Bielo, “Flower, soil, water, stone”

Bielo, James S. “Flower, soil, water, stone: Biblical landscape items and Protestant materiality.” Journal of Material Culture. First Published June 18, 2018

Protestants mobilize objects such as ‘Holy Land’ flowers, Jordan River stones, vials of Dead Sea water, sand from Lake Tiberias, and Golgotha soil as potent metonymic resources, promising a kind of direct access to the scriptural past and its sacred stories. This article uses this case of biblical landscape items to reflect on the historic ambivalence that characterizes Protestant relations with religious materiality. Building on scholarship that has demonstrated the prolific role of religious materiality in Protestant ritual and everyday lifeworlds, the author extends this analysis by asking: under what conditions do Protestants experience materiality as untroubled and under what conditions is a more anxious disposition activated? To differentiate among conditions, the author proposes that it is helpful to conceptualize Protestant engagements with materiality vis-à-vis legitimized frames (e.g. pedagogy, devotion, evangelism, entertainment). Drawing together archival and ethnographic data, primarily among US Protestants, the article argues that when Protestants function within legitimized frames they are prone to embrace biblical landscape items, but when they find themselves out of frame, their engagement with this particular species of materiality becomes troubled.

Hovland, “Beyond Mediation”

Hovland, Ingie. 2018. Beyond Mediation: An Anthropological Understanding of the Relationship Between Humans, Materiality, and Transcendence in Protestant Christianity. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 86(2): 425-453. 

Abstract: How does a relationship come about between religious practitioners and supernatural beings? According to the mediation turn—which has recently taken hold in the material religion field and the anthropology of religion—religious communities use sensational forms to mediate the presence of an otherwise invisible transcendent. This article will apply the mediation framework to a case study of a particular Protestant group—namely world-renouncing, evangelical missionaries in nineteenth-century Southern Africa. I will argue that in this case the concept of mediation limits our understanding of the multiple God-human relationships involved. This raises questions concerning how and in which contexts the mediation turn can be analytically useful. In conclusion, the article will suggest that there is a dynamic range of modes of relating God and humans in Protestant Christianity, including modes that go beyond mediation.

Pedersen, “The Politics of Paradox”

Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2017. “The Politics of Paradox: Kierkegaardian theology and national conservatism in Denmark.” In Distortion: Social Processes Beyond the Structured and Systemic, edited by Nigel Rappaport, 84-106. London: Routledge

In the autumn of 2010, an article with the headline ‘DF [Dansk Folkeparti, Danish Peoples’ Party]: The Concept of Menneskesyn Does Not Exist’ was printed in the Danish centre-left newspaper Politiken. The piece begins with the journalist describing how one councillor for the Criminal Justice Department, a Louise Aagard Larsen, had visited a prison. Here, an inmate had asked her to explain the Danish Peoples’ Party’s (henceforth DF) menneskesyn (lit. ‘vision of humanity’, meaning general concept of humanity, including notions of whether humans are good or bad, and how they should treat each other). Realizing that she did not know how to answer, Ms Larsen sent an email to the press office of DF. ‘The reply surprised her’, explains the journalist, and then cites the email that Ms Larsen received from Kenneth Kristensen Berth, who presented himself as ‘an MA in sociology and history’, and as someone speaking on behalf of the press office of DF (Berth later ran for parliament and is now a Danish MP for DF):

The concept menneskesyn has been invented for the occasion to criticise the Danish Peoples’ Party for our position regarding foreigners and immigrants. The concept has been launched by the left and it is totally devoid of meaning, so one cannot answer your question.

Huang and Hu, “Becoming Christians”

Huang, Jianbo and Mengyin Hu.  2017. Becoming Christians: Prayers and subject formation in an urban church in China.  Approaching Religion 1(7): 46-54.

Abstract: Prayers in Christianity are often considered to be a theological or pastoral topic; while social scientific studies generally tend to reduce them, like prayers in other religious contexts, to the status of psychological responses bringing comfort to the practitioner, or a collective construction connected with social and cultural institutions. However, what prayer actually is, and what it means to Christians who practise it remains an open issue for further, more intensive and thorough study. Based on fieldwork in an urban church in China, this article provides some perspectives on contemporary Chinese Christians and their prayer life, attempting to elaborate its possible significance, especially in terms of subject-formation processes within these Christians. Meanwhile, this article argues that, in working towards a better understanding of Christians, it is more efficacious to take ‘Christians’ as those who are, rather than a given or acquired identity, or a status of being, engaged in a process of becoming through a practice, or set of practices, which in this case is prayer,. Moreover, in the case of this Chinese Christian church, the practise of prayer also indicates some reflections on the cultural and religious diversity of contemporary Chinese society.

Koosa, “Negotiating Faith and Identity”

Koosa, Piret. 2017. Negotiating Faith and Identity in a Komi Village: Protestant Christians in a pro-Orthodox sociocultural environment. Doctoral Dissertation, Institute for Cultural Research and Fine Arts. Tartu: University of Tartu.

Excerpt: This study explores the dynamics of post-Soviet religious life in the Komi Republic, in Northern Russia. After the demise of communism and the Soviet Union, the question of identity has been a central concern in Russia as well as in the Komi Republic. Consequently, religion has acquired an important social role as it is a means of creating and sustaining identity and culture. Religions which are perceived as “new” or “foreign”, however, have gained more and more negative attention since the mid 1990’s. Following the religious freedom law in 1990, numerous (locally) “new” religious groups began appearing. These faiths were introduced and promoted by foreign missionaries. One Russian peculiarity is that some of these religious groups, which are quite mainstream in other parts of the world, are termed “new”, despite their often actually having had a considerable history within Russia as well. Protestant Christianity and especially its evangelical offshoots are probably most notable examples of religions holding this peculiar position and being surrounded by popular controversies.

Opas and Haapalainen, eds, “Christianity and the Limits of Materiality”

Opas, Minna and Anna Haapalainen, eds.  2017.  Christianity and the Limits of Materiality.  London: Bloomsbury.

Publisher’s Description: Despite the fact that Christianity is understood to be thoroughly intertwined with matter, objects, and things, Christians struggle to cope with this materiality in their daily lives. This volume argues that the ambivalent relationships many Christians have with materiality is a driving force that contributes to the way people in different Christian traditions and in different parts of the world understand and live out their religion.

By placing the questions of limits and boundary-work to the fore, the volume addresses the question of exactly how Christianity takes place materially, addressing a gap in studies to date. Christianity and the Limits of Materiality presents ground-breaking research on the frameworks and contexts in relation to and within which Christian logics of materiality operate. The volume places the negotiations at the limits of materiality within the larger framework of Christian identities and politics of belonging.
The chapters discuss case studies from North and South America, Europe, and Africa, and demonstrate that the limits preoccupying Christians delimit their lives but also enable many things. Ultimately, Christianity and the Limits of Materiality demonstrates that it is at the interfaces of materiality and the transcendent that Christians create and legitimise their religion.
Contents:
Foreword, David Morgan (Duke University, USA)
Acknowledgements
Introduction, Minna Opas & Anna Haapalainen (University of Turku, Finland)
Part 1: Doubting
1. Spirit Media and the Spectre of the Fake, Marleen de Witte (Unviersity of Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
2. Organic Faith in Amazonia: De-indexification, doubt and Christian corporeality, Minna Opas (University of Turku, Finland)
3. Things not for themselves: idolatry and consecration in Orthodox Ethiopia, Tom Boylston (University of Edinburgh)
Part 2: Sufficing
4. The Bible in the Digital Age: Negotiating the Limits of ‘Bibleness’ of Different Bible Media, Katja Rakow(Heidelberg University, Germany)
5. The Plausibility of Immersion: limits and creativity in materializing the Bible, James Bielo (Miami University, USA)
6.Humanizing the Bible: Limits of materiality in a passion play, Anna Haapalainen (University of Turku, Finland)
7. Semana Santa processions in Granada – Religion or Spectacle? Sari Kuuva (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)
8. The death and rebirth of a crucifix: Materiality and the sacred in Andean vernacular Catholicism, Diego Alonso Huerta (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú / University of Helsinki, Finland)
Part 3: Unbinding
9. Proving the Inner Word: (De)materializing the Spirit in Radical Pietism Elisa Heinämäki (University of Helsinki, Finland)
10. The Return of the Unclean Spirit: Collapse and Relapse in the Baptist rehab ministry Igor Mikeshin (University of Helsinki, Finland)
11. Mimesis and Mediation in the Semana Santa Processions of Granada, Sari Kuuva, University of Jyväskylä
Afterword: Diana Espirito Santo (London School of Economics, UK)

Jung, “The Religious-Political Aspirations of North Korean Migrants”

Jung, Jin-Heon.  2016.  The Religious-Political Aspirations of North Korean Migrants and Protestant Churches in Seoul.  Journal of Korean Religions 7(2): 123-148.

Abstract: This article highlights an aspiration specific to Seoul that is projected onto, experienced, and contested by North Korean refugee-migrants who have recently arrived by way of China in this capitalist city of a divided Korea. I pay particular attention to the role of the evangelical Protestant Church in the process of subjectification of these migrant individuals and the performative rituals by which they negotiate religious-political aspirations toward the future. The bodily-spiritual transformation of individual North Korean migrants into Christians is not strictly teleological and is more complicated, ambivalent, and diversified. By comparing two distinctive North Korean migrant activities—the balloon leaflet campaigns and the With-U music concerts and activities—this article discusses the efficacies of the performative rituals of violence and peace that contest and constitute the particular religious-political aspirations in the context of late-Cold War Seoul.

Bregnbæk, “From Filial Piety to Forgiveness”

Bregnbæk, Susanne.  2016. From Filial Piety to Forgiveness: Managing Ambivalent Feelings in a Beijing House-Church.  Ethos 44(4): 411-426.

Abstract: This article is based on fieldwork in a Chinese Protestant house-church in Beijing—more specifically, it focuses on a form of group therapy, which took place in the vicinity of the church. It combines two phenomena usually studied separately, namely the popularity of Chinese underground churches and China’s so-called “psycho-boom.” Drawing on attachment theory, I focus on the psychic conflicts that draw certain people, in this case a young woman, Lin, to this kind of therapeutic/ritual context. Filial piety, the moral value that children should respect and honor their parents, who have sacrificed so much for them, remains a strong social norm in Chinese society. I argue that forbidden feelings such as anger directed at parents found expression in this Chinese house-church. The ritual and therapeutic context can be understood as a cultural defense mechanism, which celebrates an inversion of dominant societal norms.

Preaching Prevention: Book Review

Boyd, Lydia. 2015. Preaching prevention: born-again Christianity and the moral politics of AIDS in Uganda. Athens: University of Ohio Press.

By: Anna Eisenstein (University of Virginia)

Lydia Boyd’s Preaching Prevention charts two moments in Uganda’s recent history: the roll-out of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Asking what these two cases have in common, Boyd explores Ugandan born again Christians’ engagement with discourses on sexuality and health in the midst of rapid urbanization, neoliberal global health policies, and the international sexual rights movement. In classic anthropological fashion, she finds that “indigenous moral logics” animate and valorize specific sexual practices in this particular historical and cultural context. Far from a unidirectional “export” of American approaches to care and treatment, Ugandan born-again Christians re-oriented and re-purposed US-directed messages about sexuality and personal agency in light of longstanding, locally relevant models of hierarchal interdependence. By documenting the distinctive motivations of Ugandan Christians, the book forms an important corrective to assumptions that Ugandan Christian attitudes and activisms merely parrot American Christianity, or that the beliefs and interests of American and Ugandan Christians are interchangeable.

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Brison, “Teaching Neoliberal Emotions”

Brison, Karen J.  2016. Teaching Neoliberal Emotions through Christian Pedagogies in Fijian Kindergartens.  Ethos 44(2): 133-149.

Abstract: This article examines a Fijian kindergarten using Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), a curriculum produced by an American corporation for Christian homeschoolers, which combines academic and emotion pedagogies. Pedagogies prompting children to label, reflect on, and control their emotions are popular in American schools and said to develop skills necessary to be self-directed, risk-taking entrepreneurs under neoliberalism. In contrast, in Fiji, children educated with the ACE curriculum are told that feeling the correct emotions is a “commitment” and that submitting to authority will benefit everyone. The ACE curriculum appears to turn working-class American children and children in peripheral countries like Fiji into submissive workers in corporations while middle-class Euro-American children are socialized to become innovative entrepreneurs. But further examination shows that Fijian parents and teachers see the curriculum as giving their children the proper skills to succeed in a world outside of Fiji.