Christian experiences of God’s presence are not solely a matter of an individual’s relationship with the divine but are very much made possible, guided, and conceptualised through corporeal relationships with social others – believers and other fellow-humans. Through detailed ethnographic and historical examination, the issue also addresses the question of whether and how the form of Christianity practised influences people’s experiences of divine presence.
Publisher’s Description: This book, based on extensive original research, examines the nature of Catholicism in the contemporary Philippines. It shows how Catholicism is apparently flourishing, with good attendance at Sunday Masses, impressive religious processions and flourishing charismatic groups, and with interventions by the Catholic hierarchy in national and local politics. However, focusing in particular on the beliefs and practices of young people, the book shows that young people are often adopting a different, more individualised approach to Catholicism, which is frequently out of step with the official position. It considers the features of this: a more personal and experiential relationship with God; a new approach to morality, in which right living is seen as more important than right believing; and a critical view of what is seen as the Catholic hierarchy’s misguidedness. The book argues that this reinterpreting of religion by young people has the potential to alter fundamentally the nature of Catholicism in the Philippines, but that, nevertheless, young people’s new approach involves a solid, enduring commitment and a strong view of their own Catholic, religious identity.