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.
Abstract: This study is an ethnographic and conceptual analysis of religious objects, their uses, and mediation of authority within the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Universal Church) in Brazil. Drawing on scholarship within media studies, religion and media, and material religion, I distinguish between artifacts used to cement implicit contracts between Universal Church followers and their church community, which I call contractual media, or swag, and those that followers bring to meetings to be blessed and then take home to mediate both good and evil forces in family, work, and social life—these I call portable media. While portable object media are seen by their owners as powerful tools, contractual media, on the other hand, create implicit power relations that keep followers tied to the institutional church in a reciprocal exchange predicated upon expected prosperity as evidence of faithful attendance, fidelity, and personal sacrifice. The physical exchange of material goods in religious spaces constitutes a perpetuation rather than a disruption of institutional religious authority. As infrastructure, contractual object media establish and maintain conditions for otherwise mundane materials to mediate power on a daily basis. Through attention toward portable and contract object media, as part of what I am calling material microstructure, we can further complicate religious authority as it is mediated through objects, not just in one-way flows but as dynamic exchanges and trade-offs between personal empowerment and institutional control.
Abstract: Neo-Pentecostalism is notable for its emphasis on “prosperity theology,” the belief that economic prosperity is available to the faithful. Members give monetary offerings in exchange for later blessings of financial prosperity. Despite the faith’s rapid growth worldwide, the influence of prosperity theology on believers’ lives is still being understood. This mixed-method study examines Brazilian neo-Pentecostal rituals through the dual paradigms of religious signaling and cognitive dissonance theory. Signaling theory posits that costly behaviors, such as giving significant sums of money, are honest signs of an individual’s intent toward group cooperation. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that individuals will justify the costly signals required by overvaluing membership in the group. The integration of these two approaches provides a comprehensive model for costly ritual participation by addressing both social and individual motivating factors. This study furthers our understanding of neo-Pentecostalism by examining how prosperity theology rituals influence behaviors, cognitions, and the psychological well-being.
By John Durham Peters and Gavin Feller (University of Iowa)
One of the most exciting things about the anthropology of Christianity is the way it uses the minutiae of practices in out of the way cultures to cast light on ancient and deep philosophical and religious questions. To think about will and personhood, one can turn equally to St. Augustine and to Joel Robbins’ Urapmin. To think about translation and denominational schism, one can turn equally to Martin Luther and to Courtney Handman’s Guhu-Samane Christians. (Like the Urapmin, they live in New Guinea.) The anthropology of Christianity likes to coax theologizing from its armchair and show it at work in the wild, in the field, in vernacular forms.
Birgit Meyer’s Sensational Movies is a worthy contribution in this project. Amassing and integrating over two decades of her research, the book shows, as we will see, how richly the film culture of south Ghana treats the theological problem of necessary but productive evil and the theoretical problem of the ontology of the photographic or cinematic image. The producers, actors, and audiences she has worked with over the years may not be trained religious thinkers or media theorists, but their constant meditations about the occult, about the nature of acting, the power of the image, and the willing suspension of disbelief show them to have rich ideas about how media can form entities in this world and the world beyond. The resulting book is a major contribution to the interdisciplinary sweet spot where religion, media, and cultural anthropology converge. Continue reading
Publisher’s description: Upward, Not Sunwise explores an influential and growing neo-Pentecostal movement among Native Americans characterized by evangelical Christian theology, charismatic “spirit-filled” worship, and decentralized Native control. As in other global contexts, neo-Pentecostalism is spread by charismatic evangelists practicing faith healing at tent revivals.In North America, this movement has become especially popular among the Diné (Navajo), where the Oodlání (“Believers”) movement now numbers nearly sixty thousand members. Participants in this movement value their Navajo cultural identity yet maintain a profound religious conviction that the beliefs of their ancestors are tools of the devil.
Kimberly Jenkins Marshall has been researching the Oodlání movement since 2006 and presents the first book-length study of Navajo neo-Pentecostalism. Key to the popularity of this movement is what the author calls “resonant rupture,” or the way the apparent continuity of expressive forms holds appeal for Navajos, while believers simultaneously deny the continuity of these forms at the level of meaning. Although the music, dance, and poetic language at Oodlání tent revivals is identifiably Navajo, Oodlání carefully re-inscribe their country gospel music, dancing in the spirit, use of the Navajo language, and materials of faith healing as transformationally new and different. Marshall explores these and other nuances of Navajo neo-Pentecostal practices by examining how Oodlání perform their faith under the big white tents scattered across the Navajo Nation.
Abstract: J. D. Y. Peel’s Frazer Lecture of 2000, published here posthumously, presented his early thoughts about the three-sided comparison that would culminate his trilogy of works on Yoruba religion. Working through these arguments would occupy another decade and a half until the publication of Christianity, Islam, and Orisa religion: Three traditions in comparison and interaction (2016, University of California Press). As a historian and sociologist, John was by turns stimulated and exasperated by anthropologists. An ethnographic method was essential to comparison he accepted, but anthropologists were poor at temporality in a number of senses: when locating their own researches, the lives of those they met, the sources they used, their own notes; and when delineating what they meant by context, what it meant to their subjects, and where it came from; and most germane here, in recognizing the historical trajectories imparted to religions by their histories, discourses and practices. In short, for all they wrote a deal about it, anthropologists were practically poor when describing the consequences of humans being beings in time. The lecture proposes solutions to these lacks.
Abstract: The basic premise of this paper is that oppressive and violent behaviour is not an essential aspect of the male identity. Seeking to comprehend the underlying causes of violence, specifically against women but also more generally, this paper examines some of the alternative ways of being a man that have accompanied Christianity. Through observation of some Pentecostals from New Ireland, I have concluded that new ways of being a man that are less oppressive and dominating for women are emerging. This phenomenon I argue is a step towards gender equality, since it involves creating more caring and equitable relationships and a step towards reducing violence both against women and in the community, since it embraces non-violent ways of being a man. Particularly useful in analysing the process of reforming men is Foucault’s work on governmentality since it relates well to the Pentecostal emphasis on radical change in being ‘born again’. Conversion for born-again Christians is more than simply abandoning sin; rather it involves the creation of a new self and becoming a new person. Similarly, Foucault argues that the individual practises the art of self-governance in re-forming her or himself as she or he desires.
Abstract: This study analyses the historically significant shifts in the diffusion and reception of the bible in Brazilian Christianity. It questions whether Brazil is turning Protestant, given the marginalisation in Brazilian neo-Pentecostalism of scripture, which is the fundamental pillar of Protestant faith. While scripture has traditionally been marginal to Brazil’s popular Catholicism, it was regarded as the primary medium for access to the sacred in classical Pentecostalism. Whilst Brazilian Catholicism rediscovered the bible through the liberation theology movement, a contrary trend of marginalisation of scripture is evident in the Brazilian neo-Pentecostal church Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (IURD). Although there is a performative use of the bible in IURD, the original meaning of the biblical texts is given little weight within this performance. Based on this evaluation of the bible’s position, the article suggests that neo-Pentecostalism stands in continuity with popular Catholicism and discontinuity with classical Pentecostalism in relation to the biblical canon.
McGraw, John (2012) “Tongues of Men and Angels: Assessing the Neural Correlates of Glossolalia.” In David Cave & Rebecca Sachs Norris, eds. Religion and the Body: Modern Science and the Construction of Religious Meaning. Leiden: Brill.
First Paragraph: “The accelerating popularity of Charismatic Christianity has brought with it a host of new sensibilities and ritual practices. Glossolalia, or ‘speaking in tongues,’ stands out among these as a particularly dramatic innovation. Typically staid churchgoers, once touched by the Holy Spirit, begin to utter strings of syllables that some claim to be the ‘language of angels.’ Recent neuroimaging studies have highlighted differences in the brains of subjects performing glossolalia in comparison to those same subjects singing a Church hymn. An investigation of the neural correlates of glossolalia highlights the importance of studying the bodily dimensions of ritual practice. But an informed analysis does not reduce social and behavioral complexities to physiological changes; rather, juxtaposing the correlates of human action from a variety of perspectives—in this case the social, the bodily, and the behavioral—suggests productive new approaches to the study of ritual. Having received the attentions of numerous scholars during the 20th and 21st centuries, glossolalia provides an excellent test case for this correlational approach to human action . . .”
Abstract: This article examines a controversy surrounding the theology of prosperity associated with neo-Pentecostalism: the aggressive soliciting of tithes from largely underclass worshippers, and the eagerness of those worshippers to respond beyond what seems financially sound. Drawing on ethnographic research among Cape Verdean immigrants in a Boston branch of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, I argue that a sense of empowerment often accompanies sacrificial tithing. This sense comes through the insertion of worshippers into multiple relations of reciprocity. Those whom I observed submitting to their pastor’s calls to tithe should not, therefore, be glibly dismissed as victims of alienation or brainwashing. Their expressions of devotion are active and creative strategies of self-transformation in response to the precariousness of the migrant’s life-world.