Archive for May, 2013

Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Book Review

May 30, 2013

Guadeloupe, Francio. 2009. Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Calypso, Christianity, and Capitalism in the Caribbean. Berkeley: University of California Press.

By: Brian Howell (Wheaton College)

Beautiful islands of beaches, colorful and fascinating cultures, and delicious tropical cuisine, it is no wonder the economies of the tiny island nations of the Caribbean have become dominated by tourism in their postcolonial history.  At the same time, reading about Caribbean history and politics may produce conflicted feelings about benefiting from the exploitation of the people and their land.  It’s hard to enjoy your Piña Colada if you’re too aware of the colonial history of exploitation behind the excellent service at Club Med.

But are the excellent service, the friendly smiles, and warm welcome just a cover for deep-seated resentment and cultural tension?  As Francio Guadeloupe notes in the conclusion of Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Calypso, Christianity and Capitalism in the Caribbean, the Caribbean generally is often portrayed in terms of these contrasts: the Caribbean downtrodden and their Western exploiters; neocolonial nationalists struggling against European empire; local religious movements against Christian hegemony; men versus women; Black against White; in short, a “Caribbean that has become paradigmatic for students of Caribbean studies” (206).

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Webster, “The Eschatology of Global Warming in a Scottish Fishing Village”

May 28, 2013

Webster, Joseph. 2013. “The Eschatology of Global Warming in a Scottish Fishing Village.” Cambridge Anthropology  31(1):68-84.

Abstract: In Gamrie, an Aberdeenshire fishing village home to 700 people and six millennialist Protestant churches, global warming is more than just a ‘hoax’: it is a demonic conspiracy that threatens to bring about the ruin of the entire human race. Such a certainty was rendered intelligible to local Christians by viewing it through the lens of dispensationalist theology brought to the village by the Plymouth Brethren. In a play on Weberian notions of disenchantment, I argue that whereas Gamrie’s Christians rejected global warming as a false eschatology, and environmentalism as a false salvationist religion, supporters of the climate change agenda viewed global warming as an apocalyptic reality and environmentalism as providing salvific redemption. Both rhetorics – each engaged in a search for ‘signs of the end times’ – are thus millenarian.

Review Essay: Orienting the East

May 26, 2013

Orienting the East: Notes on Anthropology and Orthodox Christianities

Tom Boylston (London School of Economics)

If this blog testifies to the efflorescence of the anthropology of Christianity, anthropological and ethnographic work on Eastern and, especially, Oriental Orthodoxies remains somewhat sparse and scattered at the time of writing. To some extent this is a matter of academic time lag: anthropologists have recognised a lacuna and a good amount of research is now underway and beginning to show fruit. Since a majority of anthropologists working on Orthodox Christianities are now at PhD or early career level, we can expect a substantial growth in the literature in the coming years. Rather than lament the lack of anthropological attention to Orthodoxy, people are getting on with the work of producing it.

With this in mind, I would like to use this post to begin asking: what can Orthodox Christianities do for the anthropology of Christianity, and what can an anthropology of Christianity do for the study of Orthodox Christianities? In the spirit of starting a conversation rather than a systematic review, I will suggest some areas of particular interest emerging from existing work, and outline some conceptual challenges that an anthropology of Orthodoxy raises for a broader anthropology of Christianity.

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Matsuzato & Danielyan, “Faith or Tradition”

May 24, 2013

Matsuzato, Kimitaka, and Stepan Danielyan. 2013. Faith or Tradition: The Armenian Apostolic Church and Community-Building in Armenia and Nagorny-Karabakh. Religion, State and Society 41(1) pp. 18-34

Abstract: It is no secret that the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) is closely connected with Armenian nationality and Armenian states (Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh). Previous studies have concentrated on surveying the privileges granted to it by these Armenian states. This study goes further by elucidating complementary relations between the AAC and these states in community-building. These states are suffering from the incompetence of local governments created by radical municipal reforms and the decollectivisation of agriculture during the 1990s. They need the help of the AAC, which is potentially able to mobilise rural intellectuals via church (parish) councils. The AAC wishes to reinforce its position, which it sees as endangered by various ‘sectarian’ challenges. Its weak appeal to faith (insufficient evangelisation) gives Protestant ‘sectarians’ abundant room for proselytism, against which the AAC intends to struggle ‘from below’ by its deeper involvement in community-building.

Naumescu, “Learning the ‘Science of Feelings'”

May 24, 2013

Naumescu, Vlad. 2012. Learning the ‘Science of Feelings’: Religious Training in Eastern Christian Monasticism. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, Volume 77: Issue 2. Special Issue: Learning Possession

Abstract:

In Eastern Christianity novitiate is a period of learning to experience the presence of God in one’s life and the world. Novices follow the hesychast prayer, a mystical tradition that leads them to an experiential knowledge of God. In this paper, I argue that novitiate should be regarded as a complex learning process involving specific assemblages of contextual, cognitive, body-sensory and emotional aspects. By educating their attention and emotion novices learn to see beyond and within reality and thus discover the potentiality of people and things ‘in the likeness of God’. Religious transmission happens not only through embodied practice and the active acquisition of religious knowledge but, more importantly, through the work of the imagination. Novices’ orientation towards the transcendent requires an expansion of the imaginative capacities beyond their ‘routine’ functioning. Imagination could be thus seen as a key cognitive capacity through which they learn to experience God.

Rocha, “Transnational Pentecostal Connections”

May 22, 2013

Rocha, Cristina. 2013. Transnational Pentecostal Connections: an Australian megachurch and a Brazilian Church in Australia. Pentecostudies 12(1):62-82.

Abstract: The paper analyses transnational flows of Pentecostalism between Australia and Brazil. It analyses the establishment of CNA, a Brazilian church that caters for the increasing number of Brazilian students in Sydney. It also investigates the ways in which Hillsong, an Australian Pentecostal megachurch, has influenced CNA and has been alluring young Pentecostal Brazilians to Australia. Scholars have paid little attention to how religious institutions in the host country may influence rituals and facilitate the establishment of the new church. I argue that churches created by migrants are not established in a deterritorialized diasporic vacuum. Reterritorialization engenders hybridity. Following an admiration for Australian churches due to Australia being part of the English-speaking developed world, CNA is a hybrid of a conservative Brazilian Baptist church and the very informal Hillsong church. I contend that it is precisely this hybridity that makes young Brazilians adhere to it since the church works as an effective bridge between Brazilian and Australian cultures. Furthermore, this paper demonstrates the polycentric nature of Pentecostalism, as Australia is becoming a centre for the dissemination of Hillsong-style Pentecostalism in Brazil.

Maddox, “Prosper, consume and be saved”

May 21, 2013

Maddox, Marion. 2012. Prosper, consume and be saved. Critical Research on Religion. 1(1):108-113.

Abstract:  A Sydney-based megachurch with global reach, well-known for its ‘‘prosperity gospel’’ of financial acquisition, has developed an additional strand: a detailed theology of consumption. The affinity between a theology of guilt-free—indeed, obligatory—consumption and late capitalism goes some way towards explaining the attraction this minority strand of Christianity holds for politicians, including those without personal religious commitments, in a secular electorate.

Lynn, “The Wrong Holy Ghost”

May 21, 2013

Lynn, Christopher Dana. 2013. “The Wrong Holy Ghost”: Discerning the Apostolic Gift of Discernment Using a Signaling and Systems Theoretical Approach. Ethos 41(2):223-247.

Abstract: I develop a case study of demonic glossolalia (speaking in tongues) for its cues in conveying religious commitment among a congregation of Apostolic Pentecostals. From the perspective of signaling theory, costly or hard-to-fake signals may convey psychological dispositions of members and would-be members toward an inclusive community. I utilize signaling theory in a broader systems approach to make sense of an incident of speaking in tongues that a congregation decries as demonic. To facilitate this interpretation, forms and motivations of glossolalia—the sine qua non that one has accepted Jesus as personal savior—are described and examined, including examples of calm and excited “Holy Ghost“ and “backslider“ and “mistaken demonic“ glossolalia. To an outsider, some of the differences among these signaling modes may be difficult to distinguish, but the underlying religious and family dynamics provide insights as to how church members make distinctions they attribute to the spiritual “gift of discernment.“ This approach promises to make unique contributions toward understanding the implicit folk psychologies of practices that, according to Pentecostals, mark them as “weird“ or “odd.“

Garbin, “Visibility and Invisibility”

May 14, 2013

Garbin, David. 2013. The Visibility and Invisibility of Migrant Faith in the City: Diaspora Religion and the Politics of Emplacement of Afro-Christian Churches. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39(5):677-696.

Abstract: In today’s post-industrial city, migrants and ethnic minorities are forming, through their religious practices, particular spaces of alterity, often at the ‘margin’ of the urban experience—for instance, in converting anonymous warehouses into places of worship. This paper examines diverse facets of the religious spatiality of Afro-Christian diasporic churches—from local emplacement to the more visible public parade of faith in the urban landscape. One of the aims is to explore to what extent particular spatial configurations and locations constitute ‘objective expression’ of social status and symbolic positionalities in the post-migration secular environment of the ‘host societies’. Without denying the impact of urban marginality, the paper shows how religious groups such as African Pentecostal and Prophetic churches are also engaged, in their own terms, in a transformative project of spatial appropriation, regeneration and re-enchantment of the urban landscape. The case study of the Congolese Kimbanguist Church in London and Atlanta also demonstrates the need to examine the articulation of local, transnational and global practices and imaginaries to understand how religious and ethnic identities are renegotiated in newly ‘localised’ diasporic settings.

The Color of Sound: Book Review

May 14, 2013

Burdick, John. 2013. The Color of Sound: Race, Religion, and Music in Brazil. New York: NYU Press.

By: James S. Bielo (Miami University)

 

Eight young men gather on a Sao Paulo rooftop – surveying the city’s sprawling jumble of ramshackle houses, the periferia – writing rhymes and composing gospel raps. A congregation is divided as they hear and see a samba band perform: some uncomfortable with this being worship, others dance joyously yet careful not to sway too much. Hips don’t lie. Gospel singers view videos of U.S. gospel choirs performing in church, and talk excitedly about which techniques to emulate. Scenes like this form the ethnographic backbone of John Burdick’s The Color of Sound: a comparative study of how blackness, musical artistry, and evangelical Christianity intersect.

Burdick’s ethnography traverses ten poor and working-class neighborhoods in Sao Paulo: Brazil’s largest city and the world’s eighth largest. The book derives from nine months of fieldwork (2003-2005), and focuses on a particular racial-religious identity. Negros and negras: Afro-descendent Brazilians who are historically and structurally marginalized throughout the nation. Evangelicos: Protestant Christians from a variety of denominations, including millenialists (Seventh-Day Adventists), “classic Pentecostals” (8), and neo-Pentecostal prosperity churches. The core question that moves the analysis is this:

“To what extent may evangelicos develop black pride from within the ideological matrix of evangelical Christianity” (11)?

To answer this, Burdick concentrates on a certain kind of religious actor: music artists. It is in the musical lives of evangelicos, he argues, where a marked potential to develop racial consciousness exists. Burdick compares musicians in three genres: gospel rappers, gospel sambistas, and gospel singers. The striking differences among these three provide the book’s biggest yield. Ethnographically, Burdick does not limit himself to polished performances; instead, he tracks “rehearsals, backstage gatherings, and everyday transits…workshops, classes, seminars, and trainings” (16). The behind-the-scenes feel that results is one of the book’s shining qualities. Theoretically, the core argument is this: “in order to understand the role of music in the formation of collective identities, we must attend to how musical practices and discourses articulate and generate ideas and feelings about history, place, and the body” (19).

The central finding of Burdick’s ethnography is that the three genres – rap, samba, gospel – offer evangelicos very different sets of possibilities. To begin, as genres they carry different social meanings and histories. Rap in Sao Paulo bears much the same weight that rap bears in Tokyo (Condry 2006) or Nairobi (Ntarangwi 2009): urban hipness, youth agency, cultural critique, and a sense of locality. Samba, on the other hand, is dangerous for evangelicos. The genre is intimately associated with sexuality and party culture; it is the most difficult to redeem. In this way, gospel is samba’s ideological opposite: thoroughly and definitively spiritual, primed and ready for Christian ends.

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