Part IV: Review Forum, The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions
Christianity in a world of normative entanglements: reflexivity, conversion, and materiality
Keane, Webb. 2014. Rotting Bodies: The Clash of Stances toward Materiality and Its Ethical Affordances. Current Anthropology 55(s10): s312-S321.
Vilaça, Aparecida. 2014. Culture and Self: The Different “Gifts” Amerindians Receive from Catholics and Evangelicals. Current Anthropology 55(s10): s322-S332.
Marshall, Ruth. 2014. Christianity, Anthropology, Politics. Current Anthropology 55(s10): s344-S356.
By Bruno Reinhardt (Utrecht University)
The three articles here under review are part of the subsection entitled “Key topics” of the recently released special issue of Current Anthropology – “The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions” – edited by Joel Robbins and Naomi Haynes. More than extensive overviews of some of the central themes animating the Anthropology of Christianity since its inception – reflexivity, conversion, and materiality – these articles allow three leading scholars in this field to clarify and produce new input into their long-term research projects. Albeit challenging, the very possibility of producing a joint review of such rich and singular works by unearthing not only disagreements, but also potential complementarities, testifies to the success and vitality of the Anthropology of Christianity as a comparative field of inquiry whose questions have resonated across highly diverse theoretical canons, scholarly trajectories, and field sites.
Keane, Webb. 2014. Rotting Bodies: The Clash of Stances toward Materiality and Its Ethical Affordances. Current Anthropology DOI:10.1086/678290
Abstract: Any community supposedly identified with a “single” kind of Christianity is likely to contain conflicts and divisions due to the different logics and temporalities associated, respectively, with ecclesiastical institutions, popular practices, and scriptural texts. These conflicts may extend even to basic ontological assumptions. This article looks at clashes concerning popular practices surrounding relics and icons in Eastern Orthodoxy. It asks what are the ethical stakes when people insist on the powers of material things even in the face of withering criticism and contempt from inside and outside their church. That criticism, which can have both theological and atheistic bases, often focuses on the allegedly instrumental reasoning and selfish motives of people who expect to receive divine intervention from objects such as relics and icons. I argue that popular practices that focus on the agency of objects may above all be responding to material properties as ethical affordances. These affordances provide ways of treating the world as ethically saturated. In the Eastern Orthodox context, this may be one way for ordinary villagers to take lofty theological claims about the divine nature of humans in concrete terms.