Abstract: In this introduction the theme of prayer is brought into an anthropological discussion. Attending to prayers and how they are performed and seen to intervene in a social world is a significant way to engage with matters close to people. As argued in this introduction, prayers are a way to map affect and affective relationships people hold in what they are oriented towards and care about. Here a social perspective on prayer taking its cue from Marcel Mauss is particularly relevant as it invites us to go beyond the individual and see how prayers always point to a broader landscape. The reason for honing in on the social life of prayers is that it entices a particular form of situated comparison of diverse forms of Christianity that thereby pushes the anthropology of Christianity to consider central questions of agency, responsibility and subjectivity. This introduction argues that attending to the social life of prayers can be seen as a way of mapping affect. Prayers in different ways attest to the implicatedness of human beings in a social world. Furthermore, prayer works as a didactic tool and is in itself an internal scale of comparison and evaluation in various Christian formulations
Bruno Reinhardt, “Praying until Jesus returns: commitment and prayerfulness among charismatic Christians in Ghana” Religion, published online 14 November 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1225907
Abstract: Charismatic Christians in Ghana display heterogeneous intensities of personal piety, often mapped out by believers to levels of ‘spiritual maturation’. In this article, I examine the devotional routines of ‘committed’ Christians, individuals recognized as ‘prayerful’ subjects. Through Marcel Mauss’ incidental definition of prayer as an ‘expenditure of physical and moral energy’, I investigate ethnographically the methods whereby prayerfulness comes about. I argue that charismatic prayer is not a discernible object of inquiry, but an ongoing field of ethical problematization driven forward by two modes of physical and moral expenditure: habit and anticipation. From this angle, spiritual maturity indicates not a durable ethical asset, but a continuous effort to produce homeostatic balance between these embodied temporal forces. I conclude by stressing how attention to the internal goods of prayer allow us to integrate vulnerability within religious projects, instead of reducing it to an external causal force, as in most deprivation theories of religion.
McGowin, Emily Hunter. 2016. “Praying for More: Motherhood in the American Quiverfull Movement.” In Angels on Earth: Mothering, Religion, and Spirituality. Vanessa Reimer, ed. 73-90. Bradford, Ontario: Demeter Press.
Excerpt: I researched the lives of Quiverfull mothers through in-depth interviews from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2015. My aim was fairly simple: to allow Quiverfull mothers to tell the stories of their life’s work in their own words. I discovered that many families experience significant tensions within their patriarchal discourse because of the expanded practice of motherhood at work in the Quiverfull subculture.
Simion Pop, ‘I’ve tempted the saint with my prayer!’ Prayer, charisma and ethics in Romanian eastern orthodox Christianity, Religion. Early online publication: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1225908
Abstract: Marcel Mauss’ perspective on prayer has the merit of revealing the complex relations between individual experience, sociality and efficacy of prayer. In this article I propose a particular ethical perspective on prayer and these complex relations and also a new ethnographic territory for studying situational, relational and personal practices of prayer. Considering the ethical orientation towards contemporary saints within the Romanian Eastern Orthodox revival milieu I introduce the notion of charismatic exemplar in order to open up the analytical space for studying prayer as ethical practice. I argue that relational ethics reveals that prayer practices work efficaciously within the everyday web of constitutive ethical relationships and are replete with ethical insights into these relationships’ concrete social and historical constitution. Within the Orthodox revival milieu the ethical capacities of engaging in social relationships are prayerfully shaped at the intersection of self-cultivation in terms of an authoritative tradition, charismatic authority/exemplarity and social-historical conditions.
Naomi Haynes, 2016. “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way: language and personhood on the Zambian Copperbelt,” Religion, early online publication: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1225906
Abstract: This article examines the role of prayer in the production of the Pentecostal person on the Zambian Copperbelt. While Pentecostal prayer is partly focused on private concerns, and therefore reinforces a classic Protestant notion of bounded, individualised personhood, success in this practice depends on a believer’s ability to incorporate the language of the Pentecostal community. Prayer is also therefore dependent on a model of personhood in which permeability has an important part to play. One of the implications of this latter element of Pentecostal prayer is that it turns individual believers into iconic representations of their communities.
Abstract: This article attempts to push Mauss’ work on the sociality of prayer (1909) to its fullest conclusion by arguing that prayer can be viewed anthropologically as providing a map for social and emotional relatedness. Based on fieldwork among deep-sea fisher families living in Gamrie, North-East Scotland (home to 700 people and six Protestant churches), the author takes as his primary ethnographic departure the ritual of the ‘mid-week prayer meeting’. Among the self-proclaimed ‘fundamentalists’ of Gamrie’s Brethren and Presbyterian churches, attending the prayer meeting means praying for salvation. Yet, contrary to the stereotype of Protestant soteriology as highly individualist, in the context of Gamrie, salvation is not principally focused upon the self, but is instead sought on behalf of the ‘unconverted’ other. Locally, this ‘other’ is made sense of with reference to three different categories of relatedness: the family, the village and the nation. The author’s argument is that each category of relatedness carries with it a different affective quality: anguish for one’s family, resentment toward one’s village, and resignation towards one’s nation. As such, prayers for salvation establish and maintain not only vertical – human-divine – relatedness, but also horizontal relatedness between persons, while also giving them their emotional tenor. In ‘fundamentalist’ Gamrie, these human relationships, and crucially their affective asymmetries, may be mapped, therefore, by treating prayers as social phenomena that seek to engage with a world dichotomised into vice and virtue, rebellion and submission, and, ultimately, damnation and salvation.
Abstract: Mauss’ seminal doctoral thesis, On Prayer , captured the social character of prayer, but he sidelined the rosary as a merely mechanical prayer of repetition. This article also finds repetition at play in the rosary, as it is performed in the shrine of Our Lady of Soufanieh, Damascus, in pre-2011 Syria. However, it argues that repetition need not be conceptualised as dulling and inhibiting for the devotee. Rather, repetition can be seen like a heartbeat: something alive and pulsating. The repetition of the prayers among the followers is seen as unforced, a voluntary response to a grace already bestowed upon them by the Virgin Mary and Christ. Prayers are a response to this grace and, in this sense, repetition is to be understood as re-petition. This re-petition is seen as modelling the individual in the image of the Virgin Mary and, by this, exemplifying the saintly character of the devout.
Abstract:This article examines how religious beliefs and practices influence the reception of international relief and development aid in impoverished communities. Specifically, I explain how Nicaraguan recipients’ prayers both enhance and constrain their ability to assert themselves as “empowered” actors during aid interactions. Data come from observations and interviews over a two-year period with 81 Nicaraguans in communities that receive aid from Christian development organizations. Compared to secular constructions of aid interactions, prayers provide space for Nicaraguans to position themselves as influential actors effecting change for themselves or their families. Through prayers, recipients portray themselves as influencing the actions of more powerful parties, including God and potential donors. They also pray for donors’ well-being, thereby offering spiritual reciprocity for material gifts. However, the same prayers that empower individuals at the interpersonal level constrain their ability to envision transformation of social structures. These findings shape understandings of prayer as aligning actions, of the moral and social dimensions of receiving care from strangers, and of the complex and contradictory ways religious practices influence discourses of empowerment and development.
Abstract: This paper focuses on contemporary charismatic Christian practices of spiritual warfare and its techniques of warfare prayer. The paradigm of “global spiritual warfare” with its apocalyptic visions, violent language and its obsession with enemies, appears as a particularly polemical instance of Christian supersessionism and expansionism. Drawing on material from Nigeria and the United States, I briefly explore two related axes in order to bring to light the centrality of prayer conceived as a form of political praxis. First, the ways in which charismatic Christianity self-consciously and antagonistically constructs itself as a global force. In this global expansion, prayer as an embodied form of inspired speech is central both to the construction of militant subjects and the occupation of public space. Secondly, since the violence of spiritual warriors is mostly effected through their prayers and testimonies, we are led to question the place of an activist, pragmatist, or even performative model of truth for a political problematics of emancipation and democratization.
Luehrmann, Sonja. 2015. The politics of prayer books: Delegated intercession, names, and community boundaries in the Russian Orthodox Church. Journal of Religious and Political Practice. Early online publication.
Abstract: Prayer is most easily conceived of as political speech when it is a spontaneous practice showing individual and group reactions to current events. Where prayer is a routinized activity involving the recitation of canonical texts, interpreters locate politics in the disciplining of bodies and acts of claiming space. This paper takes inspiration from ethnographies of oral ritual performance and Quranic recitation to include texts and the delegation of speech roles in the analysis of recited prayer. Most Russian Orthodox Christians either pray from a prayer book or order such prayers to be said by specialists. Focusing on the use of baptismal names as indexical elements in intercessory prayer, I argue that Orthodox Christian textual practices sustain a particular form of fractal social authority. Standardized prayer texts synchronize lay and delegated clerical voices, while individualizing responsibility for non-Orthodox kin and acquaintances. Through analyzing canonical and non-canonical intercessory formulae, one can see that part of the political force of prayer lies in constructing community boundaries while dynamically readjusting them.