Abstract: This article discusses the exorcism of Protestant spirits from Ethiopian Orthodox hosts in Addis Ababa. This controversial ritual is animated by injunctions to draw essential distinctions and boundaries between Protestantism and Orthodoxy, at a time of religious liberalisation. The expulsion of Protestant spirits provides an occasion to reaffirm the centrality of local Orthodoxy to Ethiopian identity, construing Protestantism as a foreign religion at odds with the country’s ancient Orthodox history. However, this ritual project is marked by profound ambiguities, as exorcism’s means, aesthetics and themes are suspiciously similar to those characteristic of Protestantism. By foregrounding ritual ambiguity, I argue that exorcism publically exposes and vividly magnifies the irreparable permeability of the very inter-religious boundaries that it seeks to demarcate. In contrast to classic understandings of ritual as an ordering process, exorcism rituals become hazardous events that balance uncertainly on the edge of the ever-present risk of becoming the other.
Abstract: During a Christian revival movement on Ahamb Island in Vanuatu in 2014, gender- and age-based hierarchies were inverted as women and children were given divine authority and men were positioned as threats to sociopolitical renewal. In analysing these events, I develop Kapferer’s insights on the inherent openness and unpredictability of ritual dynamics. However, I argue that such openness and unpredictability can also be tied to external factors including participants’ multiple and sometimes incompatible values and interests. Attempts to resolve ambiguities in ritual may eventually feed back into ritual ideology and practice in ways that make participants’ experiences disturbing and problematic rather than orderly and supportive.
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.
Description: The call to contemplative Christianity is not an easy one. Those who answer it set themselves to the arduous task of self-reformation through rigorous study and practice, learned through the teachings of monks and nuns and the writings of ancient Christian mystics, often in isolation from family and friends. Those who are dedicated can spend hours every day in meditation, prayer, liturgy, and study. Why do they come? Indeed, how do they find their way to the door at all?
Based on nearly four years of research among semi-cloistered Christian monastics and a dispersed network of non-monastic Christian contemplatives across the United States and around the globe, The Monk’s Cell shows how religious practitioners in both settings combined social action and intentional living with intellectual study and intensive contemplative practices in an effort to modify their ways of knowing, sensing, and experiencing the world. Organized by the metaphor of a seeker journeying towards the inner chambers of a monastic chapel, The Monk’s Cell uses innovative “intersubjective fieldwork” methods to study these opaque, interiorized, often silent communities, in order to show how practices like solitude, chant, contemplation, attention, and a paradoxical capacity to combine ritual with intentional “unknowing” develop and hone a powerful sense of communion with the world.
Isabella Kasselstrand, Phil Zuckerman, Robert Little & Donald A. Westbrook (2018) Nonfirmands: Danish youth who choose not to have a Lutheran confirmation, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 33:1, 87-105, DOI: 10.1080/13537903.2018.1408283
Abstract: Most Danish youth participate in the traditional Lutheran ritual of confirmation. However, a growing minority does not. Based on survey data collected in 2011 from over 600 Danish pupils, this study examines the ways in which Danish ‘nonfirmands’ are different from their peers who participate in confirmation in relation to religious background, personal religious beliefs, intellectual engagement, and demographic factors. We further explore key motivations for ‘nonfirmation’ expressed by the nonfirmands in the sample. Broadly speaking, our findings highlight secular socialization and individual beliefs about God as key elements in understanding the nonfirmand and his or her reasons for opting out of confirmation. We expect confirmations to continue to decline in popularity as nonfirmation gains social acceptance, as nonfirmands raise their own children, and as Denmark becomes increasingly secular.
Publisher’s Description: The Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.
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Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.
Farinacci, Elisa. 2017. The Israeli-Palestinian Separation Wall and the Assemblage Theory: The Case of the Weekly Rosary at the Icon of Our Lady of the Wall. Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 11(1): 83-110.
Abstract: In this work I analyse the ethnographic case study of the icon of Our Lady of the Wall as establishing a unique ritual landscape among the cement slabs of the Israeli-Palestinian Wall separating Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Although the Wall has been widely described as a technology of occupation on one side and as a device to ensure security on the other, through Latour’s concept of assemblages I unearth its agency in developing a Christian shrine. Through a decade of weekly recitations of the Rosary along the Wall near Checkpoint 300, the Elizabethan nuns of the Caritas Baby Hospital have been invoking Mary’s help to dismantle the Wall. This weekly ritual represents both political dissent against the bordering action enacted by the Wall, as well as giving visibility to the plea of the Palestinian Christian right to live in this territory in the face of their status as an ethnoreligious minority.
Abstract: Neo-Pentecostalism is notable for its emphasis on “prosperity theology,” the belief that economic prosperity is available to the faithful. Members give monetary offerings in exchange for later blessings of financial prosperity. Despite the faith’s rapid growth worldwide, the influence of prosperity theology on believers’ lives is still being understood. This mixed-method study examines Brazilian neo-Pentecostal rituals through the dual paradigms of religious signaling and cognitive dissonance theory. Signaling theory posits that costly behaviors, such as giving significant sums of money, are honest signs of an individual’s intent toward group cooperation. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that individuals will justify the costly signals required by overvaluing membership in the group. The integration of these two approaches provides a comprehensive model for costly ritual participation by addressing both social and individual motivating factors. This study furthers our understanding of neo-Pentecostalism by examining how prosperity theology rituals influence behaviors, cognitions, and the psychological well-being.
Abstract: This essay is about a group of neo-Pentecostal evangelists who decided to represent their church in the New York Dance Parade, which they regarded as an opportunity to promote worship as the true purpose of art and engage in spiritual warfare. Their participation was predicated on a distinction between “performance” and “ministry,” privileging the latter. I argue that upholding this distinction in the immersive context of a secular festival required a process of intensive ritualization, involving physical and spiritual preparations and symbolic boundary maintenance. I further argue that anthropological perspectives on such instances of public religion should seek to account for how ritual forms produce and are shaped by the effects of what I call proximation, a condition of “closeness” between categories of activity otherwise regarded as separate and autonomous (e.g., religion and the arts). The concept is a means to explore how religious ministries are influenced by ostensibly external factors and the need to manage them, and by the various opportunities, tensions, and moral associations that arise when ritual strategies evoke comparisons with secular genres and domains. The proximations of religion highlight the ethnographic significance of ideal-typical categories and spheres, including their potential to intersect, which is a byproduct of how they have been differentiated.