Abstract: The Samoan Christian theologian Ama’amalele Tofaeono draws on diverse intellectual sources to articulate an ecological theology both distinctively Samoan and self-consciously Oceanic. I examine Tofaeono’s writings through the lens of recent work in linguistic anthropology on repetition and replication. By paying close attention to the ways texts and their original contexts, authorship, and intentions can be brought forward into new contexts, such anthropological work offers a useful perspective on Tofaeono’s theological arguments about creation and salvation. Tofaeono frames creation and salvation as actions that are necessarily ongoing—matters of repetition rather than rupture, a kind of continuity that depends not on fundamental durability but on repeated reengagement. An appreciation of Tofaeono’s articulation of time and repetition can in turn illuminate the anthropological study of social transformation and help develop productive interdisciplinary dialogue between anthropology and theology.
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Abstract: Anthropological insights are not produced or constructed through reasoned discourse alone. Often they appear to be given in “leaps of faith” as the anthropologist’s conceptual grasp upon the world is lost. To understand these peculiar moments, we adopt the Kierkegaardian concept of religious faith, not as certitude in some transcendental principle, but as a deeply paradoxical mode of knowing, whose paths bend and twist through glimpses of understanding, doubt, and existential resignation. Pointing to the ways in which such revelatory and disruptive experiences have influenced the work of many anthropologists, we argue that anthropology is not simply a social science, but also a theology of sorts, whose ultimate foundation might not simply be reason but faith.
Abstract: Answering the question of the intellectual proximity of anthropology and theology is difficult, however. One way to do this would be to try to map how the entirety of things looks from each vantage, and then compare these sky-charts for matching patterns. Such a cataloging is a dizzying and exhaustive proposition, though, and not even those who have made the greatest investment of time and thought on this issue are suggesting that we are anywhere near the point of sufficient mastery of an anthropological/theological conjunction to engage in that work. As we will see, for the most part the theology/anthropology rapprochement is a project that is still in its formative stages, offering plenty of promissory notes instead of hard arguments. But still, this is a development that is still quickening, and so a comprehensive account of the overlaps in the views of both disciplines has to wait. A far more economical move might be to simply select a single book and use it to make what we might call taking a parallax measurement. We would ask how this book might appear from different vantage points, with each vantage point’s likely view of the text compared with the other to see how far apart the two standpoints are, i.e. to see how the book might appear to both non-theological and theological readers. As we will see, there are actually far more than two vantage points, however. The gradations and modes of theological engagement by anthropology go far beyond an easy binary, with theology either embraced or scorned. This may be an exercise in intellectual parallax, but once we look into the particulars of how theology and anthropology could relate it is also an exercise in the intellectually vertiginous.
Publisher’s Description: An anthropological study of Syriac Orthodox Christian identity in a time of displacement, upheaval, and conflict. For some Syriac Orthodox Christians in Bethlehem, their self-articulation – the means by which they connect themselves to others, things, places and symbols – is decisively influenced by their eucharistic ritual. This ritual connects being siryāni to a redeemed community or ‘body’, and derives its identity in large part from the Incarnation of God as an Aramaic-speaking Bethlehemite.
Publisher’s Abstract: This paper adapts a glocalization framework in a transnational, anthropological exploration of liturgy in the Orthodox Church of Finland (OCF). It draws on long-term ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with participants of liturgy from Finnish, Russian, and Greek cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The main argument of the paper is that generic processes of nationalization and transnationalization are not mutually exclusive in practitioners’ experiences of liturgy in OCF, but rather generate a glocal space that incorporates Finnish, Russian, Karelian, and Byzantine elements. Individuals artistically engage with glocal liturgy on sensorial, cognitive, social, and semantic levels. What is important for the participants is a therapeutic sense that comes from a feeling of ‘being at home’, metaphorically, spiritually, and literally. People’s ongoing, creative work constitutes Orthodoxy as their national and transnational home.
Abstract: This article reflects on one potential relationship the anthropological study of religion might enjoy with a critical orientation to religion. To do so, I highlight a burgeoning (but tenuous) dialog between anthropology and theology. Ultimately, I propose that a focus on religion and human flourishing provides one wavelength on which an anthropology–theology collaboration can thrive. I follow the observation that anthropologists and theologians are united by concern with shared problems. If human and social flourishing is one such problem, then what might a collaborative configuration look like? The example I consider is how ethnographic evidence of religion in public life can be mobilized to advance prophetic theological critiques of injustice.
Other articles in the special issue are relevant to anthropologists of Christianity. Follow the link above.
Reviewed By: Leanne Williams Green (University of California, San Diego)
On Knowing Humanity: Insights from Theology for Anthropology contributes to several current projects and proposals in which the disciplines of anthropology and theology engage one another. Several of these endeavors aim to make each discipline speak to the other in particularly foundational ways (see Lemons et al. forthcoming, or Banner 2013 for an approach from moral theology). These emerging projects are situated where the significant growth in anthropological studies of Christianities has opened up space not only to make Christianity in its diverse and global manifestations a focus of anthropological interest, but also to account for the intellectual heritage of anthropology itself and its association with Christian visions of humans and of the world. In his elegant tracing of the faith commitments of several early anthropologists, Timothy Larsen (2014) has pointed out the ways this kind of engagement has already been evident historically in the work of individual scholars. In the examples he describes, the interaction between theology and the subject matter of these anthropologists is categorical, going beyond merely a faith stance from which each operates as ethnographer and analyst. While other singular efforts like those of John Milbank (1990) sought to take theology as social theory, a larger shared project did not emerge within anthropology. Continue reading
Abstract: The anthropology of Christianity has struggled to theorize the place of theology in Christian social life. Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre’s account of virtue ethics, in particular his concepts of practice, narrative, and moral tradition, I explore the reception of Pentecostal theology in the Nepali city of Bhaktapur. I show how local Christians have drawn on Pentecostal eschatology to develop a pacifistic ethics, allowing them to negotiate local social and religious conflicts. The belief that Christ has decisively defeated evil spirits allows local Christians to detach themselves from cycles of aggression connected with witchcraft accusations, providing a space of security in which to cultivate distinctive practices of care. Connecting this local theology with a wider tradition in Pentecostal moral thought, I argue that MacIntyre’s virtue ethics provides a powerful tool for interpreting the relationship between local circumstance and extra-local theology, and for studying cross-cultural patterns of theological reception.
L’anthropologie du christianisme a rencontré quelque difficulté à théoriser la place de la théologie dans la vie sociale chrétienne. À partir de l’histoire des vertus retracée par Alasdair MacIntyre, et en particulier de ses concepts de pratique, de narration et de tradition morale, l’auteur explore la réception de la théologie pentecôtiste dans la ville népalaise de Bhaktapur. Il montre comment les chrétiens locaux ont exploité l’eschatologie pentecôtiste pour développer une éthique pacifiste, qui leur permet de négocier les conflits sociaux et religieux locaux. La croyance que le Christ a remporté une victoire décisive sur les mauvais esprits permet aux chrétiens locaux de se détacher des cycles d’agression liés aux accusations de sorcellerie et de se créer un espace de sécurité dans lequel ils peuvent cultiver des pratiques distinctes d’attention envers les autres. En reliant cette théologie locale à une plus large tradition de la pensée morale pentecôtiste, l’auteur avance que l’éthique des vertus de MacIntyre offre un outil puissant pour interpréter la relation entre circonstances locales et théologie venue de l’extérieur, ainsi que pour étudier différents schémas culturels de réception théologique.
Abstract: This paper draws upon over three years’ research among Eastern Orthodox (principally Antiochian and Greek) communities in London and Mount Athos, Greece. This research came to engage theology quite heavily as part of the ethnographic facts of the fieldsites. This paper reviews some of the existing ways that theology (as both discipline and practice) relate to ethnographic enquiry, particularly as it has arisen in the dialogue with the Anthropology of Christianity and frames this in light of the historical development of Anthropology and its relationship to theology and Christianity. The paper then advances a methodological argument, in favour of further means of relation, specifically in terms of theology as a cultural artefact. Drawing on local practices of liturgical theology and Eastern Orthodox forms of allegorical interpretation, I argue for the inclusion of theological insight and practice within the social scientific study of religion. Working in an Orthodox setting requires the investigation of liturgical theology and brings to light important aspects of the relationship between temporal and sempiternal domains of action. Particularly as it relates to liturgical theology and the practices of interpretation, ethnographic enquiry into Orthodox theology asks for a reconsideration of social scientific methods of analysis and representation.