Abstract: This introductory essay seeks to reintroduce character to anthropological inquiry. Although it has long been out of favour due to its historical associations with accounts that attempt to describe national or ethnic character, we argue that a return of the under‐theorised concept may be in order. The essay invites socio‐cultural anthropologists to describe the diverse contexts in which character is recognised or enacted, out‐there‐in‐the‐world, and to become far more reflective about the ways in which characterization is deployed in our ethnographic writing. At the same time, it asks how the concept might be fruitfully operationalized at a meta‐language level to reorient current fields of anthropological study, without necessarily resorting to any collective or individual essentialisms. To illustrate the utility of re‐interrogating the concept, the question is addressed to two specific fields in which one might expect a concept such as character to already feature strongly: the anthropology of ethics and the anthropology of Christianity. What does an ethnographic attention to the ways in which character gets attributed reveal? How differently might these and other fields look if anthropologists embraced the concept of character or rejected it more knowingly? Finally, the essay asks what kinds of recombination of insights an anthropology and character approach might enable.
Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.
Abstract: This article cautions against an ‘earnest turn’ within the anthropology of religion, pointing up the tendency for anthropologists of religion to over-emphasize the role of discipline in the construction of the religious subjecthood over mechanisms of leniency and compromise. Taking the Catholic Church as an example, I show how discipline andlenience have been co-constitutive of Christian subjectivities, as different movements in a gigantic choreography which have spanned and evolved over several centuries. By looking at certain technologies of lenience that have emerged over the course of Catholic history, I trace an alternative genealogy of ‘the Christian self’; one in which institutional growth, power, and survival depended not only upon the formation of disciplined bodies and interior dispositions but also upon a carefully managed division of labour between clergy and laity, as well as upon a battery of legal commutations and practical avoidances aimed at minimizing the effort and pain of the ascetic approach. Taking the concept of ‘lapsedness’ as cue, I ask to what extent the ‘lapsed Catholic’, rather than indexing an ever-increasing tendency towards secularism, might already be contained and accounted for within Catholicism as a living, evolving form.
Voiculescu, Cerasela. 2017. Nomad self-governance and disaffected power versus semiological state apparatus of capture: The case of Roma Pentecostalism. Critical Research on Religion. Early online publication.
Abstract: Inspired by Deleuze and Guattari, the article discusses Roma Pentecostalism as nomad self-governance or self-ministry and political affirmation, in a dialectical conversation with stable apparatuses of power such as state and transnational polities advancing neoliberal program of social integration as semiological apparatus of capture. The latter is upheld by expert social sciences as royal sciences, which translate alternative forms of self-governance into the conceptual apparatus of the state and transnational polities. On the other hand, Pentecostal self-ministry works as disaffected power undoing the architecture of the state subject, authorizing new hermeneutics of the self to take control over semiological acts of translation, and engender a political resubjectivation of the governed. The article identifies Roma Pentecostalism as a source of political reawakening of Romani civil society, a creative line of flight with an immense power of deterritorialization of the main domains of subjection.
Abstract: This article examines a Fijian kindergarten using Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), a curriculum produced by an American corporation for Christian homeschoolers, which combines academic and emotion pedagogies. Pedagogies prompting children to label, reflect on, and control their emotions are popular in American schools and said to develop skills necessary to be self-directed, risk-taking entrepreneurs under neoliberalism. In contrast, in Fiji, children educated with the ACE curriculum are told that feeling the correct emotions is a “commitment” and that submitting to authority will benefit everyone. The ACE curriculum appears to turn working-class American children and children in peripheral countries like Fiji into submissive workers in corporations while middle-class Euro-American children are socialized to become innovative entrepreneurs. But further examination shows that Fijian parents and teachers see the curriculum as giving their children the proper skills to succeed in a world outside of Fiji.
lHardin, Jessica. 2016. Claiming Pule, Manifesting Mana: Ordinary Ethics and Pentecostal Self‐making in Samoa. In Matt Tomlinson and Ty P. Kāwika Tengan, eds., New Mana Transformations of a Classic Concept in Pacific Languages and Cultures. Canberra: ANU Press.
Excerpt: While mana and pule are concepts shared among Christians in Samoa, I focus on two everyday uses of the terms: first, how Pentecostal Christians are taught to manifest mana, which is a capacity that is supposed to be available to all born-again believers; second, how mana and pule are invoked in interdenominational contexts. Claiming pule and channelling mana mediates tensions surrounding Pentecostal Christians striving for individual agency and indigenous notions of flexible and context-specific notions of agency, which are also expressed in mainline Christianity. Pentecostal Christians are explicitly taught how to manage individual agency in ethical ways through cultivating a personal relationship with God, which enables supplicants to become agents of mana. Claiming pule and channelling mana are thus discursive tools for managing tensions surrounding agency by allowing born-again Christians to decentre individual agency and foreground God’s agency. In everyday life in Samoa there is a hierarchical imperative of defaulting to titled or high status people. The three most widely circulating criticisms in Samoa— fiapalagi (to try or want to be white), fiapotu (to try or want to be smart), and accusations that suggest pride, including fiamaualuga (wanting to be high) or mimita (to be boastful)—suggest that claiming authority and power is difficult because of a general bias against individual agency and non-titled authority (see also Gershon 2006: 145). The personal and individual relationship with God encouraged in Pentecostal Christianity heightens these already present anxieties about individual agency and authority (see also Eriksen 2014).
I examine mana and pule through the lens of what Michael Lambek calls ‘ordinary ethics’ to explore how claiming divine pule and mana is a strategic and ordinary way to deflect individual agency. Focusing on ‘“ordinary” implies an ethics that is relatively tacit, grounded in agreement rather than rule, in practice rather than knowledge or belief and happening without calling undue attention to itself ’ (Lambek 2010: 2). Similarly, selfhood requires embodied and discursive labour that is often a tacit, taken-for-granted, orientational process (Csordas 1994: ix) and an embodied and historically situated practical knowledge (Battaglia 1995: 3). Manifesting mana, and its pair pule, are discursive tools of everyday ethical practice that enable believers to speak and act with culturally recognised authority. Claiming divine authority and channelling divine power through the self are everyday ways that Pentecostal Christians in Samoa carve out distinct (i.e. different from mainline Christianity) and ethical ways of generating power in ways that are legible and valued across Christianities.
Christian Personhood in a Ghanaian Pentecostal Church
Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)
Abstract: The question ‘what is Christian personhood?’ has been on the anthropological radar for some time now. Most of these debates around Christian personhood have engaged with ideas of ‘individuality’ and ‘dividuality’ and have considered whether Christians are individual or dividual first. By looking at how relationships are organized differently within one Pentecostal church in Ghana, I argue that both individuality and dividuality should be considered as intrinsic to any notion of Christian personhood. I examine how church leaders and prophets from the Church of Pentecost reveal the different social arrangements through which a Pentecostal identity and its relations are constituted, managed, and brought into being in Ghana. Ultimately this paper argues that the qualities of how church leaders and prophets of this church come together, and come apart, as individual or dividual, can also be studied through a better understanding of kinship and the social structures that people cohabit.
In early 2015 I met up with Albert, a friend and interlocutor, someone who introduced me to The Church of Pentecost (CoP) when I was in Ghana between 2003 and 2004. It was Albert who in 2004 said to a prayer congregation that Pentecostalism in Ghana was not about a ‘belief in God’ but about ‘relationships’, that God worked through people to help those in need (Daswani 2015). My attempts to make sense of what he meant by relationships helped frame my first impressions of Pentecostalism and in understanding how CoP members were related to God through their shared spiritual practices and through the networks of care and support that were a part of. Back then Albert spent much of his time visiting and assisting several prophets from CoP. Through prayer and prophecies they helped build his hopes for the future and provided him with a sense of security in the world. Albert eventually left CoP and in 2014 formed his own prayer fellowship, which quickly turned into a small but vibrant church. He now had others, followers of his own, who clung to his every word as he gave them advice, predicted their future and spoke demons out of their bodies. His new role as a prophet of his own church allowed him to take on a special position in Ghanaian society as a spiritual guide and mentor. Albert told me that one could convert, become born-again, speak in tongues and learn from others as to how to be a good Pentecostal but the gifts of the prophet were something that one could not cultivate over time. Instead the prophetic gifts were given by God to a chosen few and within different degrees of intensity, either present or absent in the Christian person. When Albert emphasised ‘relationships’ as central to his understanding of Pentecostalism in Ghana, I came to understand that he was referring to the relationships of support and spiritual protection he had received from prophets and from other church members who attended these special prayer services. Over time I realized that there were different types of relationships in CoP and different understandings of ‘relationships’ that informed a Pentecostal identity in Ghana.
The two groups that best represented the different types of relationships in CoP were (1) the church leaders who included pastors that held administrative positions and who provided guidelines for how Pentecostal relations ought to play out practice, and (2) the prophets who held spiritual power and who operated out of prayer camps and prayer centres. The former provided specific theologically based guidelines for how church members were related to God and to each other, paying particular attention to how Pentecostals should come together as individuals-in-Christ. The latter were subject to the same criteria of biblical relatedness but were also described as specially chosen vectors of divine power. Because of their special relationship with the Holy Spirit, prophets were described as more spiritually powerful than ordinary Christians and even CoP leaders. They were known to be able to see what lies behind people’s intentions and to mediate on behalf of others with God and the spirits causing them harm. Church leaders and prophets represented two models of ‘intersubjectivity’ (see Hamberger 2013; Course 2013) that co-existed but that were in tension with one another. They also informed my understanding of the divisions within CoP and within Pentecostalism in Ghana more generally – between more hierarchical-institutionalized forms of Pentecostalism and more charismatic forms that centre around individual personalities and their ability to transmit spiritual power.
In this paper I pay special attention to church leaders and prophets in CoP in order to demonstrate how they help form Pentecostal ‘relationships’ differently. I argue that while interconnected as members of a single institution these two groups reveal the different social arrangements through which a Pentecostal Christian identity and its relations are constituted, managed, and brought into being in Ghana. This distinction between groups speaks to the interconnected but different ways of conceiving Christian persons and their relations – one that can be chosen and cultivated over time and another that is simply gifted to a select few. If the acceptable forms of socialization and the constituent parameters of individual selfhood within the church community are prescribed by CoP leaders, and as premised on the cultivation of certain Christian virtues, prophets provide another way of imagining social relations, acting as channels of and for a divine power that not every Christian possesses. These two groups are not representative of different types of “Ghanaian Pentecostal” but tokens of a single type, moral characters that are identifiable in many Christian churches in Ghana including CoP. In CoP church leaders and prophets operate alongside each other and criticize each other but their interactions also help us consider the structure of relations that frame personhood and to reconsider an important theme in an anthropology of Christianity to which I now turn. Continue reading
The Judgment of God and the Non-elephantine Zoo: Christian Dividualism, Individualism, and Ethical Freedom After the Mosko-Robbins Debate
Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)
Abstract: The recent debate between Joel Robbins and Mark Mosko regarding whether Melanesian and extra-Melanesian forms of Christianity should be considered “individual” or “dividual” gives us the opportunity to revisit the question of dividualisms, and to question the over one decade old “current anthropological wisdom” that “all persons are both dividuals and individuals.” (Englund and Leach 2000: 229; see also Lipuma 1998). Reading deployments of Mosko’s argument outside of Melanesia, in conjunction with careful attention to the works of Robbins and Webb Keane, as well as with fieldwork with American Charismatic Christians, this essay argues for a more complex analytic in which individualism as well as disparate dividualism form an economy, working at different scales and temporal frameworks, and at times toward unanticipated ends.
Abstract: In this paper we suggest that it is important for the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of religion more generally to develop a comparative phenomenology of spiritual experience. Our method is to distinguish between a named phenomenon without fixed mental or bodily events (phenomena that have specific local terms but are recognized by individuals by a broad and almost indiscriminate range of physical events); bodily affordances (events of the body that happen in social settings but are only identified as religious in those social settings when they afford, or make available, an interpretation that makes sense in that setting); and striking anomalous events. We demonstrate that local cultural practices shift the pattern of spiritual experiences, even those such as sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences that might be imagined in some ways as culture free, but that the more the spiritual experience is constrained by a specific physiology, the more the frequency of the event will be constrained by an individual’s vulnerability to those experiences. We will call this the “cultural kindling” of spiritual experience.
Abstract: Any anthropological approach to ethics that gives a central place to subjects and the positions they might occupy is obliged sooner or later to address an apparent paradox, instances of which are widespread. They occur in those many ethical systems that valorize a condition that can hardly be characterized without equivocation: the subject that is not one. We commonly think of such a (non-)subject as a mystic. A useful starting point in coming to terms with the mystic rests in the distinctive place in which he or she typically stands in relation to any given ethical domain – a place decidedly not at the center, at the axial conjunction that the ethical Everyperson occupies. Victor Turner’s treatment of liminality provides a useful analytical precedent, but it does not of itself adequately clarify either the specific ethical difference or the specific ethical function of mysticism as such. Crucial to both is the mystic’s generation in practice of what turns out to be a very real paradox of self-reference, the thinking and acting out of the proposition that ‘this ethics is not an ethics’. The upshot is that the mystic as (non-) subject confronts the ethical system in which or by which he or she resides with its logical and its social incompleteness. No wonder, then, that mystics are rarely beloved of ethical absolutists, whose absolutism – by their very being, and whether or not wittingly – they call into question. No wonder, on the other hand, that moral-ethical liberals so often find them beyond the pale. The ethical paradox of the mystic is insu- perable – but all the more socioculturally significant in being so.