Faubion, James. 2013. The subject that is not one: On the ethics of mysticism. Anthropological Theory 13(4): 287–307.
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.
Strhan, Anna. 2014 Christianity and the City: Simmel, Space, and Urban Subjectivities. Religion and Society: Advances in Research. 4(1): 125-149.
Abstract: This article examines the growing scholarly interest in urban religion, situating the topic in relation to the contemporary analytical significance of cities as sites where processes of social change, such as globalization, transnationalism, and the influence of new media technologies, materialize in interrelated ways. I argue that Georg Simmel’s writing on cities offers resources to draw out further the significance of “the urban” in this emerging field. I bring together Simmel’s urban analysis with his approach to religion, focusing on Christianities and individuals’ relations with sacred figures, and suggest this perspective opens up how forms of religious practice respond to experiences of cultural fragmentation in complex urban environments. Drawing on his analysis of individuals’ engagement with the coherence of God, I explore conservative evangelicals’ systems of religious intersubjectivity to show how attention to the social effects of relations with sacred figures can deepen understanding of the formation of urban religious subjectivities.
Robbins, Joel. 2013. Beyond the suffering subject: toward an anthropology of the good. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19(3): 447-462.
Abstract: In the 1980s, anthropology set aside a focus on societies defined as radically ‘other’ to the anthropologists’ own. There was little consensus at the time, however, about who might replace the other as the primary object of anthropological attention. In important respects, I argue, its replacement has been the suffering subject. Tracing this change, I consider how it addressed key problems of the anthropology of the other, but I also suggest that some strengths of earlier work – particularly some of its unique critical capacities – were lost in the transition. The conclusion considers how recent trends in anthropology might coalesce in a further shift, this one toward an anthropology of the good capable of recovering some of the critical force of an earlier anthropology without taking on its weaknesses.
Luhrmann, T.M. 2012. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
By Nofit Itzhak (University of California, San Diego)
While conducting fieldwork for her dissertation project among contemporary witches in Britain, Tanya Luhrmann woke up one morning to the startling vision of six druids standing against the window of her London apartment. The vision, a kind of temporary blurring of the boundary between the perceptible and the imagined, was the fruit, Luhrmann surmised later on, of visualization exercises aimed at enhancing one’s imaginative capacities, exercises she engaged in alongside her interlocutors, as she tried to understand how modern, rational people came to experience magic as real. In Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (1989), the resulting ethnography, she suggested that it was specifically this kind of imaginative and sensory retraining that allowed her interlocutors to inhabit a world which was at once rational and magical. Luhrmann’s latest ethnography, When God Talks Back, picks up where Persuasions left off, or rather addresses a similar problematic in a different ethnographic context, that of the American Evangelical Vineyard.
O’Neill, Kevin. 2013. “Left Behind: Security, Salvation, and the Subject of Prevention.” Cultural Anthropology 28(2):204-226.
Abstract: “In North Carolina, a faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization facilitates a child sponsorship program that connects North American evangelical Christians with at-risk children in one of postwar Guatemala City’s most violent neighborhoods: La Paloma. Pitched in the name of gang prevention, child sponsors help create a context in which these Guatemalan kids might choose God over gangs. Based on fieldwork in North Carolina and in Guatemala, with both sponsors and the sponsored, this article explores how child sponsorship makes the work of gang prevention dependent on the work of self-cultivation. It is an ethnographic approach attuned to what this article understands as the subject of prevention, that is, the individual imagined and acted upon by the imperative to prevent. This includes at-risk youths, in all their racialized otherness, but also (and increasingly so) North American evangelicals who self-consciously craft their subjectivities through their participation in gang prevention. The subject of prevention’s observable outcome is a kind of segregation with its own spatial logic. The practice of evangelical gang prevention ultimately produces an observable kind of inequality that says something about the surgically selective nature of Central American security today. Some Guatemalan youth connect with North Americans. Others get left behind.”
Zigon, Jarrett. 2013. On Love: Remaking Moral Subjectivity in Post-rehabilitation Russia. American Ethnologist 40(1):201-215.
Abstract: Love, I argue, is a demand around which moral experience—and thus moral subjectivity—takes shape. Love entails the struggle to ethically remake oneself, and the response to its unavoidable demand has consequences for both oneself and others. I examine the moral experience of love as it was lived by two former participants in a Russian Orthodox Church–run heroin rehabilitation program in St. Petersburg. My discussion thus contributes conceptually and ethnographically to the growing literature on the anthropology of moralities.
Carr, E. Summerson. 2013. ‘Signs of the Times’: confession and the semiotic production of inner truth. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19(1):34-51.
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.
Roberts, Nathaniel. 2012. Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousness’? Anthropological Theory 12(3):271-294.
Abstract: The trope in which conversion – especially of non-Western people to Christianity – is envisioned as a type of conquest is one many scholars have found compelling. This article examines the implicit moral psychology behind the idea that conversion is a ‘colonization of consciousness’, which it identifies as rooted in a secular liberal model of the self and of religion. The appeal of the conversion-as-conquest trope lies in its focus on power, but by building secular liberal assumptions into its theoretical optic it remains ironically blind to some of the most pervasive ways power operates today – namely, through the production of secular truths about religion, and by authorizing ‘autonomous’ secular subjectivities as normative. Drawing on examples from the author’s research on Pentecostal conversion in Indian slums, and on a national context where violent anti-conversion activism is prevalent, the article argues that while both conversion and opposition to it entail power, this power is not well understood on the model of mental colonization, or ‘resistance’ by uncolonized subjectivities.
Coleman, Simon, 2012. Anthropology on Shifting Grounds. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 77(4):556-563.
In my afterword to this special issue, I provide my own theoretical framing of issues relating to foregrounding and backgrounding Christianity, and argue that the sheer ambiguity of what occurs in so-called religious ‘contexts’ can be seen as constitutive of both subjectivity and religious attachment. I add that if our creation of an ‘Anthropology of Christianity’ is an act of foregrounding a particular religion for analytical purposes, this act must always be seen as a temporary move, inevitably open to being ‘backgrounded’ by other analytical framings.
Dyer, Jennifer E (2012). “Loving Thyself: A Kohutian Interpretation of a “Limited” Mature Narcissism in Evangelical Megachurches” Journal of Religion and Health 51(1).
Evangelical megachurches across the United States provide a subculture for core and committed members who immerse themselves in these communities of faith. This article argues that American evangelical megachurches fail to mitigate “the narcissism epidemic” in the dominant secular culture. Using object relations theory, I discuss splitting as a psychological foundation for narcissism, and I employ Heinz Kohut’s self-psychology to analyze idealized, mirroring, and twinning self-objects in evangelical megachurches. Finally, given Kohut’s categories for a mature narcissism, I find that Evangelicals achieve creativity, empathy, transience, humor, and wisdom, in part, but their ideological frameworks, organizational characteristics, and beliefs challenge a transformation to mature narcissism.