Over the past decades, biblical scholars have gradually become more aware of the importance of the social sciences for their own field. This has produced a steady flow of studies informed by work that was done in the fields of group formation psychology, the sociology of emerging movements and the sociology of religion, and historical anthropology. This volume offers the proceedings of a conference that brought together a number of expert biblical scholars, specialists of ancient religious practices, and proponents of an anthropological approach to ancient Christian and Greco-Roman religious tradition. It was the explicit purpose not to focus exclusively on purely methodological reflections, but to explore and evaluate how methodological concepts and constructs can be developed and then also checked in applying them on specific cases and topics that are typical for understanding earliest Christianity.
Coleman, Simon. 2016. The Prosperity Gospel: Debating Charisma, Controversy and Capitalism. In Stephen J. Hunt, ed., Handbook of Global Contemporary Christianity: Movements, Institutions, and Allegiance. Leiden: Brill, p. 276-296.
Excerpt: ‘In this chapter, I provide a brief characterisation of the Propserity Gospel, covering its history and manifestations in different parts of the globe. I compare some of the ways in which analysts have tried to explain its spread, and explore reasons why it has attracted so much critque, and even anger. However, I also question the idea that we can regard ‘it’ as a fully unified movement or internally consistent theological positoin …. Ultimately, I suggest that we might think of such Prosperity discourse as manifested less in a single Gospel per se, and more as a set of ethical practices…”
Abstract: I explore the troubled relationship between anthropology and conservative Christianity, represented here by Prosperity-oriented Pentecostalism. My interest is not only in the complex boundaries erected between social scientific and religious practice, but also in the ways both involve the construction of ethical orientations to the world that are chronically constituted by the deployment of boundaries that play on movements between the foregrounding and backgrounding of ethical standpoints. One implication of my argument is that we need to consider more carefully the temporality of ethical framing of action. Another is that anthropology must acknowledge the fragmented, even ironic and playful, aspects of Pentecostal practice.
Coleman, Simon. 2015. “Christianity: An (In-)Constant Companion?.” In The Ashgate Research Companion to Anthropology, edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew J. Strathern, 209-226. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Excerpt: This chapter is about the shifting relationship between anthropology and Christianity. Any relationship has different dimensions—some that are openly acknowledged, and some that are concealed; some that may reflect imbalances between two parties, and others that express ideals of equality. Relationships can go through periods of harmony or occasionally descend into mutual incomprehension or enmity. A common view of anthropology is that it developed as a secular discipline, actively distancing itself from theology and the latter’s Christian associations. Up until at least the 1980s it was common to hear anthropologists say that they had encountered Christian missionaries in the field but had tried to ignore them while they studied the “local” culture. Christianity in many conventional fieldwork contexts was seen as a troubling remnant of colonial times, while its presence in Western societies was regarded as of little interest. Nonetheless, these comments do not tell the whole story of the relationship. The fact that for much of the twentieth century anthropology paid relatively scant ethnographic attention to Christianity may suggest a combination of hostility and indifference; but it also reflects a more complex, ambivalent set of interactions. The term “companion” derives from the Latin word companio, which in literal terms means “one who eats bread with another,” implying not merely separate identities but also mutual bonds expressed through proximity, parallel practices and even a hint at consubstantiality. It points in other words to both conjunctions and distinctions. In this chapter, we shall explore examples of both.
What, then, of my use of “constant” and “inconstant”? In its mathematical sense a constant implies a non-varying value, but I do not suggest that either Christianity or its connections with anthropology have remained unchanged. One reason to introduce this temporal metaphor is to indicate how the relationship between Christianity and anthropology has so often been defined by their respective relationships to time, change, and historical process. In his famous work The Golden Bough (1890) the Victorian anthropologist James Frazer tried to consign Christianity to the same dustbin of history that he reserved for other forms of religion; but a century or so later anthropologists have actually been observing striking increases in Christian adherence and practice across large parts of the world. More and more, they have come to understand the need to analyze how the spread of Christianity raises questions over the supposed disruptions of modernity. But this new analytical impulse does not involve a simple assumption that Christian influence produces a uniform, linear modelof Westernization. The task is rather to develop a critical and nuanced understanding of whether and how encounters with Christianity have produced transformations in cultures around the world. This new focus on Christianity also involves anthropologists taking a more historically informed look at themselves. The aim has been to understand whether anthropological conceptions of cultural coherence, of transcendence, of divisions between sacred and profane time and space, have links with Christian roots in ways that have not hitherto been fully acknowledged.
Following on from such points, categories of time, history and identity will help to form the structure of this chapter. Over the last 15 years or so, a self-conscious sub-field has emerged within the discipline dedicated to studying Christianity. In acknowledgement of this development, I divide my analysis into three periods. The first—with apologies to archeologists—I call “B.A.C.” (Before the Anthropology of Christianity); the second “A.C.” (the era of the Anthropology of Christianity); and finally, I provide some suggestions of possible futures for studies of the religion. However, I invoke such categories with irony. I approach them critically, especially their linear assumptions, and show how they represent only a limited view of how anthropology can continue to approach this religion …
Abstract: I explore the implications of example-making for both informants and ethnographers through an analysis of the history of the refoundation of the Anglican shrine at Walsingham during the twentieth century. I argue for an appreciation of distinctions between examples as ‘models’ and ‘instances’, but also for a focus on relations between the inchoate and the specific in processes of exemplification. The paper shows how an examination of the making of examples by actors in the field can speak to the creation of examples in writing and analysis, and may introduce elements of ‘serendipity’ more normally associated with encounters in the field.
Part II: Review Forum, “The Anthropology Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions”
The Anthropology of Christianity at the Boundaries of Christianity and Beyond
By: Joseph Webster (Queens University, Belfast)
The Special Issue of Current Anthropology under review seeks, as its title states, to push the anthropology of Christianity in ‘new directions’ – and it is the third section of the SI, it seems, where this effort is pursued most vigorously. Indeed, as its title states, this section does not limit itself to Christianity – however (generously) one defines it – but instead approaches its ‘boundaries’ by offering papers from Coleman, Engelke and Hoskins who discuss, respectively, the evanescence of pilgrimage as ‘ritual semiengagement’ (Coleman: 24: 288), the ‘not Christianity’ of secular humanism (Engelke 2014: 299), and the ‘counter Orientalism’ of Caodaism (Hoskins 2014: 310). Yet, the question remains – and this is the question with which I want to frame my review – do these papers successfully manage to go ‘beyond’ Christianity, or do they still find themselves stuck in its orbit? The authors themselves appear to have this same question in mind – albeit approaching it differently and with different conclusions – when presenting their own ethnographic and theoretical commentary. The question is important because it goes to the heart of what the anthropology of Christianity must be if it is to be ‘properly’ anthropological. Are we, then, in these three essays, presented with a comparative project that is equally concerned with ‘unity’ and ‘diversity’, both within and outwith religion (in general) and Christianity (in particular)? Put another way, where is the anthropology of Christianity, and where are these essays in relation to it? In an attempt to suggest some possible answers, I want to discuss each piece in turn before making some more speculative comments regarding what they might collectively tell us about the present location of this most prolific (if not yet particularly promiscuous) anthropological sub-discipline. Continue reading
Abstract: While studies of Pentecostalism have played an important role in forming the emergent anthropology of Christianity, research on pilgrimage has had far less of an effect on this subfield. I explore some of the reasons why by looking at the “semiotics of theory” and asking what constitutes resonant anthropological model making at a particular moment in the construction of anthropology. Having provided a critical account of past theoretical and ethnographic work on Christian pilgrimage, I suggest an alternative approach, drawing in part on fieldwork carried out at the pilgrimage shrines of Walsingham, in Norfolk, England. I suggest that my approach can provide useful perspectives not only on the anthropology of Christianity but also on aspects of our understanding of ritual and religious experience more generally.
Stewart, Anna and Simon Coleman. 2014. “Contributions from Anthropology,” in The Oxford handbook of theology, sexuality, and gender, edited by Adrian. Thatcher, 107-119. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Excerpt: “Religion, according to one popular anthropological definition, is a realm of experience in which humans confront ultimate categories of meaning. Through religious language, ritual, and ideology human beings come to reside within a ‘system of symbols’ that colours their experience and orientation towards the world ….In the years since Geetz’s influential definition of religious was proposed, anthropologist have pointed out the importance of looking not only at systems of meaning but also at the entanglement of actors in more material and more mundane networks of family, economy, and politics … Gender (In solving cultural expectations about the roles of men and women) ash sexuality (involving morality, desire, and physical activity related to sex) have added significant dimensions to the study of religion, for they appear to bring together these themes of symbolic meaning and embodied life ….”
Meneses, Eloise, Lindy Backues, David Bronkema, Eric Flett, and Benjamin L. Hartley. 2014. Engaging the Religiously Committed Other: Anthropologists and Theologians in Dialogue. Current Anthropology. Preprint – issue, volume, page not available.
Abstract: Anthropology has two tasks: the scientific task of studying human beings and the instrumental task of promoting human flourishing. To date, the scientific task has been constrained by secularism, and the instrumental task by the philosophy and values of liberalism. These constraints have caused religiously based scholarship to be excluded from anthropology’s discourse, to the detriment of both tasks. The call for papers for the 2009 meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) recognized the need to “push the field’s epistemological and presentational conventions” in order to reach anthropology’s various publics. Religious thought has much to say about the human condition. It can expand the discourse in ways that provide explanatory value as well as moral purpose and hope. We propose an epistemology of witness for dialogue between anthropologists and theologians, and we demonstrate the value added with an example: the problem of violence.