Abstract: Based on ethnographic research in the Republic of Benin, this article explores how Pentecostal teachings on marriage and the management of sexual pleasure contribute to shaping converts’ moral selves. For Pentecostals, fidelity towards God, when single and fidelity between partners, once married, is presented as the ideal model of partnership to which every “Born-Again” should aspire. In the context where polygamous unions are socially accepted, Pentecostal pastors teach that a satisfactory sexual life restricted to marriage is the means of building successful monogamous unions. However, sexual satisfaction might not always guarantee marital success, especially when people face problems of infertility. The author suggests that the disciplinary regimes that these teachings promote contribute to shaping new modes of intimacy, which are compatible with societal changes but often contradict the extant social norms and ideals of reproduction. Moral dilemmas arising from this tension are the key to understanding how Pentecostal Christianity shapes the moral self. The article addresses how Pentecostals in Benin navigate and negotiate cultural continuities and discontinuities in relation to church authority and family life.
Abstract: This paper considers the assumption that the long-term success of the Christian Churches in some parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG) will eliminate or even regulate the magical practices that are nowadays commonly described as ‘sorcery’. Among the Vula’a of PNG men seeking prestige and influence turn to the Church, and some of them are said to be sorcerers who ‘hide behind it’. Most deaths continue to be attributed to sorcery, and fear of sorcery and the need to counter it with other sorcery eclipses Christian proscriptions. It is power – rather than the introduced concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ brought by Christian colonizers that dominates current discourse – that contributes to the persistence of sorcery albeit in a variety of new and introduced forms. Sorcery is effective because it creates a culture of fear. I conclude, then, by applying Heidegger’s analysis of fear to Vula’a sorcery to suggest that an anthropology of fear will contribute to a better understanding of sorcery in contemporary PNG.
Abstract: ‘Spiritual mapping’ is a transnational Pentecostal ‘spiritual warfare’ practice that aims to identify and fight ‘territorial spirits’, or demons that possess specific places. It was unique in Cape Town, South Africa, at the beginning of democracy, because it was both racialized and sexualized. This article examines how Pentecostals in Cape Town employed spiritual mapping techniques to identify and police groups they understood as morally and spiritually ‘dangerous’: black and ‘coloured’ communities and gays and lesbians. I argue that South African spiritual mapping was a response to the material and physical insecurities of democracy, particularly the declining economy, failed promises of the African National Congress, and some of the highest rates of crime in the world.
Abstract: For Ethiopian Jews and (formerly Jewish) Pentecostals in Israel, coffee (buna) is more than just a stimulant, a cultural symbol, or even a social lubricant. It is a material medium for disputes about the limitations of moral agency, the experience of kin relations that have been broken or restructured, and the eruption of dangerous—but also healing—potencies in the social world. Buna consumption has become a focal point for at least three different forms of moral compulsion (physical addiction; zar, or spirit, affliction; and kinship obligations) that are experienced as isomorphic with “culture” and from which freedom is sought. The decision to drink or to refrain from drinking buna has therefore emerged as a fulcrum of moral experience around which different Ethiopian groups in Israel negotiate the limits of “culture” and the quest for an elusive moral freedom.
Abstract: Papua New Guinean imaginings of Israel as a potential development partner draw on Christian renderings of the Bible, but they also reflect an understanding of Israel as a modern, technologically advanced nation. As middle-class Papua New Guineans reflect on the failures of national development since gaining independence from Australia, they express ambivalence about the appropriateness of Western models of development for the Papua New Guinean context. However, the influx of Asian investment is also seen as lacking, or even threatening; therefore, Asian models of development also fail to offer an appealing hope for the future. In this paper, I argue that these racialised understandings of modernity represent a ‘post-colonial racial triangle’, a discursive field within which the moral implications of development are understood and debated. Within this triangle, Melanesians are thought to have ‘culture’ and (Christian) ‘morality’ but lack ‘development’. Australians or ‘whitemen’ are thought to have ‘development’ and ‘morality’ but to lack ‘culture’. ‘Asians’ are thought to have ‘development’ and ‘culture’ but to lack (Christian) morality. Taking this moral framing of race into account, Israel emerges as a possible aid donor with the credentials to reconcile these three positions as it is seen to be the possessor of ‘development’, ‘culture’, and ‘morality’.
Abstract: Whilst anthropological discussions of morality tend to be rooted in Aristotelian ethical theory, this paper highlights an alternative Christian moral reasoning rooted in Neoplatonist/Christian hybrids and visible in contemporary Eastern Orthodox monastic practice. The analytical move proposed here is to focus on the disjunctures between different ethical traditions within Christianity in order to show how they produce diverse forms of moral reasoning that rely on particular uses of exemplarity and exemplification. It is argued that the Aristotelian lens, with its stress on compliance, piety, obedience, and the daily practice of self-perfection, can produce impoverished accounts of ascetic life by excluding the more anarchic and idiosyncratic forms of spiritual training. Christianity has a long tradition of deploying paradox and perplexity to explode facile certainties, thereby carving out a space, at the limits of human knowing, where a divinity conceived as radically alter to the created world can be directly engaged with.
Abstract: In this paper, I explore the way in which examples are used in sermons among the pious followers of Our Lady of Soufanieh in Damascus, Syria. In the sermons, a particular logic of seriation functions to present specific models and exemplars as prisms of lives to be imitated. The framing of these lives takes place through entextualizations, whereby the life of some is made into texts that others are told to emulate. The process of making life into text and text into life is explored in the production of examples at the weekly Saturday sermons in Soufanieh. While directly related to life as lived, such sermons also stand for a broader class of life as forma vitae, that is, lives to be followed. I thus explore the example as exemplum, a particular moral story used for edification and didactic purposes, one which situates the listener at the centre of the story by integrating the miraculous happenings in Soufanieh with the response of the individual. The sermons thus serve to examine exemplification and the modelling of sainthood in Damascus in the years preceding the current civil war.
Bandak, Andreas and Tom Boylston. 2014. The ‘Orthodoxy’ of Orthodoxy: On Moral Imperfection, Correctness, and Deferral in Religious Worlds. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 5:25-46.
Abstract: This article uses ethnographic studies of Orthodox Christianities as a way to investigate the concept of ‘orthodoxy’ as it applies to religious worlds. Orthodoxy, we argue, is to be found neither in opposition to popular religion nor solely in institutional churches, but in a set of encompassing relations among clergy and lay people that amounts to a religious world and a shared tradition. These relations are characterized by correctness and deferral—formal modes of relating to authority that are open-ended and non-definitive and so create room for certain kinds of pluralism, heterodoxy, and dissent within an overarching structure of faith and obedience. Attention to the aesthetics of orthodox practice shows how these relations are conditioned in multi-sensory, often non-linguistic ways. Consideration of the national and territorial aspects of Orthodoxy shows how these religious worlds of faith and deferral are also political worlds.
Abstract: This article contributes to ongoing public and scholarly debates about evangelical social engagement in the United States. I illustrate that, for some conservative evangelical men, activism is fused to the cultural construction of masculinity. My central argument is that, despite becoming invested in ‘new’ acts of social engagement, these conservative evangelicals continue to rely on a familiar cultural script that uses individualist logics, rather than structural logics, to address social problems. My primary example is a relatively recent men’s movement, Acts29, and its commitment to anti-human trafficking campaigns. This article draws on ethnographic fieldwork and textual data collected between January 2009 and March 2011.
Abstract: The theological prescriptions of a believer’s burden preached at a large non-denominational Charismatic megachurch in Ukraine involve transforming the city in which one lives into a promised land. The means to do so involve making money and using that money to create ‘blessings’ for others. The actions of a group of entrepreneurs associated with this megachurch who have put this theology into practice have led to cross-cutting indictments of evil. The controversy that ensued over the proper response of a believer to suffering and urban plight reveals how the processes of moral reasoning to determine the sources of evil can be interpreted very differently when there is little agreement over the divine or demonic providence of money and what the public role of religion should be.