Thomson, “Christianity, Islam, and ‘The Religion of Pouring’: Non-linear Conversion in a Gambia/Casamance Borderland”

Thomson, Steven (2012) “Christianity, Islam, and ‘The Religion of Pouring’: Non-linear Conversion in a Gambia/Casamance Borderland.” Journal of Religion in Africa 42(3):240-276 

Abstract: The twentieth-century religious history of the Kalorn (Karon Jolas) in the Alahein River Valley of the Gambia/Casamance border cannot be reduced to a single narrative. Today extended families include Muslims, Christians, and practitioners of the traditional Awasena ‘religion of pouring’. A body of funeral songs highlights the views of those who resisted pressure toward conversion to Islam through the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The introduction of a Roman Catholic mission in the early 1960s created new social and economic possibilities that consolidated an identity that stood as an alternative to the Muslim-Mandinka model. This analysis emphasizes the equal importance of both macropolitical and economic factors and the more proximal effects of reference groups in understanding religious conversion. Finally, this discussion of the origins of religious pluralism within a community grants insight into how conflicts along religious lines have been defused.

Yang, “Death, Emotion, and Social Change among the Austronesian-speaking Bunun of Taiwan”

 Yang, Shu-Yuan (2011) “Death, Emotions, and Social Change among the Austronesian-Speaking Bunun of Taiwan” Southeast Asian Studies 49(2):214-239

Abstract; Focusing on the analysis of mortuary rites, this article explores how the Bunun, an Austronesian-speaking indigenous people of Taiwan, conceptualize and deal with death in particular historical contexts. It suggests that death rituals should not be treated as self-contained wholes or closed symbolic systems but as busy intersections of multiple social processes. The paper examines how colonial policies and the introduction of Christianity have transformed the ways in which death is dealt with among the Bunun, and how they continue to pose questions on how to deal with rage in grief for this formerly headhunting group by pro- ducing hesitations and disagreements over the moral and social propriety of alternative ritual forms. When the consequences of social change are taken seriously, the extent to which ritual forms organize and shape the experience of mourning needs to be reconsidered.

Jindra, Michael & Joël Noret “Funerals in Africa”

Jindra, Michael & Joël Noret, eds., (2011) Funerals in Africa: Exploration of a Social Phenomenon. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books

Publisher’s Description: Across Africa, funerals and events remembering the dead have become larger and even more numerous over the years. Whereas in the West death is normally a private and family affair, in Africa funerals are often the central life cycle event, unparalleled in cost and importance, for which families harness vast amounts of resources to host lavish events for multitudes of people with ramifications well beyond the event. Though officials may try to regulate them, the popularity of these events often makes such efforts fruitless, and the elites themselves spend tremendously on funerals. This volume brings together scholars who have conducted research on funerary events across sub-Saharan Africa. The contributions offer an in-depth understanding of the broad changes and underlying causes in African societies over the years, such as changes in religious beliefs, social structure, urbanization, and technological changes and health.

Di Bella, “Essai sur les supplices. L’Êtat de victime”

Di Bella, Maria (2011) Essai sur les supplices. L’Êtat de victime. Paris:Hermann 

Publisher’s Description: C’est à partir des années 1990 que Maria Pia Di Bella commence à s’intéresser à une manifestation de dévotion populaire : le « culte des âmes des corps décollés », sujet susceptible, selon elle, de livrer quelques clefs sur la Sicile. Pour comprendre les raisons de cette ferveur vis-à-vis des corps des condamnés à mort ensevelis dans un cimetière proche de l’église de la «Madonna del Fiume» à Palerme, elle s’est attachée à l’étude de la compagnie du Santissimo Crocifisso (1541-1820), dite des Bianchi, qui, les trois jours précédant leur exécution, se chargeait de préparer les condamnés à une mort chrétienne. Pendant cette période liminale les Bianchi instruisaient les prisonniers de façon à ce que, le jour de leur exécution, ils rappellent aux yeux du public le Christ, les martyrs ou bien les saints.
À travers cette inversion de coupable à victime, Maria Pia Di Bella a pu expliquer comment, pendant ces trois jours, se produisait le phénomène de superposition des figures. Peu à peu, ce phénomène, ainsi que l’extension de la figure de la « victime », sont devenus les points focaux de sa recherche et lui ont permis de distinguer l’opposition – dès le XVIIIe siècle – entre les attitudes religieuses catholiques et protestantes dans le maniement respectif de ces figures. Forte de cette recherche historique, Maria Pia Di Bella a, par la suite, entrepris une enquête comparative aux États-Unis. Dans ce volume, elle montre à quel point ces études historiques et anthropologiques peuvent contribuer à la compréhension de l’évolution de la notion de victime en Occident.

Translation: In the 1990s, Maria Pia Di Bella began to investigate an expression of popular devotion known as “the cult of the souls of the decapitated,” a subject she believes can yield a number of important insights about Sicily. Seeking to understand the reasons for this fervent interest in the bodies of prisoners condemned to death and buried in a cemetery close to the church of the “Madonna del Fiume” in Palermo, she has made a close study of the Company of the Santissimo Crocifisso (1541-1820), known as the “Bianchi,” whose members, for the three days preceding the execution of the prisoners, assumed the task of preparing them to die in a Christian manner. During this liminal period, the Bianchi instructed the condemned how to comport themselves in such a way that their appearance on the day of execution would cause the public to recall the martyrs, saints, and even Christ.

By analyzing this process, in which the guilty are transformed into victims, Di Bella was able to explain how the superposition of these figures took place. Over the years, this phenomenon, along with the steady broadening of the category of the “victim,” have become the focal points of her research and have enabled her to bring to light the opposition – originating in the 18th century – between the attitudes of Catholics and Protestants in the treatment of these figures. Based on this research, Di Bella subsequently undertook a comparative study of the topic in the United States, and in this book she shows the substantial contribution that such historical and anthropological research can make toward our understanding of the evolution of the notion of the victim in Western society.