Robbins, Joel. 2015. Engaged Disbelief: Communities of Detachment in Christianity and in the Anthropology of Christianity. In Thomas Yarrow; Matei Candea; Catherine Trundle; Jo Cook, eds., Detachment: essays on the limits of relational thinking. Manchester : Manchester University Press, p115-129.
Excerpt: This chapter takes up some of these kinds of tasks in the realm of religion. It is worth noting at the outset that this realm is likely to be a hard case for theorists of detachment. At least in the Western (and in this respect profoundly Protestant) imagination, what is more given to forming bonds than faith or belief? To believe in some being, to have faith in that being, is to tie yourself to it in a highly committed way. If religion is a matter of belief, then it is nothing if not a matter of connection. This is surely yet another way to cash out the often proposed etymological root of the word ‘religion’ in *leig, ‘to bind’. For social theorists, the link between religion and connection has evidenced itself both in the assumption that relations of belief are strong ones, and in the claim from Durkheim forward that the bonds between people who share beliefs in the same things – for example, in gods, or ideas or values – are also unusually strong. And this double assumption of a link between religion and connection remains as true today as in the past. For example, some of the currently most important and influential work in the anthropology of religion is focused on religious mediation: the very problem of how to make the presence of deities evidence so that people can connect to them and can form communities around these connections. If religion is all about connections in the ways I have just listed, we might ask, what room can there be to introduce detachment into discussions on this subject?
I am going to approach the problem raised by the question of how to think about detachment in relation to religion in two ways here. I first want to go over some pretty well-known ground concerning Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity by means of a slightly different path than usual and to use the results of this exercise to make a point about the role of detachment in Christianity more generally and in other monotheistic faiths. I hope this part of the chapter helps us further the task of exploring differences between kinds of detachments and the social roles they can play by laying out one influential religious family of detachment dynamics in very clear terms. I then turn to the relationship between anthropologists who study Christians and the Christians that they study. As it happens, anthropologists often find this relationship somewhat fraught precisely because they worry over the way, as Elias would have it, involvement and detachment balance out on their side of these relationships. In conclusion, I suggest that the options I make about detachment in my discussion of Pentecostal Christianity can help us think through the problems of involvement and detachment anthropologists of Christianity experience in the field, and I will consider how both of these analyses of detachment can contribute to a broader theoretical investigation into the way social relations are constituted.
Robbins, Joel. 2015. Ritual, value, and example: on the perfection of cultural representations. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(s1):18-29.
Abstract: For modes of thinking influenced by the fact/value distinction, values are often defined as in some sense unreal. Against this view, I argue that values exist in the form of socially concrete, enacted examples. In making this argument, I define examples as representations that model the realization of single values in full form – forms that are not common in daily life because most actions are driven by a mix of diverse value considerations. I further suggest that rituals are a key social form in which exemplary representations of values are made socially available. I illustrate this argument by analysing two important rituals among the Urapmin of Papua New Guinea, and by exploring several innovative Urapmin rituals that have failed to become established because, I suggest, they do not provide examples of fully realized values.
Telban, Borut. 2013. The power of place: Spatio-temporality of a Melanesian religious movement. Anthropological Notebooks 19(3):81–100.
Abstract: Over the years, several different renewal movements within Christianity have had a significant impact on Melanesian societies and cultures. In people’s aspirations for total transformation, however, there has often appeared one insurmountable obstacle: a firm bond between being and place. The Ambonwari people of the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea have faced the same problem since the Catholic charismatic movement reached the village in December 1994. Their cosmology and social organization have always been inseparable from their paths (journeys, marriages, exchanges, adoptions) and places (places of mythological ancestors, old and new villages, places of other groups, places for processing sago, fishing places, taboo places, camps), and their historicity was primarily perceived and defined in terms of place. The adherents of the Catholic charismatic movement attempt to abolish their emplaced past, transcend their territorial boundaries, and simultaneously modify their places. Because Ambonwari cosmology dealt with multiple spatio-temporalities, however, Catholic charismatic leaders find it difficult to undermine this diversity. It is this multiplicity of emplaced historicities that troubles them most and not simply time per se.
Handman, Courtney. 2014. Becoming the Body of Christ: Sacrificing the Speaking Subject in the Making of the Colonial Lutheran Church in New Guinea. Current Anthropology DOI:10.1086/678283
Abstract: In this paper I argue for the important role of churches and denominations in anthropological analyses of Protestant Christianity. While many authors have emphasized subjects and subjectivity in their discussions of Protestant individualism, I argue that Protestant individualism puts greater, not less, emphasis on Christian social groups as moral formations. Denominationalism cannot be reduced to the intrusion of politics into religious practice without repeating the structures that underscore the secularization hypothesis. In order to explore this issue, I analyze the missiological theories and strategies behind the colonial Lutheran Mission New Guinea’s attempts to constitute Christian institutions of sacred unity while also confronting the problem of New Guinea’s extraordinary linguistic diversity. In opting to evangelize in church languages that they would teach to potential converts rather than in using local vernacular languages, the mission began to equate real Christian conversion with the capacity of local people to overcome ethnic or linguistic differences. Contrary to analyses that identify sincere speakerhood as the crucial component of Protestant practice, I argue that the Lutheran Mission sacrificed sacred speaking for the creation of sacred Christian groups as remnant churches.
Barker, John. 2014. The One and the Many: Church-Centered Innovations in a Papua New Guinean Community. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678291
Abstract: The emerging field of the anthropology of Christianity appears suspended between two poles: a concern with understanding the continuous and relatively coherent traits of the religious tradition as a whole (the “One”), and the documentation of the highly contingent forms found in local communities (the “Many”). This tension, in turn, feeds sometimes intense debates about whether conversion to Christianity along the modern missionary frontier is best understood as rupture from or continuity with indigenous cultural forms and understandings. While such binaries have been highly productive, they are still misleading, because many if not most Christians do not experience the religion in such terms but rather largely in the context of institutionalized rituals, dogmas, and church organizations. I illustrate this point by examining the ways the Maisin people of Papua New Guinea have both adjusted and adapted to Anglicanism over the past century through three modes I describe as “accommodations,” “repurposings,” and “spandrels.” Studying such institutional configurations, I suggest, provides anthropologists a strategic point to consider local versions of Christianity as both One and Many.
Handman, Courtney. 2015. Critical Christianity: Translation and Denominational Conflict in Papua New Guinea (The Anthropology of Christianity). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Publisher’s Description: In Critical Christianity, Courtney Handman analyzes the complex and conflicting forms of sociality that Guhu-Samane Christians of rural Papua New Guinea privilege and celebrate as “the body of Christ.” Within Guhu-Samane churches, processes of denominational schism – long relegated to the secular study of politics or identity – are moments of critique through which Christians constitute themselves and their social worlds. Far from being a practice of individualism, Protestantism offers local people ways to make social groups sacred units of critique. Bible translation, produced by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, is a crucial resource for these critical projects of religious formation. From early interaction with German Lutheran missionaries to engagements with the Summer Institute of Linguistics to the contemporary moment of conflict, Handman presents some of the many models of Christian sociality that are debated among Guhu-Samane Christians. Central to the study are Handman’s rich analyses of the media through which this critical Christian sociality is practiced, including language, sound, bodily movement, and everyday objects. This original and thought-provoking book is essential reading for students and scholars of anthropology and religious studies.
Kelly-Hanku, Angela, Peter Aggleton, and Patti Shih. 2014. ‘We call it a virus but I want to say it’s the devil inside’: Redemption, moral reform and relationships with God among people living with HIV in Papua New Guinea. Social Science & Medicine 119: 106-113.
Abstract: There is growing recognition of the importance of religion and religious beliefs as they relate to the experience of HIV, globally and in Papua New Guinea in particular. Based on 36 in-depth qualitative interviews conducted with people living with HIV receiving HIV antiretroviral therapy in 2008, this paper examines the cultural aetiology of HIV of in Papua New Guinea, the country with the highest reported burden of HIV in the Pacific. Narratives provided drew upon a largely moral framework, which viewed HIV acquisition as a consequence of moral failing and living an un-Christian life. This explanation for suffering viewed the individual as responsible for their condition in much the same way that neo-liberal biomedical discourses do. Moral reform and re-establishing a relationship with God were seen as key actions necessary to effect healing on the material body infected with HIV. Religious understandings of HIV drew upon a pre-existing cultural aetiology of dis-ease and misfortune widespread in Papua New Guinea. Understanding the centrality of Christianity to explanations of disease, and subsequently the actions necessary to bring about health, is essential in order to understand how people with HIV in receipt of antiretroviral therapies internalise biomedical perspectives and reconcile these with Christian beliefs.
Cox, John and Martha Macintyre. 2014. “Christian Marriage, Money Scams, and Melanesian Social Imaginaries.” Oceania 84(2): 138-157.
Abstract: In this paper, we draw on fieldwork with middle-class investors in ‘fast money schemes’ (Ponzi scams) to consider how Neo-Pentecostal Christianity may be mediating social and economic change in Papua New Guinea, particularly in relation to gender equality. Ideas of companionate marriage and the cultivation of an affective self imply masculinities that are more sensitive and less domineering. As these images of fulfilled modernity flow out from Pentecostal churches into broader Papua New Guinean society, they corroborate Taylor’s theory of how change occurs within the modern social imaginary.
Stornig, Katharina. 2013. Sisters Crossing Boundaries: German Missionary Nuns in Colonial Togo and New Guinea, 1897–1960. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Publisher’s Description: The last third of the 19th century witnessed a considerable increase in the active participation of women in the various Christian missions. Katharina Stornig focusses onthe Catholic case, and particularly explores the activities and experiences of German missionary nuns, the so-called Servants of the Holy Spirit,in colonial Togo and New Guinea in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Introducing the nuns’ ambiguous roles as travelers, evangelists, believers, domestic workers, farmers, teachers, and nurses, Stornig highlights the ways in which these women shaped and were shaped by the missionary encounter and how they affected colonial societies more generally. Privileging the sources produced by nuns (i.e. letters, chronicles and reports) and emphasizing their activities, Sisters Crossing Boundaries profoundly challenges the frequent depiction of women and particularly nuns as the largely passive observers of the missionizing and colonizing activities of men. Stornig does not stop at adding women to the existing historical narrative of mission in Togo and New Guinea, but presents the hopes and strategies that German nuns related to the imagination and practice of empire. She also discusses the effects of boundary-crossing, both real and imagined, in the context of religion, gender and race.