Webster, “The Immanence of Transcendence”

October 16, 2013

Webster, Joseph. 2013. The Immanence of Transcendence: God and the Devil on the Aberdeenshire Coast. Ethnos 78(3): 380-402.

Abstract: In Gamrie (a Scottish fishing village of 700 people and 6 Protestant churches), local experiences of ‘divine providence’ and ‘demonic attack’ abound. Bodily fluids, scraps of paper, video cassettes and prawn trawlers were immanent carriers of divine and demonic activity. Viewed through the lens of Weberian social theory, the experiences of Scottish fisher families show how the life of the Christian resembles an enchanted struggle between God and the Devil with the Christian placed awkwardly in-between. Because, locally, ‘there is no such thing as coincidence’, these Christians expected to experience both the transcendent ordering of life by divine providence through God’s immanence and the transcendent disordering of life by demonic attack through the Devil’s immanence. Where this ordering and disordering frequently occurred through everyday objects, seemingly mundane events – being given a washing machine or feeling sleepy in church – were experienced as material indexes of spiritual reality. Drawing on the work of Cannell (on transcendence), Keane (on indexicality) and Wagner (on symbolic obviation), this paper argues that attending to the materiality of Scottish Protestantism better equips the anthropology of religion to understand Christian experience by positing immanence as a kind of transcendence and transcendence as a kind of immanence.

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