Publisher’s Description: The Empty Seashell explores what it is like to live in a world where cannibal witches are undeniably real, yet too ephemeral and contradictory to be an object of belief. In a book based on more than three years of fieldwork between 1991 and 2011, Nils Bubandt argues that cannibal witches for people in the coastal, and predominantly Christian, community of Buli in the Indonesian province of North Maluku are both corporeally real and fundamentally unknowable.
Witches (known as gua in the Buli language or as suanggi in regional Malay) appear to be ordinary humans but sometimes, especially at night, they take other forms and attack people in order to kill them and eat their livers. They are seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The reality of gua, therefore, can never be pinned down. The title of the book comes from the empty nautilus shells that regularly drift ashore around Buli village. Convention has it that if you find a live nautilus, you are a gua. Like the empty shells, witchcraft always seems to recede from experience.Bubandt begins the book by recounting his own confusion and frustration in coming to terms with the contradictory and inaccessible nature of witchcraft realities in Buli. A detailed ethnography of the encompassing inaccessibility of Buli witchcraft leads him to the conclusion that much of the anthropological literature, which views witchcraft as a system of beliefs with genuine explanatory power, is off the mark. Witchcraft for the Buli people doesn’t explain anything. In fact, it does the opposite: it confuses, obfuscates, and frustrates. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia—an interminable experience that remains continuously in doubt—Bubandt suggests the need to take seriously people’s experiential and epistemological doubts about witchcraft, and outlines, by extension, a novel way of thinking about witchcraft and its relation to modernity.
Abstract: In a majority Catholic country like the Philippines, it can be difficult to appreciate the true impact of Catholicism, beyond the obvious presence of Catholics. For the ‘unchristianised’ indigenous minorities in its peripheral upland regions, the role of the Catholic thought-world in shaping who they are today is masked substantially by their cultural distinctiveness. Missionary-dominated narratives in colonial historiography configure our understanding of the present, structuring our approach to anthropology in these peripheral spaces. This article argues that the diachronic component is necessary to make sense of how Catholicism has not only shaped the diversity of modern Philippine cultures, but also how it has configured cultural and political spaces so completely that, as anthropologists, we at times reproduce this thought-world uncritically through our own ethnographies. A focus on the so-called unchristianised Lumad ethnic minorities of Mindanao argues that it is essential to look beyond Catholics as obvious subjects when undertaking an anthropology of Catholicism.
Abstract: The political activism of Christians in Malaysia is in an emergent phase. Despite significant advances, especially after the milestone general elections of March 2008 (where the ruling National Alliance regime lost its two-thirds majority in parliament), many Christians hesitate to engage politically and when they do, their engagement is incoherent. Based upon a survey and critical analysis of media statements by leading Christian organizations, this article argues that Christian activism remains anemic in part due to political theologizing which suffers from incoherency, inconsistency, a diminished view of the political, and an over-reliance on the rational. The article intimates that the kind of political discourse and theologizing adopted by the church would benefit from an application of psychoanalytical categories. It concludes by suggesting that psychoanalysis cannot only provide new categories with which to re-imagine political issues in Malaysia but also reinvigorate the Christian political imagination itself.
Abstract: Throughout the 20th century, the expansion of North American Pentecostal and neo-evangelical movements was greatest in the traditionally Catholic countries of Latin America. And in the 1960s the first scientific analysis related to the overseas development of this movement was of Brazil, Chile and Argentina. More recently the conversion process has spread into Africa and as far as Asia. The various dynamics perceptible in the Pentecostal movement today in Southeast Asian cultures clearly made it pertinent to undertake a comparison between the Latino-American and Southeast Asian situations by considering, as the author proposes, the various methods and concepts developed over the last seventy years in the study of the neo-evangelical movements.
Abstract: In recent decades, Thailand has seen the development of new styles of social and political organisation whose effects can be seen across religious and confessional lines. Among them are charismatically led large-scale organisations emulating the style of large-scale businesses. The article ‘triangulates’ this style via brief case studies of the Thai Rak Thai Party (now the Phuea Thai Party), the Wat Phra Dhammakaya Buddhist meditation movement and the Church of the Divine Call (pseudonym), who share some underlying similarities despite their overt differences. The similarities among the groups flow in part from trends associated with economic development and globalisation. Yet, at the same time these groups – and the ways in which they inspired such fervent opposition – express some enduring features of Thai cultural and social organisation.
Abstract: During the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste (1975-99), the Roman Catholic Church grew in importance to the East Timorese people. This is demonstrated by the large increase in Timorese affiliation to the Church: 25-30% of the populace were baptized Catholics in 1975 compared with over 90% in the 1990s. Various explanations have been offered for this growth, many of which identify ‘extrinsic’ factors such as the religious prescriptions of Indonesian law or the pressures of Islamization. While acknowledging the importance of these factors, this paper argues that certain intrinsic factors substantially influenced the identification of the Timorese experience of occupation with Catholic faith and solidarity. An understanding of these intrinsic factors can provide a more expansive understanding of Timorese culture, experience and history. Drawing on original research into the faith and experience of Timorese people during the occupation, the author explores the relationship between suffering, resistance and the Catholic faith of the Timorese in four areas: language; ‘a spirituality of resistance’; martyrdom; and sanctuary and advocacy for the persecuted. The paper draws on the insights of French philosopher and literary critic, René Girard, regarding the importance of Christianity in the context of violence. Girard has argued for a particular understanding of the centrality of the victim in human culture and of how Christianity helps to reveal this centrality. Girard’s perspective sheds light on how the Timorese came to terms with their experience of suffering and violence under Indonesian occupation through their identification with Jesus Christ and the Church.
Abstract: This article considers the growth of Pentecostal-style churches in Southeast Asia, and specifically in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. It outlines four reasons for the growth that occurred and then, using qualitative and quantitative data in a mixed mode, seeks to test the hypotheses it derives. It concludes that each of the hypotheses remains plausible but notes that contextual factors or major social disruptions undermine any deterministic account.
Publisher’s Description: This interdisciplinary introduction offers students a truly global overview of the worldwide spread and impact of Christianity. It is enriched throughout by detailed historic and ethnographic material, showing how broad themes within Christianity have been adopted and adapted by Christian denominations within each major region of the world.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the spread and impact of world Christianity
Contains studies from every major region of the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, the North Atlantic, and Oceania
Brings together an international team of contributors from history, sociology, and anthropology, as well as religious studies
Examines the significant social, cultural, and political transformations in contemporary societies brought about through the influence of Christianity
Takes a non-theological approach, focusing instead on the impact of and response to Christianity
Discusses Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox forms of the faith
Features useful maps and illustrations
Combines broader discussions with detailed regional analysis, creating an invaluable introduction to world Christianity
This is an engaging multidisciplinary introduction to the worldwide spread and impact of Christianity. Bringing together chapters from leading scholars in history, sociology, anthropology, and religious studies, this book examines the major transformations in contemporary societies brought about through the influence of Christianity.
Each chapter shows how the broad themes within Christianity have been adopted and adapted by Christian denominations within each major region of the world. In this way, the book paints a global picture of the impact of Christianity, enriched by detailed historic and ethnographic material for each particular region. Throughout, the chapters examine Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox forms of Christianity. The combination of broader perspectives and deep analysis of particular regions, illuminating the social, cultural, political, and religious features of changes brought about by Christianity, makes this book essential reading for students of world Christianity.