Macdonald, “‘God Was Here First'”

Macdonald, Fraser. 2018. “‘God Was Here First’: Value, Hierarchy, and Conversion in a Melanesian Christianity.” Ethnos.

Abstract: Throughout the world, conversion to evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity produces what Joel Robbins calls ‘duplex cultural formations’, whereby surviving aspects of local cosmology and worldview are brought into tension with paramount Christian values through a process of critical evaluation. I explore the dynamics of this process within Oksapmin understandings of human and cosmic origins. Traditional anthropogonic models explaining the emergence of lineages from primordial figures have been brought into tension with more-valued understandings of God as creator of the universe through the process of diabolisation, in this case, local figures being associated with fallen angels expelled from Heaven. I argue that these beings are permitted to continue because the anthropogenic and historic nature of their power does not significantly contradict the cosmogonic and eternally present conception of God’s creative capacity, but are diabolised owing to their continued existence as symbols of creative power and the source of sinful ritual practices.

Falck, “The Thomas-Souls Ministry”

 

The Thomas Souls Ministry is a prayer group founded by Catholics from the middle Sepik. It is led by a spirit of the dead called Thomas who takes possession of a Nyaura (West Iatmul) woman to preach, prophesy, counsel, and heal. While a prominent debate within the Anthropology of Christianity argues for radical change and rupture with the pre‐Christian self and society, I suggest that continuity within change is found in the way my interlocutors have made Christianity their own. I argue that the local concept of the person defined by aspects of dividualism and reflecting ontological premises of people’s lifeworld has strongly influenced the way Christianity was appropriated. In current religious practices people put these premises into action and reinforce them in intersubjective encounters with the divine other. Analysing people’s ‘onto‐praxis’, I argue that the Thomas Souls Ministry can be understood as part of a re‐empowerment process that re‐appropriates local meanings, spirits, and practices despite, and in fact against, the influence of the Catholic mission proselytizing in the region.

Eriksen, Blanes, and MacCarthy, eds. “Going to Pentecost: An Experimental Approach to Studies in Pentecostalism”

Eriksen, A., Blanes, R., & MacCarthy, M. (2019). Going to Pentecost: An Experimental Approach to Studies in Pentecostalism. New York: Berghahn Books.

Abstract: Co-authored by three anthropologists with long–term expertise studying Pentecostalism in Vanuatu, Angola, and Papua New Guinea/the Trobriand Islands respectively, Going to Pentecost offers a comparative study of Pentecostalism in Africa and Melanesia, focusing on key issues as economy, urban sociality, and healing. More than an ordinary comparative book, it recognizes the changing nature of religion in the contemporary world – in particular the emergence of “non-territorial” religion (which is no longer specific to places or cultures) – and represents an experimental approach to the study of global religious movements in general and Pentecostalism in particular.

Handman, “Critical Failures”

Handman, Courtney. “Critical failures.” Critical Research on Religion 6, no. 1 (2018): 16-20.

Critique in evangelical Christian contexts has usually been seen as a practice in service of finding the universal. However, I examine a number of contexts in which Christian critique seems to produce serial difference. I suggest that this seriality may itself be seen as a basis on which possibility and alternatives can be found, rather than just as serial failures to reach the universal. I briefly compare different events of serial transformations, in the United States as well as in Papua New Guinea, the site of my ethnographic research on denominational difference.

Robbins, “Keeping God’s Distance”

Robbins, Joel. 2017. Keeping God’s Distance: Sacrifice, possession, and the problem of religious mediation. American Ethnologist 44(3): 464-475.

Abstract: Much contemporary work in the anthropology of religion explores how human experience of the divine is mediated. One question rarely asked, however, is why people distance the divine from themselves in the first place, such that complex practices of mediation are necessary to make it present. An answer to this question is provided by Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss in their book Sacrifice, which I read as a key precursor to current work on religious mediation. Hubert and Mauss focus on how religious mediations model and shape social mediations. I demonstrate the usefulness of an approach to mediation that draws on their work by examining a shift from sacrifice to possession as forms of mediation among Pentecostal converts in Papua New Guinea. I also show that this approach can help us further develop broader anthropological theories of mediation and social life.

Handman, “Walking Like a Christian”

Handman, Courtney.  2017. Walking like a Christian: Roads, translation, and gendered bodies as religious infrastructure in Papua New Guinea.  American Ethnologist.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Homologies between so-called soft infrastructures like language and hard ones like roads depend on ethnographically variable metaphors of circulation. In these homologies, speakers understand language to propel or inhibit forms of physical movement, affecting the embodied experiences of transportation or locomotion. In the case of Guhu-Samane Christians in Papua New Guinea, people focus on language as a kind of infrastructure as they grapple with postcolonial feelings of disconnection from divine powers that were once manifest in a New Testament translation. They channel this sense of disconnection into ongoing complaints about their lack of a vehicular road and the pain of walking, particularly walking like a heavily burdened woman. If a road were built into their valley, this would signal the New Testament’s transformation into Christian infrastructure.

Handman, “Figures of history: Interpreting Jewish pasts in Christian Papua New Guinea”

Handman, Courtney. 2016. Interpreting Jewish pasts in Christian Papua New Guinea. HAU 6(1):237-260. 

Abstract: This article examines two competing historical formations that expatriate missionaries and Papua New Guineans respectively have used to create connections between local ethnic groups and “the ancient Jews” of the Bible. In part through 1970s publications analyzed here, missionaries introduced redemptive and repetitive historicist models that established Melanesian ethnic groups as generically and iconically Jewish. The article then examines the ways in which Guhu-Samane Christians in rural Papua New Guinea take up these missionary narratives in order to produce indexical, genealogical connections to biblical Jews. Ancient Jews have become “figures” of Guhu-Samane history through interpretive discourses in which local people discover the prophetic revelations of their Jewishness that anticipate a future Christianity. Guhu-Samane Christians thus particularize their relationship to Christianity by taking up the history of another group, a Christian historical imagination that runs counter to secular forms of history that orient around issues of autonomous identity.

Barker and Hermkens, “The Mothers’ Union goes on strike”

Barker, John and Anna-Karina Hermkens. 2016. The Mothers’ Union goes on strike: Women, tapa cloth and Christianity in a Papua New Guinea society. The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.

Abstract: This paper explores the story of the formation and subsequent activities of a church women’s group in Maisin villages and women’s experiences of Christianity more broadly, in relation to the changing production and uses of traditional bark cloth (tapa), a signature women’s product which has become a marker of Maisin identity. While the influence of the local Mothers’ Union has waxed and waned over the past 60 years, tapa cloth has had a continuing influence upon its fortunes. Tapa cloth has been the chief means for church women to raise funds to support their activities and the local church. However, we argue that, more fundamentally, tapa has shaped women’s gendered Christian identities, experiences and history, mediating relationships with men, between generations of women, and with various sorts of ‘missionaries’ who have often justified their intrusions in terms of improving women’s lives.

Bonnemère, “Church presence and gender relations”

Bonnemère, Pascale.  2016. Church presence and gender relations in the Wonenara valley (Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea). The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Early online publication.

Abstract: Since 1951, date of the First contact, the Baruya of the Wonenara valley have twice been a pioneering frontline for Protestant missions. First in the 1960s, when several Lutheran and SDA pastors moved in, and the second time at the beginning of the 2000s, when three ‘New Evangelical Churches’ settled in the valley. After presenting the history of the presence of these five Churches, I analyse the pastors’ ideas, as expressed during services or in informal discussions, about the place of women in daily life and in church, and about gender relations more generally. The observation of church services reveals a possibility of women speaking in public that was hitherto unknown. Moreover, the pastors’ origins (Baruya or non Baruya) seem to play a role in the way they talk about women during their services, whatever their Church may say.

Eves, “Reforming Men”

Eves, Richard.  2016. Reforming men: Pentecostalism and masculinity in Papua New Guinea.  The Australian Journal of Anthropology.  Early online publication.

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.