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.
Publisher’s Description: How do Ghanaian Pentecostals resolve the contradictions of their own faith while remaining faithful to their religious identity? Bringing together the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of ethics, Girish Daswani’s Looking Back, Moving Forward investigates the compromises with the past that members of Ghana’s Church of Pentecost make in order to remain committed Christians.
Even as church members embrace the break with the past that comes from being “born-again,” many are less concerned with the boundaries of Christian practice than with interpersonal questions – the continuity of suffering after conversion, the causes of unhealthy relationships, the changes brought about by migration – and how to deal with them. By paying ethnographic attention to the embodied practices, interpersonal relationships, and moments of self-reflection in the lives of members of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana and amongst the Ghanaian diaspora in London, Looking Back, Moving Forwardexplores ethical practice as it emerges out of the questions that church members and other Ghanaian Pentecostals ask themselves.
Abstract: This article explores the cultural change generated by Pentecostalism among Liberian refugees in Ghana, who fled from their nation’s civil wars to a refugee camp in Ghana’s Central Region. Anthropologists of religion have argued that Pentecostal conversions have in large parts become popular because they enable a “break with the past.” Liberian converts, as well, seek to distance themselves from a past that is mired in conflict. To this end, they connect to global Pentecostal networks in an attempt to overcome their marginal status. In so doing, many of them reject aspects of their past, which they associate with the Liberian civil wars, for example traditional belief systems, ethnic identity, and the Liberian gerontocracy. Yet, as the ethnographic examples illustrate, this “break with the past” is rarely complete. This study’s findings are related to debates on whether anthropology of religion should focus on “continuity” or “discontinuity” in exploring religious conversions. The author argues that the religious experiences of Liberians in exile can only be understood by paying attention to the interplay and tensions between continuity and discontinuity.
Abstract: This article reviews the development of the anthropology of Christianity and considers the new questions and approaches introduced by the articles in this special issue of Current Anthropology. The article first addresses the contested history of the anthropology of Christianity, suggesting that there is intellectual value in seeing it as largely a development of the new century. It goes on to locate the rise of the anthropology of Christianity in relation to a number of important changes both in the place of religion in the world and in the academic study of religion that also occurred during this period. It then considers the foci of the articles collected here. These include such relatively novel topics as the nature of Christian social institutions, social processes, space-making practices, and constructions of gender, as well as questions concerning the boundaries of Christianity. Several articles also focus on considerations of recent developments in the study of long-standing topics in the anthropology of Christianity, such as discontinuity, reflexivity, experience, and materiality. Throughout the discussion of these issues, I take up critical debates around the anthropology of Christianity, for example, the charge that it is wholly idealist in orientation, and consider how these articles contribute to the further development of these discussions.
Abstract: The emerging field of the anthropology of Christianity appears suspended between two poles: a concern with understanding the continuous and relatively coherent traits of the religious tradition as a whole (the “One”), and the documentation of the highly contingent forms found in local communities (the “Many”). This tension, in turn, feeds sometimes intense debates about whether conversion to Christianity along the modern missionary frontier is best understood as rupture from or continuity with indigenous cultural forms and understandings. While such binaries have been highly productive, they are still misleading, because many if not most Christians do not experience the religion in such terms but rather largely in the context of institutionalized rituals, dogmas, and church organizations. I illustrate this point by examining the ways the Maisin people of Papua New Guinea have both adjusted and adapted to Anglicanism over the past century through three modes I describe as “accommodations,” “repurposings,” and “spandrels.” Studying such institutional configurations, I suggest, provides anthropologists a strategic point to consider local versions of Christianity as both One and Many.
Abstract: Secular humanists in the United Kingdom regularly think about, talk about, and act in relation to religion, especially Christianity. In this article, I address the relationships between secular humanism and Christianity by drawing on fieldwork with a local humanist group affiliated with the British Humanist Association. In line with many moderns, as indeed with many kinds of Christians, these secular humanists often want to sever ties with the past—in this case, with what they understand to be Christianity’s religious elements. At the same time, they want to preserve those aspects of Christianity they understand to be human, not religious. These engagements with and articulations of Christianity can be helpful not only for understanding contemporary secular-humanist formations but also some of the debates that have framed the anthropology of Christianity over the past decade.
Droogers, André. 2014. The Cultural Dimension of Pentecostalism. In The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism, edited by Cecil M. Robeck Jr. and Amos Young, 195-214, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Excerpt: “The scope of this chapter is to draw the map of the pentecostal cultural landscape and make an inventory of actors and factors, patterns and processes. The expansion of Pentecostalism amid profound changes in the world will first lead to a discussion of two recent trends in the world cultural situation: a chance in perspective and a recognition of the human capacity for meaning-making. Subsequently four aspects of the relationship between Pentecostalism and culture receive attention: that Pentecostalism appears to offer a ‘portable identity,’ the question of the degree to which continuity and rupture with the surrounding culture occur, the conversion process, and a repertoire model of a church 0r community. A section on the methodology of the study of the cultural dimension of Pentecostalism appears before the concluding summary …..”
Abstract: Rupture, a common principle of the Pentecostal Christian faith, can also give rise to ethical disputes among believers. The study of such disputes provides insight into the ways ethical practice shapes the institutional continuities and the personal inconsistencies of a Christian life. All believers learn what Pentecostal rupture is, but they have different opinions about how it is achieved, and, once born again, they differ on what constitutes good or right religious observance. I suggest that approaching rupture as ethical practice allows for a better understanding of the religious subject’s response to an incommensurability of values and practices internal to Pentecostalism.
Excerpt: “Here I want to take the opportunity to suggest that the study of charisma is not a rupture with any other form of previous anthropology of religion but, in many ways, a refreshing return to the founding fathers of the discipline such as Durkheim, whose centenary I am celebrating with my subtitle. I also want to suggest that new forms of African religion are experienced by their believers not as a rupture but sometimes as a return to a purer and very old form of religion that Africans have forgotten via a destructive combination of internal and external agencies. The return to a ‘forgotten God’ is a common theme in several trends of prophetic Christianity and also of Islam, though less explicit in Pentecostal discourses. . . “
This article discusses conversion to Protestantism in the Zapotec communities of the State of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico. Conversion to Protestantism in these predominantly Catholic villages has a rupture effect on converts’ relationships with their families as well as the Catholic majority. This transformation can be interpreted as a ‘social cost’, which influences religious choices made by individuals and the sustainability of their new religious affiliations. The cost is generally higher for native villagers than for migrants to the communities. Focusing on the adverse effects of conversion and scrutinising the choices of individuals who do not convert or who return to their previous faith contributes to a more nuanced understanding of religious change. The process is often far more complex and multi-directional at the local level than macro-level trends of rapid Protestant growth suggest.