Willis, “It smells like a thousand angels marching”

Willis, Laurie Denyer. 2018. ‘It smells like a thousand angels marching’: The Salvific Sensorium in Rio de Janeiro’s Western Subúrbios. Cultural Anthropology 33(2): 324–348.

Abstract: Based on almost three years of ethnographic research living in Rio de Janeiro’s subúrbios, I consider how the senses comes to matter and how Pentecostalism, margins, smells, and soaps are put to work to construct new kinds of affective space. To do so, I track the way in which a fragrance composed of runoff waste from an international flavor and fragrance company has come to be understood as “pieces of grace,” or divinely given fragments of prosperity. I argue that the forms of racial and spatial governance that enable something like repurposed waste to become pieces of grace form part of a larger story of the sensorium of the subúrbios. In contending with Rio’s racialized urban landscape and how it is sensed and made sense of, I look to what I call the salvific sensorium, a kind of sensed space and territory that exists by engaging the senses with a divine alterity that reconfigures worth and temporality. It is affectively generative, if fleetingly so, and capacious enough to be open to both optimism and its cruelties.

Luehrmann, “Praying with the Senses”

Luehrmann, Sonja, ed. 2017. Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Publisher’s Description: How do people experience spirituality through what they see, hear, touch, and smell? Sonja Luehrmann and an international group of scholars assess how sensory experience shapes prayer and ritual practice among Eastern Orthodox Christians. Prayer, even when performed privately, is considered as a shared experience and act that links individuals and personal beliefs with a broader, institutional, or imagined faith community. It engages with material, visual, and aural culture including icons, relics, candles, pilgrimage, bells, and architectural spaces. Whether touching upon the use of icons in the age of digital and electronic media, the impact of Facebook on prayer in Ethiopia, or the implications of praying using recordings, amplifiers, and loudspeakers, these timely essays present a sophisticated overview of the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianities. Taken as a whole they reveal prayer as a dynamic phenomenon in the devotional and ritual lives of Eastern Orthodox believers across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Senses of Prayer in Eastern Orthodox Christianity / Sonja Luehrmann

Part I: Senses
1. Becoming Orthodox: The Mystery and Mastery of a Christian Tradition / Vlad Naumescu
A Missionary Primer / Ioann Veniaminov
2. Listening and the Sacramental Life: Degrees of Mediation in Greek Orthodox Christianity / Jeffers Engelhardt
Creating an Image for Prayer / Sonja Luehrmann
3. Imagining Holy Personhood: Anthropological Thresholds of the Icon / Angie Heo
Syriac as a lingua sacra: Speaking the Language of Christ in India / Vlad Naumescu
4. Authorizing: The Paradoxes of Praying by the Book / Sonja Luehrmann

Part II: Worlds
5. Inhabiting Orthodox Russia: Religious Nomadism and the Puzzle of Belonging / Jeanne Kormina
Baraka: Mixing Muslims, Christians, and Jews / Angie Heo
6. Sharing Space: On the Publicity of Prayer, between an Ethiopian Village and the Rest of the World / Tom Boylston
Prayers for Cars, Weddings, and Well-Being: Orthodox Prayers en route in Syria / Andreas Bandak
7. Struggling Bodies at the Crossroads of Economy and Tradition: The Case of Contemporary Russian Convents / Daria Dubovka
Competing Prayers for Ukraine / Sonja Luehrmann
8. Orthodox Revivals: Prayer, Charisma, and Liturgical Religion / Simion Pop

Epilogue: Not-Orthodoxy/Orthodoxy’s Others / William A. Christian Jr.

Haapalainen, “Spiritual Senses”

Haapalainen, Anna. 2016. Spiritual Senses as a Resource. Temenos 52(2): 289-311.

Abstract: This article discusses knowledge gained through experiencing the presence of God through the ‘spiritual senses’ as a resource in an Evangelical Lutheran parish. Believers’ being-in-touch experiences with the divine produce a special kind of knowledge that can be shared and passed on in the parish. This ‘spiritual asset’ plays an important part in parochial activities. This development can be explained by the rise of experience-based religiosity and charismatic Christianity, a global Christian trend which is also affecting the mainline churches.

Schmalz, “Dalit Catholic Home Shrines”

Schmalz, Mathew. 2016. Dalit Catholic Home Shrines in a North Indian Village. Journal of Global Catholicism 1(1): 85-103.

Abstract: This article examines three Catholic home shrines in a Dalit community in North Indian and argues that it is misleading to think that home shrines and other collections of material objects are somehow static conveyors of meaning. “Meaning” can mean many things or nothing at all, depending upon the terms we are using and the scholarly methods we deploy. The crucial aspect of Dalit Catholic home shrines is that they are literally open to interpretation and reinterpretation, to touching and being touched. Their significance—their meaning—depends not on decoding their structure or symbolic logic, but interacting with them as part of a larger network of human and material connections and interpenetrations.

Harkness, “Voicing Christian aspiration”

Harkness, Nicholas. 2015. Voicing Christian Aspiration: the semiotic anthropology of voice in Seoul. Ethnography 16(3): 313-330.

Abstract: This article proposes some analytical and methodological approaches to the urban ethnography of the human voice. Drawing on research among Protestant Christians in Seoul, South Korea, I consider the voice along three semiotic dimensions: the relationship between body and sound, the relationship between speech and song, and the relationship between the literal voice and more metaphorical understandings of voice (as perspective, political position, personhood, style, etc.). By focusing on Seoul’s rapid postwar urbanization, the growth of Protestant Christianity, and the intersection of these two phenomena in the suppression and erasure of signs of struggle and hardship by a certain population among the city’s Christians, I demonstrate how a focus on the human voice has the potential to illuminate important issues in the urban ethnography of newer Asian ‘megacities.’

Bakker, “Ritual Sounds, Political Echoes”

Bakker, Sarah Kellogg. 2015. Ritual Sounds, Political Echoes: Vocal agency and the sensory cultures of secularism in the Dutch Syriac diaspora. American Ethnologist 42(3): 431-445.

Abstract: Among Syriac Orthodox Christian migrant communities in the Netherlands, liturgical performance is a site of controversy over where and how to draw a boundary between “religious” and “ethnic” identity. Tensions materialize in discordant singing styles and modes of performance, echoing complex historical encounters with Dutch, Syrian, and Turkish secularisms. These encounters, I argue, have refashioned the liturgical tradition’s role as a central axis of ethnoreligious social life and kin relations across the diaspora. Secular state practices shape a diasporic sensory culture that is met with a distinct form of vocal agency. Syriac Orthodox liturgical experiments show how the voice can transform the sensorial interface between human subjectivity and social intelligibility, in turn transforming how categories of secular modernity—whether ritual, art, ethnicity, or politics—are distinguished and lived.

Friedner, “Affective Audits in South India”

Friedner, Michele. 2015. Understanding Sign Language Bibles through Affective Audits. Ethnos 1-22. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2015.1031264

Abstract: This article analyses the role that the emic category of understanding plays in creating new forms of personhood and new worlds for sign language using deaf people in south India. As an ethnographic study of the production, dissemination, and circulation of Indian Sign Language Bible DVDs by an international non-denominational Christian missionary organization, this article analyses how the power of sign language as heart language lies in the potentiality of becoming a fluent signer and a member of a deaf sociality. Bringing the Anthropology of Christianity in conversation with the Anthropology of deafness/sign language studies, this article argues that anthropologists have ignored practices of verifying understanding in our interlocutors. In utilizing the concept of affective audits, this article analyses the practices by which understanding comes to take place. In addition, this article also argues that anthropologists must attend to how research on sensory formations might be presuming a ‘normal’ sensing body.

Heo, “The Divine Touchability of Dreams”

Heo, Angie. 2014. “The Divine Touchability of Dreams.” In Sensational Religion, edited by Salley M. Promey. Yale: Yale University Press.

Excerpt: “In Port Said, a city between Egypt’s Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, an icon of the Virgin Mary exudes holy oil …. [s]ince 1990, year after year the image had attracted thousands of Coptic Christian pilgrims to the Church of Saint Bishoi, where it is housed. Unlike other surrounding icons in the sanctuary, painted and consecrated by priestly hands, this one is an ‘autoconsecrating’ poster replica. It produces and reproduces holy oil by itself. This oil leaves behind worn paper traces in its liquid trail as it travels from the Virgin’s outstretched hands to the plastic canopy that captures the oil beneath her feet. From there, the priests of the church collect and distributes the oil as a form of remembrance …..

Devotees understand the origin of the icon’s miraculous activity to reside in the drama of one women’s dream. On the evening of February 20, 1990, the Virgin Mary (by way of saintly visitation) healed Samia Youssef Badilious of breast cancer. Samia dreamed that the Virgin, assisted by three other saints, preformed surgery on her. Within the space of the dream, Samia lay down on a white table as the saints held her hands. Then the Virgin touched the cancerous breast. Startled by a burning bolt of sensation that rushed through her body, Samia pulled her right hand away. The Virgin grabbed it back and held her hand. When Samia awoke, she discovered that she had been healed….”

Heo, “The Divine Touchability of Dreams”

Heo, Angie. 2014. “The Divine Touchability of Dreams.” In Sensational Religion, edited by Salley M. Promey. Yale: Yale University Press.

Excerpt: “In Port Said, a city between Egypt’s Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, an icon of the Virgin Mary exudes holy oil …. [s]ince 1990, year after year the image had attracted thousands of Coptic Christian pilgrims to the Church of Saint Bishoi, where it is housed. Unlike other surrounding icons in the sanctuary, painted and consecrated by priestly hands, this one is an ‘autoconsecrating’ poster replica. It produces and reproduces holy oil by itself. This oil leaves behind worn paper traces in its liquid trail as it travels from the Virgin’s outstretched hands to the plastic canopy that captures the oil beneath her feet. From there, the priests of the church collect and distributes the oil as a form of remembrance …..

Devotees understand the origin of the icon’s miraculous activity to reside in the drama of one women’s dream. On the evening of February 20, 1990, the Virgin Mary (by way of saintly visitation) healed Samia Youssef Badilious of breast cancer. Samia dreamed that the Virgin, assisted by three other saints, preformed surgery on her. Within the space of the dream, Samia lay down on a white table as the saints held her hands. Then the Virgin touched the cancerous breast. Startled by a burning bolt of sensation that rushed through her body, Samia pulled her right hand away. The Virgin grabbed it back and held her hand. When Samia awoke, she discovered that she had been healed….”

Kendall, et al. “A sin to sell a statue?”

Kendall, Laurel, et al. 2013. Is it a sin to sell a statue? Catholic Statues and the Traffic in Antiquities in Vietnam. Museum Anthropology 36(1): 66-82.

Abstract: When antique wooden saints were offered for sale in a Hanoi shop window, they provoked uncomfortable responses from Catholic observers living outside Vietnam who could not imagine their co-religionists voluntarily selling statues that had once been blessed. To explore this question—how things considered too sacred for commerce came to be sold—we bring together two usually discrete domains of research on material culture: object biographies that trace their movement from local sites of production and use into global markets, and studies on material religion that address how embodied and sensate encounters with the material world are productive of religious experiences and understandings. The social life of things collides with material religion at the place where statues and other religious paraphernalia are first transacted into artifact, art, folk art, or native handicraft. The bridge between these two domains of inquiry is the recognition that object biographies are propelled in part by notions of object agency that assume particular protocols for interactions between people and things.