Abstract: African Americans regularly join Eastern Orthodox churches in the United States. By focusing on what practitioners do with Orthodox icons, this case study explores the processes through which specific experiences and expressions of being an Orthodox Christian become possible and meaningful for African American practitioners. This article suggests that saint veneration became a compelling Orthodox practice to practitioners because it provided a unique way to connect to the divine and to resist continuing racial discrimination in the United States. With the help of icons, African American men and women demonstrated that African people were saints, that African women contributed significantly to the history of Christianity, and that African Americans performed saintly acts. In this way, practitioners aimed to cultivate a reconciled Christian community where the full and equal membership of people of African descent is taken for granted. In following how Orthodox Christians put the materiality of their icons to work to deconstruct the assumption that whiteness is a universal default for religious experience, this article urges scholars of African American religions to make room for Eastern Orthodoxy as yet another tradition that supplies African Americans with creative tools to craft a compelling way of being a religious person.
Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.
Publisher’s Description: In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., which is based in Harlem and one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal denominations in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Casselberry shows how the women negotiate this contradiction by using their work to produce and claim a spiritual authority that provides them with a particular form of power. She also emphasizes how their work in the church is as significant, labor intensive, and critical to their personhood, family, and community as their careers, home and family work, and community service are. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.
Abstract:Neo-Pentecostalism is characterized as offering freedoms and empowerment for women, a limited role in navigating patriarchy, or strengthening patriarchal control. In Nairobi, Kenya, neo-Pentecostalism is concerned with a morality built around an idealized model of the nuclear family in which a wife is subservient to her husband. It might appear that women’s ministries empower female members to challenge structures of control, but such challenges are resisted and women are expected only to survive within existing structures. Single women are expected to live amongst the prejudices of society and dissuaded from any attempt to alter the societal structures that leave them marginalized.
Publisher’s Description: There has been an extraordinary growth in Pentecostalism in Africa, with Brazilian Pentecostals establishing new transnational Christian connections, initiating widespread changes not only in religious practice but in society. This book describes its rise in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, and the sometimes dramatic impact of Pentecostalism on women. Here large numbers of urban women are taking advantage of the opportunities Pentecostalism offers to overcome restrictions at home, pioneer new life spaces and change their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, conversion can also mean a violent rupturing with tradition, with family and with social networks. As the pastors encourage women to cut their ties with the past, including ancestral spirits, they come to see their kin and husbands as imbued with evil powers, and many leave their families. Conquering spheres that used to be forbidden to them, they often live alone as unmarried women, sometimes earning more than men of a similar age. They are also expected to donate huge sums to the churches, often money that they can ill afford, bringing new hardships.
Abstract: Within public health and medical anthropology research, the study of women’s agency in reproductive decision making often neglects the role of religion and women’s spirituality. This article is based on ethnographic research conducted at a shelter for homeless (mostly African American) mothers in the southeastern United States. We explore the inadequacy of rational choice models that emphasize intentionality and planning, which our research shows are in tension with the vernacular religious and moral ethos of pregnancy as a ‘blessing’ or unplanned gift. Our findings confirm that young and disadvantaged women may view pregnancy and motherhood as opportunities to improve their lives in ways that mediate against their acceptance of family planning models. For these women, the notion of ‘blessing’ also reflects an acceptance of contingency and indeterminacy as central to the reproductive experience. We also question the increasingly popular distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ in contemporary public health.
Abstract: This paper explores the story of the formation and subsequent activities of a church women’s group in Maisin villages and women’s experiences of Christianity more broadly, in relation to the changing production and uses of traditional bark cloth (tapa), a signature women’s product which has become a marker of Maisin identity. While the influence of the local Mothers’ Union has waxed and waned over the past 60 years, tapa cloth has had a continuing influence upon its fortunes. Tapa cloth has been the chief means for church women to raise funds to support their activities and the local church. However, we argue that, more fundamentally, tapa has shaped women’s gendered Christian identities, experiences and history, mediating relationships with men, between generations of women, and with various sorts of ‘missionaries’ who have often justified their intrusions in terms of improving women’s lives.
Abstract: This article situates a cultural phenomenon of women’s memory work through clothing in Swaziland. It explores clothing as both action and object of everyday, personalized practice that constitutes psychosocial well-being and material proximities between the living and the dead, namely, in how clothing of the deceased is privately possessed and ritually manipulated by the bereaved. While human and spiritual self-other relations are produced through clothing and its material efficacy, current global ideologies of immaterial mortuary ritual associated with Pentecostalism have emerged as contraries to this local, intersubjective grief work. This article describes how such contrarian ideologies paper over existing global aspects of people’s entangled relations with the dead – in three biographies of women and their objects – thus showing that memory work is not limited to people, goods, or ideas that flow between nations and expanding notions of the global and gendered practices of personhood.
Abstract: Pentecostalism is a charismatic and conservative movement which began in the USA at the outset of the 20th century and has widely spread throughout the world thanks to migration, urbanisation and the establishment of transnational denominations. Pentecostalism presents an intriguing paradox: on one hand, it recognises women’s specific ability to relate to God : on the other hand, women are often denied access to positions of authority within these churches. The authors of this volume examine the situation of women in various Pentecostal churches, and how Pentecostalism shapes gender relationships. They look at the personal paths of women prophets, evangelists, pastors or pastors’ wives and at « women’s fellowships » to understand why the gendered distribution of responsibilities remains mostly in favour of men. Drawing on meticulous fieldwork research including a remarkable set of Pentecostal churches and movements, this volume throws light on the relations between charismatic experience, moral conservatism and the situation of women in a major component of contemporary worldwide Christianity.
Né aux Etats-Unis au début du 20ème siècle, le pentecôtisme est un mouvement charismatique et conservateur qui s’est largement diffusé depuis lors sur tous les continents, à la faveur des migrations, de l’urbanisation et de la structuration d’Eglises transnationales. Le mouvement pentecôtiste est marqué par un paradoxe fort intriguant : d’un côté, on reconnaît aux femmes une capacité particulière et remarquable à entrer en relation avec Dieu ; de l’autre, on leur refuse le plus souvent l’accès aux postes de pouvoir au sein des églises. Les auteurs analysent ainsi la place des femmes dans ces différentes églises et la manière dont le pentecôtisme façonne les rapports de genre. Ils s’intéressent aux parcours de femmes prophétesses, évangélistes, pasteures ou épouses de pasteurs et aux « mouvements de femmes » et tentent de comprendre pourquoi l’organisation et la répartition sexuée des responsabilités sont généralement plus favorables aux hommes. A partir d’enquêtes minutieuses portant sur un ensemble inédit d’églises et de mouvements pentecôtistes, les auteurs éclairent les relations entre expériences charismatiques, conservatisme moral et conditions des femmes au sein d’un des courants majeurs du christianisme mondial.
Abstract: Applications of the concept of habitus to research on religion have increased in recent decades. At present, Pierre Bourdieu’s interpretation of the concept is perhaps the most well known. Nevertheless, it has also met with criticism. This article utilizes Bourdieuan theorizations to discuss the habitus of elderly Finnish Orthodox Christian women. The author examines the women’s dispositions in relation to their changing minority position within Finnish society, and identifies the dynamic between reflexivity and routine practice as being central to their religion. The analysis demonstrates the value of Bourdieu’s understanding of habitus when studying the long-term effects of social power on subjectivity – as reflected, for instance, in lifelong minority religion. The author argues, moreover, that contrary to the claims of many critics, Bourdieu’s approach is suitable for inquiries into the conscious dimensions of practicing, in so far as these are conceived of as grounded in individuals’ past and present conditions of religious practice.