2018 Preaching as Performance, October 26-28, Calgary, Alberta.
By: Kyle Byron (University of Toronto)
In October of 2018, the Department of Classics and Religion at University of Calgary, in conjunction with the biannual meeting of the Collectif d’Anthropologie et d’Histoire du Spirituel et des Affects, hosted an interdisciplinary conference titled Preaching as Performance. The goal of the conference was “to foster research on the anthropology and history of religious teaching and public communication by providing an occasion for the interdisciplinary and comparative analysis of preaching as a performance event,” focusing specifically on “the way preaching uses theatrical, material, sensory, linguistic, and affective resources to produce religious sentiment, form religious subjects, and transmit doctrinal messages.” The conference’s 28 presenters included anthropologists, historians, religious studies scholars, and dramatists. While the call emphasized that preaching as a form of performance cuts across religious traditions, roughly two-thirds of the conference’s presenters focused on the Christian tradition. Nonetheless, the conference was historically and geographically diverse, with presentations on preaching traditions in Canada, China, France, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Japan, Nigeria, and the United States. Continue reading
Hall, Amy Cox. 2018. “Living on a Prayer: neo-monasticism and socio-ecological change.” Religion. Vol 48.
Abstract: Neo-monasticism, including the desire to live in Christian intentional community, is increasingly popular in the United States. Communities are structured around a rule or shared covenant that outlines the parameters of living in community. Daily prayer is often a central feature to neo-monastic life as is an emphasis on socio-ecological justice. Drawing on recent Christian theology about gardens, a popular neo-monastic book of common prayer, interviews with practitioners of neo-monasticism, and fieldwork conducted with a nascent neo-monastic community in the southeastern United States, this article argues that prayer acts as a religious technology of the self for socio-ecological change. Through prayer, participants of intentional communities change, and this in turn leads to acts that alter the socio-ecological worlds around them.
Presterudstuen, Geir Henning. 2015. Performing Masculinity Through Christian Devotion: Methodism, Manhood and Colonial Mimicry in Fiji. Interventions, early online publication.
Abstract: Although the academic research on religion in Fiji and the South Pacific is substantial, there are few examples of studies that connect religion with the larger discourses of Fijian tradition and social life. Even fewer are the ones linking culturally specific notions of gender performances to Christian devotion. By utilizing the theoretical framework of colonial mimicry,1
I argue that the Christianization of Fiji, particularly its continued impact on the social organization of modern Fijian society, has been reliant upon its collusion with premodern Fijian notions of gender, power and consanguinity. Based on historical enquiries and ethnographic material, I develop the argument that while conversion may be understood as the conscious adoption and mimicking of the western notion of religion as presented by Wesleyan misGeir Henning Presterudstuensionaries in the 1800s, the Fijian understanding of their Christianity, the merging between Christian belief and Fijian social protocol and the consequent development of culturally specific articulations of Christian devotion have produced substantial differences from western theological practice and teaching. A central distinction is the close link between performances of masculinity and Christian devotion found among Fijian Methodists.
Willenbrink, Hank. 2014. The Act of Being Saved: Hell House and the Salvific Performative. Theatre Journal 66(1): 73-92.
Excerpt: …Can a ritual designed to convert take the form of a theatrical performance? Moreover, can we take these conversions to be sincere, given their birth in an amateur performance with a predilection for excessive, violent theatrics? Whether or not one agrees with how conversions are brought about, Hell Houses are triggering changes in their audiences—people are being “saved” by theatre. While performance theory explains how Hell House works, the performance’s ability to alter faith exposes the limits of our contemporary theoretical foundations with regard to performances espousing religious belief.
This essay analyzes how Hell House performances operate and theorizes how conversions can occur within theatrical representation. As religious rhetoric continually fuels our political climate, an examination of Hell House offers the opportunity to understand how an audience member can change through representation. I have coined the term salvific performative to refer to the embodied act connected to religious conversion. The utterance “I take Jesus Christ to be my personal Lord and Savior” is this act. It is salvific because these are words concerning salvation, and a performative because the utterance is “doing something rather than merely saying something.” The performative alters the biography and identity of one enacting a new faith. In Hell House, because of the reliance upon theatrical mechanisms, the salvific performative is intricately tied to the production. Given the salvific performative’s scope, by virtue of its connection to conversion, its usefulness as a theoretical term has far-reaching potential. My goal is not to describe all conversions, but to show, through a thorough interrogation of the salvific performative in Hell House, how a conversion is tied to its context; that is to say, a convert does not change his or her faith apropos of nothing. To understand conversion, we must understand the context from which a change of religious faith emerges. In the case of Hell House, the salvific performative is one way by which a spectator changes from a passive observer of theatrically represented reality into a participant in the reality articulated through the representation. Thus, a spectator turned convert in Hell House sees theatrical artifice as “truth.”
Tomlinson, Matt. 2014. Ritual Textuality: Pattern and Motion in Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Publisher’s Description: A classic question in studies of ritual is how ritual performances achieve-or fail to achieve-their effects. In this pathbreaking book, Matt Tomlinson argues that participants condition their own expectations of ritual success by interactively creating distinct textual patterns of sequence, conjunction, contrast, and substitution. Drawing on long-term research in Fiji, the book presents in-depth studies of each of these patterns, taken from a wide range of settings: a fiery, soul-saving Pentecostal crusade; relaxed gatherings at which people drink the narcotic beverage kava; deathbeds at which missionaries eagerly await the signs of good Christians’ “happy deaths”; and the monologic pronouncements of a military-led government determined to make the nation speak in a single voice. In each of these cases, Tomlinson also examines the broad ideologies of motion which frame participants’ ritual actions, such as Pentecostals’ beliefs that effective worship requires ecstatic movement like jumping, dancing, and clapping, and nineteenth-century missionaries’ insistence that the journeys of the soul in the afterlife should follow a new path. By approaching ritual as an act of “entextualization”-in which the flow of discourse is turned into object-like texts-while analyzing the ways people expect words, things, and selves to move in performance, this book presents a new and compelling way to understand the efficacy of ritual action.
Tomlinson, Matt. 2012. “God Speaking to God: Translation and unintelligibility at a Fijian Pentecostal crusade” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 23(3):274–289
Abstract: In December 2008, a team of American Pentecostals visited Fiji and conducted ‘crusades’ in a public park. In this article, I show how a sermon and altar call at one of the performances modelled for listeners a particular quality of the believer’s relation to the otherness of God, figured via linguistic otherness. The American preacher and his Fijian translator approached the event as a teaching opportunity. They explained to audience members how to pray for repentance and how to speak in tongues (glossolalia) and stated that when a person spoke in tongues, this was really the Holy Ghost ‘praying through’ a person. In glossolalia, the words are supposed to be semantically unintelligible, pointing to the otherworldly, even miraculous, fact of their utterance; but pragmatically, their utterance is supposed to manifest the Holy Ghost’s presence in the speaker, and this presence is held to be the meaning that matters.
Giselle Vincett, Elizabeth Olson, Peter Hopkins, and Rachel Pain. 2012. Young People and Performance Christianity in Scotland. Journal of Contemporary Religion. 27(2): 275-290.
Abstract: Based upon qualitative research in Glasgow, Scotland, this article examines transformations in religious identity and practices of young socially and economically included Christians, aged 16–27. The authors argue that young people’s religiosity has been shaped by large-scale social trends in the West, including secularisation and pluralisation. They argue that these influences have promoted a religiosity that de-emphasises propositional belief systems in favour of what they call ‘performance Christianity’, which highlights religious action in the everyday or secular, combined with a discourse of authenticity and a pluralistic approach to institutions and religious spaces. Finally, the authors consider the ways in which young people’s performance Christianity destabilises traditional ideas about belief and what it means to be Christian.
Stadler, Nurit (2011) “Between scripture and performance: cohesion and dissent at the Feast of Mary’s Dormition in Jerusalem,” Religion [advance copy – volume, issue, & page to be announced later]
Abstract: In contrast to popular Marian rites throughout the world, the Jerusalem Dormition Feast is held on a canonical route that includes the purported sites of some of the key moments in the Virgin’s life. The festival boasts an ancient liturgical order consisting of utterances and customs that are assiduously preserved by Jerusalem’s Greek-Orthodox Church. Drawing on Engelke’s distinction (2007) between scriptural authority and religious performance and numerous scholarly analyses of cohesion and dissent at assorted Marian shrines (e.g., Eade and Sallnow ), this article explores the reactions to the local ceremonial on the part of various participants. While the clergy strives to impose its particular reading of the Scriptures on all the attendees, the different lay groups insist on performing rituals that give expression to their own knowledge of the canon and their own understanding of the Virgin’s nature. All told, their reactions range from rigid obedience to creative practices and heated dissent. The event ultimately splinters off into several factions and the host’s orderly script is compromised.