Falck, “The Thomas-Souls Ministry”

 

The Thomas Souls Ministry is a prayer group founded by Catholics from the middle Sepik. It is led by a spirit of the dead called Thomas who takes possession of a Nyaura (West Iatmul) woman to preach, prophesy, counsel, and heal. While a prominent debate within the Anthropology of Christianity argues for radical change and rupture with the pre‐Christian self and society, I suggest that continuity within change is found in the way my interlocutors have made Christianity their own. I argue that the local concept of the person defined by aspects of dividualism and reflecting ontological premises of people’s lifeworld has strongly influenced the way Christianity was appropriated. In current religious practices people put these premises into action and reinforce them in intersubjective encounters with the divine other. Analysing people’s ‘onto‐praxis’, I argue that the Thomas Souls Ministry can be understood as part of a re‐empowerment process that re‐appropriates local meanings, spirits, and practices despite, and in fact against, the influence of the Catholic mission proselytizing in the region.

Brahinsky, “The effects of scale”

Brahinsky, Josh. 2018. “The effects of scale: How Western agency-anxieties mold affect theory, and how Pentecostalism and neuroscience teach us to think differently.” Anthropological Theory. 18(4).

This paper offers a critique of affect theory using the analytical concept of scale that is made concrete through an ethnography of Pentecostal Christianity and an exploration of current neuroscientific thinking. Affect theory is one recent form of a Western philosophical concern about the loss of agency in modernity, what I call “agency-anxiety.” Affect theorists tend to privilege the sense of freedom gained by immediate and individual experience over the constraints of more extended experiences and collectivity. That is, affect theory often scales its analysis tightly. This paper responds with an ethnography of Pentecostal practice and exploration of work in neuroscience that describes an analytic space in which broader scales can be useful as well. Ethnography scaled beyond the instant reveals that the Pentecostal ideal of surrendering to God in a moment of abandonment often results from a “fake it until you make it” approach; in other words, from extended, effortful, willful practice. This practice leads to the formation of habits and dispositions that allow the attainment of spontaneous rupture. Likewise, neuroscience can scale out its analysis by focusing on dispositions, moods and habits, rather than simply a more immediate view. Further, “scale effects” and emergent properties in scale-to-scale relations undermine reductionism. Finally, because Pentecostals are generally right wing yet also exemplify ruptural practice, it seems that outside of a particular conjuncture, the tightly scaled eruptive moment of affect is by no means per se a productive or (politically) progressive formation. As such, making scale an explicit analytical category might help us to see agency, change, and structure more clearly.

Zetterström-Sharp, “‘I cover myself in the blood of Jesus’: Born Again heritage making in Sierra Leone”

Zetterström-Sharp, Johanna. 2017. “‘I cover myself in the blood of Jesus’: Born Again heritage making in Sierra Leone” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12647

Abstract: This article concerns the risky terrain of heritage management in Sierra Leone and its navigation by devout Born Again Pentecostal Christians. It engages with the ever-expanding Born Again movement and its narrative of rupture, on the one hand, and the increasingly visible heritage sector and its focus on cultural continuity, on the other. These positions appear irreconcilable: one experiences the past as a dangerous satanic realm, the other as a valuable resource. However, as this article explores, they frequently meet in the workplace as many heritage professionals are also Born Again believers. I am interested in this meeting-point as demonic channels and godly practices converge. I argue that Freetown’s Born Again heritage professionals do not succeed in their roles despite their religion, but because of it.

Christianity, Wealth, and Spiritual Power: Book Review

Lauterbach, Karen.  2017.  Christianity, Wealth, and Spiritual Power in Ghana.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

By: Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)

In an important thesis published in 1998, Birgit Meyer showed how making a ‘complete break with the past’ had become a central concern for Ghanaian Pentecostals. Five years later, Joel Robbins’ (2003) piece on the problem of “continuity thinking” (an anthropological bias toward emphasizing cultural continuity) called for “an anthropology of discontinuity”, that further engaged with a self-conscious anthropology of Christianity (see Bialecki et al 2008:138). Since then, the literature on discontinuity and rupture, which takes seriously Christian ideology and Christian attempts to bring about change, has shaped many debates (Meyer 2004; Engelke 2004; Robbins 2007). It has also impacted on how, when I came back from my doctoral fieldwork in 2004, I related to my ethnographic material. While I purposefully moved at the time beyond the public rhetoric of rupture to, instead, reflect on how different groups of Ghanaian Pentecostal believers selectively drew from and struggled with the discourse of discontinuity (Daswani 2007; see also Engelke 2010), the underlying question of what Ghanaian culture brought to Pentecostalism eventually fell – at least for a while – out of focus (Daswani 2015).

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Marshall, “Upward, not sunwise”

Marshall, Kimberly Jenkins. 2016. Upward, not sunwise: resonant rupture in Navajo neo-pentecostalism. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press.

Publisher’s description: Upward, Not Sunwise explores an influential and growing neo-Pentecostal movement among Native Americans characterized by evangelical Christian theology, charismatic “spirit-filled” worship, and decentralized Native control. As in other global contexts, neo-Pentecostalism is spread by charismatic evangelists practicing faith healing at tent revivals.In North America, this movement has become especially popular among the Diné (Navajo), where the Oodlání (“Believers”) movement now numbers nearly sixty thousand members. Participants in this movement value their Navajo cultural identity yet maintain a profound religious conviction that the beliefs of their ancestors are tools of the devil.

Kimberly Jenkins Marshall has been researching the Oodlání movement since 2006 and presents the first book-length study of Navajo neo-Pentecostalism. Key to the popularity of this movement is what the author calls “resonant rupture,” or the way the apparent continuity of expressive forms holds appeal for Navajos, while believers simultaneously deny the continuity of these forms at the level of meaning. Although the music, dance, and poetic language at Oodlání tent revivals is identifiably Navajo, Oodlání carefully re-inscribe their country gospel music, dancing in the spirit, use of the Navajo language, and materials of faith healing as transformationally new and different. Marshall explores these and other nuances of Navajo neo-Pentecostal practices by examining how Oodlání perform their faith under the big white tents scattered across the Navajo Nation.

Marshall, “Non-Human Agency and Experiential Faith”

Marshall, Kimberly Jenkins. 2015. Non-Human Agency and Experiential Faith among Diné Oodlání, “Navajo Believers.” Anthropologica 57(2): 397-409.

Abstract: The neo-Pentecostal Oodlání movement is on the rise among Diné (Navajo) of the US South-West, characterized by independent Navajo-led churches and charismatic worship. In this article, I focus on the experiential nature of neo-Pentecostalism to argue that its growth, over and above other forms of Navajo Christianity, capitalizes on a type of resonant rupture with traditional Navajo spirituality. Specifically, I focus on the Oodlání relationship with non-human (supernatural) actors. While experientiality provides an avenue for deeply felt continuity, a close look at Oodlání non-human actors (and the options for interacting with them) demonstrates that neoPentecostalism fundamentally forges cultural rupture.

Winchester, “Converting to Continuity”

Winchester, Daniel.  2015. Converting to Continuity: Temporality and Self in Eastern Orthodox Conversion Narratives.  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Based on interviews with converts to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the United States, this article documents and analyzes a narrative form in which conversion is described as the progressive discovery of a latent religious self that was part of one’s life all along, or what I term a conversion to continuity. These findings contrast markedly with those of most contemporary conversion research, which emphasize the narration of a dramatic temporal break between converts’ past and present religious selves (epitomized by the evangelical “born-again” genre). I examine how and why temporal continuity was a characteristic feature of these conversion accounts and demonstrate how such narratives helped constitute forms of religious experience and self-identity that differ in important respects from those documented in previous studies. In light of these findings, I argue for a reconceptualization of continuity and discontinuity within processes of religious identity change as an institutionally anchored figure/ground relationship as opposed to an either/or dichotomy. I also highlight promising avenues for future comparative research on the relationships between time, narrative, and subjectivity across religious and secular contexts.

Dulin, “Reversing Rupture: Evangelicals’ Practice of Jewish Rituals and Processes of Protestant Inclusion”

Dulin, John. 2015. “Reversing Rupture: Evangelicals’ Practice of Jewish Rituals and Processes of Protestant Inclusion.’ Anthropological Quarterly 88(3): 601-634. 

Abstract: This article explores how an evangelical community in southern California can embrace disparate worship modalities—formalistic/anti-formalistic, Jewish/Christian—as legitimate and acceptable moral options. It argues that a major engine driving the acceptance of a previously excluded worship form is the way that Jewish rituals become framed within a particular Christian model of time. The meta-ritual discourse of religious leaders and lay people connects the ritual context to other moments in Christian narratives, opening up a pocket of biblical temporality where divine phenomena can crystallize into material worship forms. The model of time I discuss instantiates distinct aspects of Christian metaphysics—immanence/transcendence, spirit/absence/incarnation—at discrete periods in salvation history. The ethnography and argument presented here suggest that attention to discourses that connect different temporal contexts may help us understand how theological ideas drive shifts toward both exclusion and greater inclusion of disparate worship forms in Christian communities.

Harkness, “Basic Kinship Terms: Christian Relations, Chronotopic Formulations, and a Korean Confrontation of Language”

Harkness, Nicholas. 2015.” Basic Kinship Terms: Christian Relations, Chronotopic Formulations, and a Korean Confrontation of Language.” Anthropological Quarterly 88(2):305-336.

Abstract: This ethnographic analysis of the pragmatic links among forms of address, honorifics, and narratives of spiritual maturity clarifies a conflict between two Christian models of social change in South Korea: absolute social rupture and transcendence, and progressive shifts in social orientation and institutional self-location. The focus is on a Protestant proposal for all Korean Christians to address one another with the terms hyŏngje-nim (brother) and chamae-nim (sister). While these terms promised to combine the intimacy of siblinghood with the clear marking of Christian status, they generally had the interactional effect of establishing distance where there was to be closeness and lowering where there was to be esteem. Furthermore, a simplification of address to these two basic kinship terms threatened to establish an ascetic mode of pragmatics that would override the intricate formal coding and indexing of status differentiation by the enregistered honorifics of Korean. Combined, these limited forms of address and the severe restriction of social deixis generated yet further conflict between different chronotopic formulations of social relations, namely between the narrative timespace internal to specific kinds of Korean social relations, and the generalized external narrative timespace of modern Korean Christian society at large.

Premawardhana, “Conversion and Convertibility”

Premawardhana, Devaka. 2015. “Conversion and Convertibility in Northern Mozambique.” In What is Existential Anthropology?, eds. Michael Jackson and Albert Piette. New York: Berghahn Books.

Abstract: Recent scholarship on Pentecostalism in the global South gives the impression of a singular trajectory of inexorable growth. In this chapter, I offer a counternarrative, not in denial of the widely reported statistical evidence but in affirmation of the ambivalence with which individuals behind the statistics experience novelty. In so doing, I bring existential insights to bear on such themes as rupture and discontinuity, which already, but inadequately, suffuse studies of Pentecostal conversion. Ethnographic evidence from northern Mozambique suggests that the “backsliding into heathenism” Pentecostal leaders decry is experienced locally as a capacity, a capacity for mobility and mutability, for shifting places and altering identities. The refusal of ordinary men and women to settle has long frustrated government administrators and religious reformers alike. It threatens to bewilder scholars as well unless we learn to think beyond the classificatory schemes outsiders so readily deploy and insiders so assiduously avoid.