Anna-Riikka: Hi Girish, thank you so much for taking the moment to discuss your recently published book, ”Looking Back, Moving Forward. Transformation and Ethical Practice in the Ghanaian Church of Pentecost.” Can you first talk about the journey that led you to study Christianity among Ghanaians in both London and Ghana?
Girish: Sure, I must admit that my love for research and my love for anthropology were not located in the anthropology of Christianity at the time of starting my PhD. The motivation for my research came out of strong interest in a place – Ghana – and its people. I was interested in religion but not necessarily focused on one type of religion per se. Also, I was very curious about the Ghanaian diaspora because migration is also part of my own personal history. I made the decision of working with Ghanaians but rather than going to Ghana, I chose to stay in London. Then I started looking for a space in London where Ghanaians would gather. It was a very difficult task because most Ghanaians I knew were very busy people with family obligations and multiple jobs. Eventually I started going to different Ghanaian Christian fellowships until someone told me about the Church of Pentecost (COP), which he described as the largest Protestant church in Ghana. I joined one of their English Sunday services in Dagenham, London, which became my home for the next several months before I felt the urge to spend more time with COP in Ghana. They were very welcoming, I thought it was a perfect location to do my research, and the Ghanaian Christian diaspora became a fascinating subject which I could not turn away from. So the Ghanaian diaspora project became a Ghanaian Christian diaspora project. I became focused on how Ghanaians located themselves in the Christian world, both in Ghana and in the UK, as well as how the Christian or the Pentecostal Christian identity was important both in their personal lives as well as for their future aspirations for change.
Abstract: How are objects used differently within different types of Protestantism? Proceeding from this question, this short anthropological essay takes as its ethnographic point of departure two apparently contrasting deployments of the Bible within contemporary Scotland, one as observed among Brethren and Presbyterian fisher-families in Gamrie, coastal Aberdeenshire, and the other as observed among the Orange Order, a Protestant marching fraternity, in Airdrie and Glasgow. By examining how and with what effects the Bible (as text and object) enters into and extends beyond the everyday practices of fishermen and Orangemen, I sketch some aspects of the material life of Scottish Protestantism that have hitherto been overlooked. The tendency to downplay the role of objects within Protestantism seems, in part, to be the result of an ideal-typical insistence that this religion—especially in Scotland and the Global North—remains transfixed by a thoroughly anti-material asceticism.1 This tacit assumption, which emerged within anthropology as the result of an overly hasty reading of Max Weber, continues to haunt ethnographic and theoretical framings of both Protestantism and modernity, either through their relative silence on the subject, or by treating (modern, Protestant) objects as somehow exceptional and novel.
While many issues about the entrepreneurial engagements of African-Caribbean (AC) have been discussed in the literature; there is far less studies documented about the link of these activities to faith, especially in the context of Pentecostalism. Hence, this research unravels how membership of Pentecostal fellowships aids the entrepreneurial activities of AC members.
Adopting the interpretive research paradigm, a total of 25 tape-recorded, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with AC entrepreneurs who are members of Pentecostal faith-based organisations in London, and Pastors in this same sphere. 16 of the respondents are entrepreneurs running and managing their businesses while seven are Pastors, and the remaining two fall in both categories as they are both entrepreneurs and still serving as Pastors in churches in London. Rather than merely serving as gatekeepers for information, the pastors are active participants/respondents in the study.
The paper highlights the challenges confronting the African-Caribbean ethnic entrepreneurs but also suggests that those in the Pentecostal faith are motivated and emboldened by the shared values in this religion to navigate the volatile marketing environment. It unveils participants’ faith in God as their key business survival strategy. It also shows the unwavering confidence of the respondents that this religious stance results in outstanding business successes like increase in sales and profits, competitive edge, divine creativity and innovation, opportunity recognition, networks, institutional support and other factors that underpin entrepreneurship.
This study unpacks the thickly blurred link between Pentecostalism as a thriving religious orientation among the African-Caribbean ethnic group in the UK and their entrepreneurial engagements.
Abstract: How does the cultivation of beauty interact with agency? In this article the author discusses the religious value of beauty for conservative evangelical Christians in the English town of Brighton. Building on the anthropological approach to art and agency developed by Alfred Gell, the author considers the manner in which the everyday of bodies, relationships and personal testimonies become implicated in a deferential semiotics in which meaning resides in the self but is not owned by it. Through this work, women engage with an on-going project of visibility and objectification that is often tenuous and difficult but is nevertheless compelling, as they seek to mediate the agency of God.
Publisher’s Description: In this work of qualitative sociology, Anna Strhan offers an in-depth study of the everyday lives of members of a conservative evangelical Anglican church in London. “St John’s” is a vibrant church, with a congregation of young and middle-aged members, one in which the life of the mind is important, and faith is both a comfort and a struggle – a way of questioning the order of things within society and for themselves. The congregants of St John’s see themselves as increasingly counter-cultural, moving against the grain of wider culture in London and in British society, yet they take pride in this, and see it as a central element of being Christian. This book reveals the processes through which the congregants of St John’s learn to understand themselves as “aliens and strangers” in the world, demonstrating the precariousness of projects of staking out boundaries of moral distinctiveness. Through focusing on their interactions within and outside the church, Strhan shows how the everyday experiences of members of St John’s are simultaneously shaped by the secular norms of their workplaces and other city spaces and by moral and temporal orientations of their faith that rub against these. Thus their self-identification as “aliens and strangers” both articulates and constructs an ambition to be different from others around them in the city, rooted in a consciousness of the extent to which their hopes, concerns, and longings are simultaneously shaped by their being in the world.
Abstract: The agentive aspects of communicative religious experiences remain somewhat neglected in the social sciences literature. There is a need for phenomenological descriptions of these experiences and the ways in which they differ from culturally defined psychopathological states. In this semi-structured interview study, eight congregants attending an evangelical church in London were asked to describe their experiences of God communicating with them. Communications from God were related to current events rather than to the prediction of future events. These communications were received as thoughts and do not generally reveal metaphysical insights, but rather they relate to the mundane world. They provided direction, consolation and empowerment in the lives of those receiving them. Individuals recounted that on occasion God sometimes speaks audibly, or accompanied by supernatural phenomena, but in the vast majority of cases, the way God speaks is through thoughts or impressions. In all instances, agency is maintained, individuals can choose to obey the thoughts/voices or not. The findings are discussed in relation to externalisation of agency and the phenomenon of thought insertion in schizophrenia.
The constantly emerging technologies of the internet are frequently described in terms that evoke space. As online technologies continue to grow in their global ubiquity, it is appropriate to consider how the virtual geographies that are conjured in online engagement extend beyond the web browser. This chapter builds upon anthropological approaches studying religious communication to consider how internet engagement with some religious Believers creates and provides a sense of presence in an inspirited world. I first discuss how anthropologists approached the relationship between religious communication and space before considering Charismatic Christians in the UK. Following 12 months of fieldwork in their churches in the South of England, I describe a range of everyday internet practices and the spiritual implications held by my informants. The key finding is that the technologies of the internet provide for Believers contexts in which they are able to perceive and directly experience the dimensions of their spiritual battles. While British Christianity continues to suffer steady decline, web-based resources allow Christians opportunities to experience connections with others as part of an unstoppable, global, wave of revival. This sense of sanctified online community is tempered by knowledge that words transmitted in some online contexts may be witnessed by non-Believers. While this knowledge is mostly welcomed by members, shared spaces such as Facebook or Youtube can become sites for spiritually hazardous confrontations. In their engagement with online media these Christians experience online comments lists, blog entries, and social networking platforms as sites in which struggles for global, national, and personal salvation are staged and restaged. For these Christians, the spaces of the internet come to be experienced as territories in constant transition.
Abstract: This paper explores the concept of the post-secular city by examining the growing presence of Street-Pastors in the night-time economy of British cities. Street-Pastors are Christian volunteers who work to ensure the safety of people on a ‘night out’. We contribute to work that has called for greater attention to be placed on the ways in which religious faith and ethics are performed to create liminal spaces of understanding in urban areas. Drawing upon in-depth ethnographic research conducted in a range of UK towns and cities, we consider this distinct form of faith-based patrolling in relation to the spatial processes and practices of urban-nightscapes. By exploring the geographies of Street-Pastors, we not only contribute to more nuanced accounts of ‘drinking spaces’ but provide an empirical engagement with the growing body of work on urban rhythms and encounters.
Abstract: While studies of Pentecostalism have played an important role in forming the emergent anthropology of Christianity, research on pilgrimage has had far less of an effect on this subfield. I explore some of the reasons why by looking at the “semiotics of theory” and asking what constitutes resonant anthropological model making at a particular moment in the construction of anthropology. Having provided a critical account of past theoretical and ethnographic work on Christian pilgrimage, I suggest an alternative approach, drawing in part on fieldwork carried out at the pilgrimage shrines of Walsingham, in Norfolk, England. I suggest that my approach can provide useful perspectives not only on the anthropology of Christianity but also on aspects of our understanding of ritual and religious experience more generally.
Abstract: Secular humanists in the United Kingdom regularly think about, talk about, and act in relation to religion, especially Christianity. In this article, I address the relationships between secular humanism and Christianity by drawing on fieldwork with a local humanist group affiliated with the British Humanist Association. In line with many moderns, as indeed with many kinds of Christians, these secular humanists often want to sever ties with the past—in this case, with what they understand to be Christianity’s religious elements. At the same time, they want to preserve those aspects of Christianity they understand to be human, not religious. These engagements with and articulations of Christianity can be helpful not only for understanding contemporary secular-humanist formations but also some of the debates that have framed the anthropology of Christianity over the past decade.