Abstract: In this article, I analyze the dynamics of Protestants’ ambivalence about their own institutional existence in the context of inter-denominational fighting between Lutheran and Catholic missions in colonial New Guinea. I argue that denominational conflict became a crucial part of the Lutheran missiological method. In particular, it gave them the chance to embrace their Lutheran infrastructure by comparing what they thought of as its lifegiving capacities to the dead or false forms of Catholic missionization. Ethnographically, I focus on a moment in the 1930s when two Catholic priests were killed by local people, as well as the ensuing Lutheran response. The priests were killed, according to the Lutherans, because they did not have a spirit-filled infrastructure. The institutional life of the denomination is recognized and yet mitigated through a process of animation, a way of making the most mundane infrastructure the stuff of lifegiving force.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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, 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.