Cassaniti and Luhrmann, “The Cultural Kindling of Spiritual Experiences”

Cassaniti, Julia L and Tanya Marie Luhrmann. 2014. The Cultural Kindling of Spiritual Experiences. Current Anthropology. DOI: 10.1086/677881

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.

Young and Seitz, ed, “Asia in the Making of Christianity”

Young, Richard Fox and Jonathan A. Seitz, eds. 2013. Asia in the Making of Christianity: Conversion, Agency, and Indigeneity, 1600s to the Present. London: Brill.

Contributors: Richard Fox Young, Jonathan A. Seitz, Nola Cooke, Richard Burden, Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, La Seng Dingrin, Erik de Maaker, Sipra Mukherjee, Gregory Vanderbilt, Jonas Adelin Jorgensen, Chad M. Bauman, Franklin Rausch, Rhonda Semple, Matthias Frenz, Edwin Zehner

Publisher’s Description: Drawing on first person accounts, Asia in the Making of Christianity studies conversion in the lives of Christians throughout Asia, past and present. Fifteen contributors treat perennial questions about conversion: continuity and discontinuity, conversion and communal conflict, and the politics of conversion. Some study individuals (An Chunggŭn of Korea, Liang Fa of China, Nehemiah Goreh of India), while others treat ethnolinguistic groups or large-scale movements. Converts sometimes appear as proto-nationalists, while others are suspected of cultural treason. Some transition effortlessly from leadership in one religious community into Christian ministry, while others re-convert to new forms of Christianity. The accounts collected here underscore the complexity of conversion, balancing individual agency with broader social trends and combining micro- with macrocontextual approaches

Zehner, “The church, the monastery and the politician: Perils of entrepreneurial leadership in post-1970s Thailand”

Zehner, Edward. 2013.The church, the monastery and the politician: Perils of entrepreneurial leadership in post-1970s Thailand. Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 14(2):185-203.

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.

Zehner, “Short-Term Missions”

Zehner, Edwin. 2013. Short-Term Missions: Some Perspectives from Thailand. Missiology 41(2):13-145.

Abstract: Recent interviews with congregational leaders in Thailand suggest a need for reframing some of the concerns commonly expressed in missiological writing on short-term missions (STM). North American writers have expressed concern about the ministerial inefficiency of short-term missions, the attendant de-professionalization of foreign missions, and the potential for STM to encourage dependency among recipients. Interviews with Thai pastors in 2007 revealed a different set of concerns. Many expressed an interest in resourcing for stronger congregational life, a concern that is usually missing from North American writing on short-term missions. Short-term missions were also valued most greatly by leaders whose congregations did not have alternative access to the material and relational resources made available by the visitors. Finally, in contrast to concerns that short-term missions promote dependency, the interviews suggest that many Thai leaders were using the relational networks to access moral and material resources that enhanced ministerial vitality and independence.

Cassaniti, “Agency and the Other”

Cassaniti, Julia. 2012. Agency and the Other: The Role of Agency for the Importance of Belief in Buddhist and Christian Traditions. Ethos 40(3):297-316.

Abstract: Belief is important in some religious experiences and not in others. Why? I address the question here through an analysis of belief in two different religious communities in Northern Thailand. In the Northern Thai Buddhist community of Mae Jaeng the Thai term for belief is rarely evoked, while in the nearby Christian community of Mae Min it occurs often. Tying belief to ideas about causation, I argue that the different prominence of belief in the two communities relates to ideas about personal agency. In the Christian community belief creates personal agency through the mediation of an external agentive Other, while in the Buddhist community personal agency is seen to be constructed through natural processes that render belief unnecessary. In making this argument I offer a critique of the ubiquity of belief as part of religious experience, and push for further research on the intersections of belief, agency, and intersubjectivity in psychological anthropology.