Ryan Schram, 2016. “Tapwaroro is true”: Indigenous Voice and the Heteroglossia of Methodist Missionary Translation in British New Guinea” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. DOI: 10.1111/jola.12138
Abstract: In the semiotic ideology of many Christian discursive practices, it is assumed that any language can convey the same message of salvation, and any person is capable of true belief, no matter how it is expressed. Evangelism, especially by Western missions, thus centers on translating Christian texts into vernacular languages. This article considers these understandings and practices by examining the written discourse of Australian Methodist missionaries in the early colonial period in New Guinea. These missionaries desired an encounter with heathens in an unevangelized field, but they operated in a colonial terrain defined by the politics of past encounters between Australians and Melanesians. In their writings, missionary authors parody the voices of indigenous speakers and present a world in which missionary and native cannot arrive at a shared understanding of religion. Their parody usually involves quoting one term, taparoro, as a word used by natives for the mission and its activities. Having presented a world defined by a persistent gap in understanding, missionaries appropriate this particular sign of their own otherness to others as a basis for a new mission register into which they can translate Christian ideas. In so doing, they do not simply impose one dominant code as a metalinguistic standard, but fashion a new discourse out of available materials in a complex field of interlingualism.
Abstract: This ethnographic article discusses funerary practice, Orthodox Christian ideas of body and spirit, and the ways in which people make memorials for each other on the Zege Peninsula in northwest Ethiopia. I pay special attention to gravestones because, here as in many other places, physical memorials to the dead become locations where latent uncertainties and conflicts about the relationship between spirit and matter, body and soul, and this world and the next, tend to crystallize. I show that material memorials highlight ambiguities in Orthodox attitudes to human embodiment and challenge priestly monopolies over relations between the living and the dead. Because of material chains of mediation and memorialization, the disaggregating practices of Orthodox funerary ritual can never fully untangle the deceased from their worldly social entanglements.
Abstract: The missionary encounter between the London Missionary Society and Sotho-Tswana communities of southern Africa has been explored by Jean and John Comaroff as work that took place at the level of both signs and practices. In this article, I consider what a Peircean semeiotic might offer to this narrative. I argue that it provides ways to disrupt the sometimes binary relationship of signs and practices while also providing opportunities for productive interdisciplinary conversations about the affective, material, and processual nature of changes in belief and practice.
Abstract: This article examines the political and public culture of Coptic Christian miracles through the circulation and reproduction of images and the mimetic entanglements of artifacts and objects. To understand the threat posed by one case of a woman’s oil-exuding hand, this study points to how semiotic orders of security and sacramentality intersect in the regulation of bodily miracles. It explores Coptic Orthodox Church and Egyptian state efforts to contain the activity of images and transform the public nature of truthful witness and divine testimony. In doing so, it suggests how the material structure of saintly imagination introduces bodily and visual challenges to an authoritarian politics of public order.
Abstract: How is it that confession – a highly ritualized, dialogically structured speech act – appears to transparently reflect and reveal the inner states of confessants? This article explores this question by closely engaging select post-Vatican II defences of the Sacrament of Penance, which lay out the requirements of ‘modern’ confession in striking detail. A close reading of these theological texts demonstrates that felicitous confession is the product of three correlated (meta-)semiotic processes: (1) the figuration of the pentinent memory as a storehouse for sin; (2) the management of ritual time into discrete stages of ‘private’ meaning-making and ‘public’ pronouncement; and (3) the erasure of the social scenery of the confessional utterance. In concert, these processes render indexical signs as iconic ones and, in so doing, naturalize confession as the cathartic revelation of inner truths, already constituted as such.
Abstract: The paper studies semiotic values in advertisements appearing in German Catholic periodicals in Silesia in the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The study is grounded in the Tartu School of Semiotics and shows shifts and hierarchies in the semiotic valuations of particular commodities. Collected advertisements were classified into four main groups: (1) books, (2) church art, (3) church and devotional accessories, (4) everyday life commodities. We motivate the claim that the group (2) of the advertisements in the Catholic press we analyzed was the driver for the introduction of the remaining two categories of ads, hence the study of this group is pivotal for our analysis. The parameters of center, periphery, and “border,” as between the sacred and the profane are also taken into account, within the structural interrelation of Sr (religious system) (cf. Zaliźniak et al. 1975 ) and Sc (commercial code). Assuming the usefulness of explanatory mechanisms, in conclusion a heuristic interpretation is provided in terms of the relations of semiotic primes.
Excerpt: “So many missionaries have regaled us with the religious practices of “Primitives” that it is entirely regrettable that a Papuan witch doctor was not at the Vel’ d’Hiv’ to describe the ceremony presided over by Dr. Graham under the name of an evangelizing campaign. There is a splendid piece of anthropological raw material here, which seems, moreover, to be inherited from certain “savage” cults, for we recognize in it under an immediate aspect the three great phases of every religious action: Expectation, Suggestion, Initiation . . . “
Article Excerpt: “The works from anthropologist James S. Bielo, an ethnographic monograph of an Evangelical small group Bible study in Michigan and an edited collection, released within a few months of each other, focus and develop the study of “Biblicism.” Abidingly an anthropological undertaking pioneered, in part, by Brian Malley’s earlier ethnography, How The Bible Works, these studies and the broader emerging field offer interesting parallels, insights and divergences when considered alongside somewhat similar developments in the analysis of scripture and society within, in particular, reception history. In his essay comparing processes of exegetical and pastoral authority amongst mainline and charismatic Catholics in Guatamala, Eric Hoenes del Pinal gives us a nice definition of Biblicism as a question of “the ways that social actors construct certain understandings of and relationships to sacred text, and how those understandings and relationships order their religious practices”. As this sandwiching of scripture between the recognition of social agency and the broader process of religious practices suggests, the biblical text is not where the analysis begins or ends.
The social scientific studies presented here are particularly relevant in an interdisciplinary light given recent debates around the practice of recep- tion history within biblical studies. A rather loose term for comparative analyses of diverse understandings and uses of biblical texts in diverse cultures and eras, the manner in which reception history has been carried out to date within biblical studies is exemplified by collections such as John F. A. Sawyer’s, which gives us the Bible in Calvin’s Geneva and the Bible in Barnum & Bailey’s circus. Roland Boer sees within the loosely defined discipline a Bourdieusian distinction between scientific/theological biblical exegesis carried out in the academy that seeks—under appropriate supervision—to uncover an original or authoritative meaning of the text, and the explanation and analysis of comparatively deviant (ab)uses of the text. To cite examples from the two texts under review here, the distinction Boer sees as foundational to reception history would be between the exegeses of the “strange guild” of biblical scholars and scholar-priests in secular and ecclesial academia on the one hand, and the exegeses of the small Evangelical Bible study group that meets for breakfast in a Michigan restaurant featured in Bielo’s monograph and the exegetical dialogue between anthropolo- gist John Pulis and his interlocutor Bongo (a mango farmer and Rastafarian “bredren”) featured in a chapter of Bielo’s edited collection on the other hand. In a response to Boer’s criticism, Christopher Heard denies any claim that reception history, as a loosely defined discipline, asserts “ideological primacy to singular textual meanings,” but doesn’t quite get to the nub of Boer’s complaint that the very existence of a subdiscipline of biblical scholarship called “reception history” implies that there is a form of biblical studies that is not reception history. There is an echo, then, of Adorno’s act of distinction within twentieth-century music; that which he certified “serious” was suitable for scholarly engagement and philosophical reflection, while that which he proclaimed “popular”—the mass-produced products circulated amongst a browbeaten proletariat—was suitable only for sociological explanation . . . ”
Abstract: this article, I introduce the idea of “ambient faith” in an effort to clarify the stakes in long-standing debates about public and private religion. I take as my starting point the increasingly common recognition that conceptual distinctions between publicity and privacy are difficult to maintain in the first place and that they are, in any case, always relative. The idea of “ambient faith,” which I connect to work on the turn to a materialist semiotics, can serve as both a critique of and supplement to the ideas of “public” and “private” religion. Introducing ambience—the sense of ambience—allows one to raise important questions about the processes through which faith comes to the foreground or stays in the background—the extent to which faith, in other words, goes public or stays private. I use my research on a Christian organization in England, the Bible Society of England and Wales, to illuminate these points, discussing the society’s campaign in 2006 to bring angels to Swindon and its promotion of Bible reading in coffee shops. I also consider Brian Eno’s music and recent advertising trends for additional insights into the notion of “ambience.”
Abstract: This is an article about an advertising campaign that ran in the Greater Manchester area, north of England, in May and June 2007, sponsored by the Bible Society of England and Wales, and aimed at stressing the relevance of the Bible to the general public for understanding today’s world. One of the Society’s assumptions was that the best way to do this was by appearing not-Christian: drawing on semiotic and aesthetic registers that drew from what were understood to be “Cultural” rather than “Church”-based repertoires. The specificities of the case study are explored in some depth, but related also to the wider literatures on Christian approaches to language and secularization theory.