Archive for January, 2013

Carr, “Signs of the Times”

January 29, 2013

Carr, E. Summerson. 2013. ‘Signs of the Times’: confession and the semiotic production of inner truth. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19(1):34-51.

Abstract: How is it that confession – a highly ritualized, dialogically structured speech act – appears to transparently reflect and reveal the inner states of confessants? This article explores this question by closely engaging select post-Vatican II defences of the Sacrament of Penance, which lay out the requirements of ‘modern’ confession in striking detail. A close reading of these theological texts demonstrates that felicitous confession is the product of three correlated (meta-)semiotic processes: (1) the figuration of the pentinent memory as a storehouse for sin; (2) the management of ritual time into discrete stages of ‘private’ meaning-making and ‘public’ pronouncement; and (3) the erasure of the social scenery of the confessional utterance. In concert, these processes render indexical signs as iconic ones and, in so doing, naturalize confession as the cathartic revelation of inner truths, already constituted as such.

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Bielo, “The New Evangelicals: Does Fragmentation Equal Change”

January 25, 2013

Bielo, James S. 2013. Does fragmentation equal change? The Immanent Frame. http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2013/01/25/does-fragmentation-equal-change/ (accessed January 25, 2013).

Excerpt:  ‘Marcia Pally’s post tracks the important fact that contemporary American evangelical social and political engagement is fragmenting. She rightly observes that such fragmenting is not historically novel, and is a self-consciously critical response to the power of the Religious Right.

To read of “robust polyphony” among evangelicals was especially welcome to me, as I addressed this phenomenon in a recent ethnography, Emerging Evangelicals (NYU Press, 2011). As a cultural anthropologist, I explored the identities fashioned, practices performed, histories claimed, institutions created, and critiques waged among evangelicals influenced by the Emerging Church movement. Pally’s astute analysis returned me to a question I stopped short of fully developing: does fragmentation equal change?

While it is clear that evangelicalism is diversifying, it is unclear what this amounts to. We see voting blocs split, financial donations broaden, volunteer labor disperse, and moral-political agendas expand. But, do these fragmentations signal tectonic, hard-wired, all-bets-are-off cultural change? Or, is it more superficial (which is not to say unimportant or not deeply felt) social change? Do electoral politics and other shifting forms of activism amount to fundamental change, or merely changing patterns of action?’

10,000 views!

January 22, 2013

AnthroCyBib has reached a small milestone: 10,000 views! We want to thank everyone who has supported the site in getting here. With our recent expansion to include book reviews and conference reports, along with continued bibliographic updates, we look forward to the next 10,000. Stay tuned for the first set of reviews in the coming months, and do let us know if you are interested in reviewing a book of interest to the anthropology of Christianity.

Your AnthroCyBib co-curators,

Jon Bialecki (UCSD), James Bielo (Miami University), and Naomi Haynes (University of Edinburgh)

Austin, “Quaker Brotherhood”

January 20, 2013

Austin, Allan W. 2012. Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Publisher’s Description: The Religious Society of Friends and its service organization, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), have long been known for their peace and justice activism. The abolitionist work of Friends during the antebellum era has been well documented, and their contemporary anti-war and anti-racism work is familiar to activists around the world. Quaker Brotherhood is the first extensive study of the AFSC’s interracial activism in the first half of the twentieth century, filling a major gap in scholarship on the Quakers’ race relations work from the AFSC’s founding in 1917 to the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the early 1950s.

Allan W. Austin tracks the evolution of key AFSC projects, such as the Interracial Section and the American Interracial Peace Committee, that demonstrate the tentativeness of the Friends’ activism in the 1920s, as well as efforts in the 1930s to make scholarly ideas and activist work more theologically relevant for Friends. Documenting the AFSC’s efforts to help European and Japanese American refugees during World War II, Austin shows that by 1950 Quakers in the AFSC had honed a distinctly Friendly approach to interracial relations that combined scholarly understandings of race with their religious views.

In tracing the transformation of one of the most influential social activist groups in the United States over the first half of the twentieth century, Quaker Brotherhood presents Friends in a thoughtful, thorough, and even-handed manner. Austin portrays the history of the AFSC and race–highlighting the organization’s boldness in some aspects and its timidity in others–as an ongoing struggle that provides a foundation for understanding how shared agency might function in an imperfect and often racist world.

Highlighting the complicated and sometimes controversial connections between Quakers and race during this era, Austin uncovers important aspects of the history of Friends, pacifism, feminism, American religion, immigration, ethnicity, and the early roots of multiculturalism.

Marina, “Getting the Holy Ghost”

January 20, 2013

Marina, Peter. 2013. Getting the Holy Ghost: Urban Ethnography in a Brooklyn Pentecostal Tongue-Speaking Church. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Publisher’s Description: This book carries an ethnographic signature in approach and style, and is an examination of a small Brooklyn, New York, African-American, Pentecostal church congregation and is based on ethnographic notes taken over the course of four years. The Pentecostal Church is known to outsiders almost exclusively for its members’ “bizarre” habit of speaking in tongues. This ethnography, however, puts those outsiders inside the church pews, as it paints a portrait of piety, compassion, caring, love—all embraced through an embodiment perspective, as the church’s members experience these forces in the most personal ways through religious conversion. Central themes include concerns with the notion of “spectacle” because of the grand bodily display that is highlighted by spiritual struggle, social aspiration, punishment and spontaneous explosions of a variety of emotions in the public sphere. The approach to sociology throughout this work incorporates the striking dialectic of history and biography to penetrate and interact with religiously inspired residents of the inner-city in a quest to make sense both empirically and theoretically of this rapidly changing, surprising and highly contradictory late-modern church scene.

The focus on the individual process of becoming Pentecostal provides a road map into the church and canvasses an intimate view into the lives of its members, capturing their stories as they proceed in their Pentecostal careers. This book challenges important sociological concepts like crisis to explain religious seekership and conversion, while developing new concepts such as “God Hunting” and “Holy Ghost Capital” to explain the process through which individuals become tongue-speaking Pentecostals. Church members acquire “Holy Ghost Capital” and construct a Pentecostal identity through a relationship narrative to establish personal status and power through conflicting tongue-speaking ideas. Finally, this book examines the futures of the small and large, institutionally affiliated Pentecostal Church and argues that the small Pentecostal Church is better able to resist modern rationalizing forces, retaining the charisma that sparked the initial religious movement. The power of charisma in the small church has far-reaching consequences and implications for the future of Pentecostalism and its followers.

Bialecki, “Virtual Christianity”

January 18, 2013

Bialecki, Jon. 2012. Virtual Christianity in an age of nominalist anthropology. Anthropological Theory 12(3):295-319.

Abstract: This article claims that the collective object of an anthropology of Christianity should be Christianity as a virtual object, in the sense used by Gilles Deleuze: a field of multiplicitous potential with effects on the formation of the actual. This position is necessitated by the recurrent inability/refusal/demurral of the anthropology of Christianity to define what its exact object is. This inability/refusal/demurral is a symptom that can be traced back to a larger anthropological shift towards a nominalist ontology, a disciplinary tendency which is exemplified in the recent anthropological interest in Deleuzian-derived assemblage theory. After showing how current anthropological uses of Deleuze have neglected his concept of the virtual due to the same nominalist tendency, this article then argues that taking up Deleuze’s virtual realism would reconfigure assemblage theory in such a way that it would make the project of an anthropology of Christianity substantially more intelligible, as well as undoing what appear to be points of contestation internal to the sub-field.

Roberts, “Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousnesss’?”

January 18, 2013

Roberts, Nathaniel. 2012. Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousness’? Anthropological Theory 12(3):271-294.

Abstract: The trope in which conversion – especially of non-Western people to Christianity – is envisioned as a type of conquest is one many scholars have found compelling. This article examines the implicit moral psychology behind the idea that conversion is a ‘colonization of consciousness’, which it identifies as rooted in a secular liberal model of the self and of religion. The appeal of the conversion-as-conquest trope lies in its focus on power, but by building secular liberal assumptions into its theoretical optic it remains ironically blind to some of the most pervasive ways power operates today – namely, through the production of secular truths about religion, and by authorizing ‘autonomous’ secular subjectivities as normative. Drawing on examples from the author’s research on Pentecostal conversion in Indian slums, and on a national context where violent anti-conversion activism is prevalent, the article argues that while both conversion and opposition to it entail power, this power is not well understood on the model of mental colonization, or ‘resistance’ by uncolonized subjectivities.

van de Kamp, “Love Therapy”

January 15, 2013

van de Kamp, Linda.  2012.  Love Therapy: A Brazilian Pentecostal (Dis)connection in Maputo.  In, The Social Life of Connectivity in Africa, Rijk van Dijk and Mirjam de Brujin, eds.  p. 203-226.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Excerpt: “This chapter examines this public training of the body in ways of love, such as embracing and kissing, in relation to the changing practices of love an dnew gender roles in Maputo.  I examine Brazilian Pentecostal counseling sessions on love and sexuality as a set of ‘connecting techniques’ where the terapia do amor serves as a key example.  In line with the arguments running through this current volume, connecting techniques are specific forms of linking that people consider to open up new life options, such as the invention of new bodily modes  and relationships.  In the case of the therapy, the connecting techniques have two important meanings.  First, the value of the Brazilian Pentecostal connections for Mozambican urban women is intrinsically related to its transnational aspects.  The transnational Pentecostal bridge allows for disconnecting from existing forms of relating and learning about alternative ways of being and relating.  Second, it appears that the embodiment of specific constructs, tools, or techniques (Foucault 1988) produces love and successful relations.  To connect to alternative forms of love and marriage and to disconnect from older ones, the body plays a central role in realizing connections and effectuating sociocultural change.  The last part of this chapter describes how the new modes of bridging and bonding through the embodiment of Brazilian Pentecostal techniques are also leading to insecure feelings and relationships” (p. 204).

Brennan, “Take Control: The Labor of Immediacy in Yoruba Christian Music”

January 6, 2013

Brennan, Vicki. 2012. “Take Control: The Labor of Immediacy in Yoruba Christian Music.” Journal of Popular Music Studies 24(4):411–429.

Excerpt: “While an analytic focus on the semiotic techniques whereby media produce immediacy is crucial to analyzing the social processes by which those media are themselves made invisible in experience, such an analysis only goes so far in elucidating the “creativity and control of human subjects” that Eisenlohr argues is erased in such processes. Therefore, in this article, I emphasize the discipline and disciplining work as well as the ethical practices that make such cultural and social processes possible. I do so through an analytic emphasis on what I call the labor of immediacy, that is, the practices whereby human subjects discipline themselves and rehearse the necessary actions that allow the mediated nature of immediate religious experiences to disappear. I argue that the perceived spontaneity of musical performance as well as the practical techniques through which religious sound artifacts are performed in new contexts in order to produce connections and circulate values, all rest on this labor of immediacy.

More specifically, in this article, I examine the labor of immediacy that underlies the use of sound recording and playback technology in facilitating and enhancing religious experiences and worship practices for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Ayọ ni o Church in Lagos, Nigeria. The Ayọ ni o Church is a branch of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church Movement—a form of Yoruba independent Christianity. This movement began in colonial Nigeria, when early Yoruba Christians broke away from mission churches to establish congregations of their own. The Cherubim and Seraphim emphasized healing through prayer, Holy Spirit baptism, and charismatic forms of worship that featured the extensive use of music and dance. The Ayọ ni o Church is located in a large compound at the edge of Surulere, a predominantly Yoruba, middle-class suburb of Lagos. Each Sunday more than three thousand people attend worship services at the Ayọ ni o Church, many of them attracted by the church’s reputation for including spiritually powerful and emotional musical performances in their worship. This musical reputation was enhanced by the Ayọ ni o choir’s commercially produced and distributed recordings, along with the music videos and other promotional materials that support their recordings.

More than thirty albums have been recorded by the Ayọ ni o Choir since 1978. These recordings reproduce and circulate aesthetic values central to producing religious belonging and ethical forms of personhood. As I discuss in more detail below, the recordings thus play an important role in the everyday religious practices of church members. However, the recordings did not replace live musical performance during worship services. While worship without instruments—no guitars, keyboard, or even drums—was acceptable, worship without singing was inconceivable. The idea that there were living people in the same space as oneself, participating in a shared musical ritual, was important for ensuring the success of worship both in terms of its ability to provoke appropriate emotional responses from the congregation as well as in terms of attracting the Holy Spirit to enter the worship space. Therefore, while the songs on the recordings played an important role in church worship, they were always represented in the form of live performance.

In order to analytically detail the labor of immediacy that underlies and produces religious musical experiences for church members, I explore here how the recordings are used by choir musicians in their everyday lives, in individual musical practice, and in rehearsals. I describe how through the musical labor of training, practice, and rehearsal the choir members engage with the recordings in order to regulate affective and emotional responses and expressions during church worship. Their recontextualization of previously recorded songs does important spiritual work for church members by creating links between aesthetic and religious values and allowing those values to be recirculated through the community. While such performances may seem spontaneous in the context of church worship, in order for the recontextualization of a previously recorded song to be successful in achieving the spiritual goals of the congregation, a great deal of planning and work takes place.

In this article, I explore how the work of choir musicians during practice and rehearsals makes possible the recontextualization of recorded sounds during Yoruba Christian worship. Through disciplinary practices of listening and music-making that make use of the recordings, church musicians attune themselves to particular modes of behavior and produce appropriate forms of emotionality. These emotional responses can then be summoned contextually by church members in relation to a given situation. As I suggest in the conclusion of this article, these disciplined forms of emotion and embodiment are seen as necessary to survive and thrive in the midst of the uncertainty provoked by the political and economic transitions taking place in contemporary Nigeria.”

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