Abstract: Much contemporary work in the anthropology of religion explores how human experience of the divine is mediated. One question rarely asked, however, is why people distance the divine from themselves in the first place, such that complex practices of mediation are necessary to make it present. An answer to this question is provided by Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss in their book Sacrifice, which I read as a key precursor to current work on religious mediation. Hubert and Mauss focus on how religious mediations model and shape social mediations. I demonstrate the usefulness of an approach to mediation that draws on their work by examining a shift from sacrifice to possession as forms of mediation among Pentecostal converts in Papua New Guinea. I also show that this approach can help us further develop broader anthropological theories of mediation and social life.
Abstract: The anthropological study of value has gained much currency in recent years. This article speaks to the importance of Pentecostal practices in understanding the qualitative aspects of value in Ghana. It demonstrates how practices relating to wealth accumulation and redistribution are in interaction with ethical evaluations about the character of charismatic Christian prophets. The moral evaluation of wealth of certain prophets, and the links perceived between their use of wealth and their character, tell us something about the moral climate in contemporary Ghanaian society, where wealth cannot simply be measured quantitatively (through acquiring riches), but also ought to be assessed qualitatively (discerned through the quality of one’s acts).
Mosko, Mark. 2015. The Christian Dividual and Sacrifice: Personal Partibility and the Paradox of Modern Religious Efflorescence among North Mekeo. In Josephides, Lisette (editor) Knowledge and ethics in anthropology: obligations and requirements. London; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 95-121.
Excerpt: This chapter explores the paradox of modern religion’s efflorescence as exemplified in North Mekeo peoples’ encounter with Christianity. It argues that certain critical compatibilities between the pre-existing religion and notions of Christian personhood and agency have facilitated villagers’ conscous conversion. The North Mekeo experence of conversion thus can be regarded as owing as much to the centrality of transcendence in the two religions as to the continuity of Mekeo attitudes and actions towards the sacred. My argument conjoins two strands of anthropological theorizing: ethnographic treatments of distinctively Melanesian personhood and sociality as exemplified in works by Marilyn Strathern and Roy Wagner and dubbed ‘the New Melanesian Ethnography’, and classical treaties on the logic of sacrifice beginning with Hubert and Mauss. While neither the NME nor the anthropological theory of sacrifice was desgined expressly for the study of change, I hope to show that through the modifications proposed here they enable the delineation of key processes of social and religious transformation. I argue that this reorientation of the NME and sacrifice theory to North Mekeo expereinces of religious change offer new answers to the paradox of modern religion’s effervescence in Melanesia and the Christian world beyond.
Abstract: In this article I propose an approach to sacrifice through notions of time, memory and expectation, moving away from classical formalist definitions that highlight the ‘nature and function’ of sacrifice, and into ideas of meaning and experience and their insertion in particular ideologies of time. I will argue that sacrifice entails particular temporalities, participating in political and experiential realms of memory and expectation. For this, I will invoke a particular regime of sacrifice: the notion of self-sacrifice, as it circulates among a prophetic and messianic Christian movement of Angolan origin, the Tokoist Church.
Mayblin, Maya. 2013. The Untold Sacrifice: The Monotony and Incompleteness of Self-Sacrifice in Northeast Brazil. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology (early digital release DOI:10.1080/00141844.2013.821513).
Abstract: There is no such thing as an accidental sacrifice. Sacrifice is always pre-meditated, and if not entirely goal-oriented, at the very least inherently meaningful as a process in itself. This paper is about how we might begin to understand sacrifices that do not conform to these rules. It concerns the question: does sacrifice exist outside of its (often) dramatic, self-conscious elaboration? Within the Brazilian Catholic tradition everyday life – ideally characterised by monotonous, undramatic, acts of self-giving – is ‘true sacrifice’. For ordinary Catholics, the challenge is not how to self-sacrifice, but how to make one’s mundane life of self-sacrifice visible whilst keeping one’s gift of suffering ‘free’. In this paper I describe, ethnographically, the work entailed as one of ‘revelation’ and use the problems thrown up to reflect upon both the limits and advantages of Western philosophical versus anthropological understandings of Christian sacrificial practices to date.
Abstract: While contemporary philosophers have been content to declare the logical possibilities of sacrifice exhausted, to have finally ‘sacrificed sacrifice,’ for many people around the world the notion of sacrifice – whether religious, secular, or somewhere in between – remains absolutely central to their understanding of themselves, their relations with others, and their place in the world. From religion to economics, and from politics to the environment, sacrificial tropes frequently emerge as key means of mediating and propagating various forms of power, moral discourse, and cultural identity. This paper lays out reasons for retaining sacrifice as an analytical concept within anthropology, and argues for the importance of a renewed focus on the ‘other side of sacrifice’, as a means of understanding better how sacrifice emerges beyond ritual and enters into the full gamut of social life.
Abstract: This paper examines a preference among rural Catholics in Northeast Brazil to treat generalized forms of malaise with isotonic solution administered intravenously, even where such treatment goes against biomedical advice. It situates this practice within a nexus of local ideas about the value of blood and sacrifice, which emerge out of socio-historical and environmental factors particular to the region. In this context blood is merely one in a sequence of substances linked to the regenerative martyrdom of Jesus, to the agricultural cycle, and to the economic struggle for existence in a drought-affected region. The materialization of blood, sweat, and tears on the surface of the body indexes social relationships built on sacrifice. The appearance of such substances, often between categories of close kin, are ideally characterized by the loss or flow of substance in a single direction. In such contexts replenishing the blood with isotonics maintains a uni-directional flow, preserving the value of sacrifice.
Abstract: This article examines a controversy surrounding the theology of prosperity associated with neo-Pentecostalism: the aggressive soliciting of tithes from largely underclass worshippers, and the eagerness of those worshippers to respond beyond what seems financially sound. Drawing on ethnographic research among Cape Verdean immigrants in a Boston branch of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, I argue that a sense of empowerment often accompanies sacrificial tithing. This sense comes through the insertion of worshippers into multiple relations of reciprocity. Those whom I observed submitting to their pastor’s calls to tithe should not, therefore, be glibly dismissed as victims of alienation or brainwashing. Their expressions of devotion are active and creative strategies of self-transformation in response to the precariousness of the migrant’s life-world.
Abstract: I present here a review and critique of social scientific analyses of the global spread of Prosperity Christianity. My argument is that at least two phases of research can be discerned: an initial phase where economic factors are given strong causal explanatory force in accounting for the upsurge in Health and Wealth congregations; and a more recent phase that complicates our understandings of the relationships between religious and economic action. My review of the literature reveals that sacrifice is a theoretical trope common to both phases of writing, and in the latter half of the chapter I explore the ways in which notions of the sacrificial economy can point to nuanced understandings of the forms of materiality deployed in many Prosperity contexts. The wider implications of this chapter refer in part to how we might understand notions of rational and irrational action in relation to economic behavior; and also to an appreciation of the ways in which ritual action can be productive of, and not merely a response to, perceived ambiguity and risk.
Publisher’s Description: C’est à partir des années 1990 que Maria Pia Di Bella commence à s’intéresser à une manifestation de dévotion populaire : le « culte des âmes des corps décollés », sujet susceptible, selon elle, de livrer quelques clefs sur la Sicile. Pour comprendre les raisons de cette ferveur vis-à-vis des corps des condamnés à mort ensevelis dans un cimetière proche de l’église de la «Madonna del Fiume» à Palerme, elle s’est attachée à l’étude de la compagnie du Santissimo Crocifisso (1541-1820), dite des Bianchi, qui, les trois jours précédant leur exécution, se chargeait de préparer les condamnés à une mort chrétienne. Pendant cette période liminale les Bianchi instruisaient les prisonniers de façon à ce que, le jour de leur exécution, ils rappellent aux yeux du public le Christ, les martyrs ou bien les saints.
À travers cette inversion de coupable à victime, Maria Pia Di Bella a pu expliquer comment, pendant ces trois jours, se produisait le phénomène de superposition des figures. Peu à peu, ce phénomène, ainsi que l’extension de la figure de la « victime », sont devenus les points focaux de sa recherche et lui ont permis de distinguer l’opposition – dès le XVIIIe siècle – entre les attitudes religieuses catholiques et protestantes dans le maniement respectif de ces figures. Forte de cette recherche historique, Maria Pia Di Bella a, par la suite, entrepris une enquête comparative aux États-Unis. Dans ce volume, elle montre à quel point ces études historiques et anthropologiques peuvent contribuer à la compréhension de l’évolution de la notion de victime en Occident.
Translation: In the 1990s, Maria Pia Di Bella began to investigate an expression of popular devotion known as “the cult of the souls of the decapitated,” a subject she believes can yield a number of important insights about Sicily. Seeking to understand the reasons for this fervent interest in the bodies of prisoners condemned to death and buried in a cemetery close to the church of the “Madonna del Fiume” in Palermo, she has made a close study of the Company of the Santissimo Crocifisso (1541-1820), known as the “Bianchi,” whose members, for the three days preceding the execution of the prisoners, assumed the task of preparing them to die in a Christian manner. During this liminal period, the Bianchi instructed the condemned how to comport themselves in such a way that their appearance on the day of execution would cause the public to recall the martyrs, saints, and even Christ.
By analyzing this process, in which the guilty are transformed into victims, Di Bella was able to explain how the superposition of these figures took place. Over the years, this phenomenon, along with the steady broadening of the category of the “victim,” have become the focal points of her research and have enabled her to bring to light the opposition – originating in the 18th century – between the attitudes of Catholics and Protestants in the treatment of these figures. Based on this research, Di Bella subsequently undertook a comparative study of the topic in the United States, and in this book she shows the substantial contribution that such historical and anthropological research can make toward our understanding of the evolution of the notion of the victim in Western society.