Kallinen, “Christianity, fetishism, and the development of secular politics in Ghana”

June 17, 2014

Kallinen, Timo.  2014. Christianity, fetishism, and the development of secular politics in Ghana: A Dumontian Approach.  Anthropological Theory 14(20: 153-168.

Abstract: The paper discusses the impact of Christianity on the institutions of divine kingship and chiefship among the Asante people of Ghana during the late pre-colonial and colonial periods. The thrust of the paper is that separate categories of religion and politics emerged in Asante society as the colonial administration sought to facilitate missionary work and conversion while at the same time they supported the chiefs as the secular rulers of the country. The analysis is based on Dumont’s ideas on the differentiation of the political category and the characteristics of the modern state. Dumont’s own work on secularization focused on long-term historical developments that were markedly different from the abrupt changes described here. Nevertheless, his ideas help us significantly in comprehending the profoundness and radicality of this transformation. Additionally, the aim of the paper is to provide some historical background for understanding debates about the nature and value of traditional chieftaincy in present-day Ghana.

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Heo, “The Divine Touchability of Dreams”

June 10, 2014

Heo, Angie. 2014. “The Divine Touchability of Dreams.” In Sensational Religion, edited by Salley M. Promey. Yale: Yale University Press.

Excerpt: “In Port Said, a city between Egypt’s Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, an icon of the Virgin Mary exudes holy oil …. [s]ince 1990, year after year the image had attracted thousands of Coptic Christian pilgrims to the Church of Saint Bishoi, where it is housed. Unlike other surrounding icons in the sanctuary, painted and consecrated by priestly hands, this one is an ‘autoconsecrating’ poster replica. It produces and reproduces holy oil by itself. This oil leaves behind worn paper traces in its liquid trail as it travels from the Virgin’s outstretched hands to the plastic canopy that captures the oil beneath her feet. From there, the priests of the church collect and distributes the oil as a form of remembrance …..

Devotees understand the origin of the icon’s miraculous activity to reside in the drama of one women’s dream. On the evening of February 20, 1990, the Virgin Mary (by way of saintly visitation) healed Samia Youssef Badilious of breast cancer. Samia dreamed that the Virgin, assisted by three other saints, preformed surgery on her. Within the space of the dream, Samia lay down on a white table as the saints held her hands. Then the Virgin touched the cancerous breast. Startled by a burning bolt of sensation that rushed through her body, Samia pulled her right hand away. The Virgin grabbed it back and held her hand. When Samia awoke, she discovered that she had been healed….”


A Matter of Belief: Book Review

June 9, 2014

Joshi, Vibha. 2012. A Matter of Belief: Christian Conversion and Healing in North-East India. New York: Berghahn Books.

Reviewed by Jessica Hardin (Pacific University)

This is a book about how animism and Christianity are practiced together among Angami people in Nagaland in North-East India. Vibha Joshi provides a wide overview of indigenous religious practices, the contemporary Christian landscape, and colonial/missionary history building on fieldwork spanning from 1985 through to 2011. Most broadly, the book aims to show how Christianity provides a framework for political peace for conflict arising between Naga nationalist groups and the Indian government. Specifically, Joshi argues that Christianity provides a language and organization for reconciliation, even if she remains skeptical of its capacities to truly “heal society.” The motivation for this book is to provide a deep overview of the historical complexity of the emergence of Christianity and the ways Christianity is intertwined with nationalism in North-East India. The book provides a wide scope of historical, political, and geographic context and, as such, is less a book about Christianity per se and more about (1) the relationship between indigenous religions and Christianity in beliefs and practice and (2) the political uses of Christianity from colonialism through to contemporary calls for peace, reconciliation, and unity.

The book is explicitly situated in conversation with the Anthropology of Christianity (5-11). Joshi writes that she did not start this project as a study of Christianity, but instead came to study Christianity through her work with Angami healers. She writes, “one could say that my research at the outset and throughout has focused on Naga as a people, including its healers, some of whom are Christian” (6). Nonetheless, Joshi frames the book as about conversion to Christianity. She explores both “the pragmatic” and “the passionate” (3) dimensions of large-scale conversion and aims to draw attention to the contradictions and tensions that arise when Christianity is put to the work of nationalism, calls for cultural homogeneity, and peace. One of the contradictions that Joshi highlights is that the rituals, attire, and art that expresses Naga-ness, which were originally discouraged by missionaries in the early phases of evangelism, are now taking center stage at public Christian celebrations. Joshi does not expand on how this tension is experienced by her interlocutors as much as suggests points of interaction between indigenous religion, Christianity, and historical context. Overall Joshi asks, “what, then, can a new religion offer, and what is appropriated by the converts?” (7). Read the rest of this entry »


Mission Station Christianity: Book Review

June 6, 2014

Hovland, Ingie. 2013. Mission station Christianity: Norwegian missionaries in colonial Natal and Zululand, southern Africa 1850-1890. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

By: Casey Golomski (University of the Witwatersrand)

 

In Mission Station Christianity, Ingie Hovland gives religious studies scholars and anthropologists a concise and useful case study of the Norwegian Missionary Society’s (NMS) colonial encounters with Zulu peoples in nineteenth century Southern Africa. The book is part of Brill’s interdisciplinary Studies in Christian Mission series that presents historical, global case studies of transcultural missionary movements. This is her first book.  Read the rest of this entry »


Jennings, “Imagining Jesus doing a Whole Lotta Shakin'”

June 3, 2014

Jennings, Mark.  2014. Imagining Jesus doing a Whole Lotta Shakin’: Pentecostal worship, popular music and the politics of experience.  Culture and Religion 15(2): 211-226.

Abstract: This paper commences with a brief outline of the history of the symbiotic relationship between popular music and Pentecostalism in the USA. While early rockers learned many of the techniques of ecstasy from Pentecostal worship, in recent times Pentecostal/charismatic songwriters and worship leaders have completed the circle, re-appropriating popular music forms for use in church. This is particularly the case in Australia, where Hillsong and Planetshakers have led the way in composing worship music using rock, pop and hip-hop forms. Drawing from ethnographic data from my own participant observation at an Australian Pentecostal church, I attempt to address the question ‘Can the ecstatic encounter with God which is central to Pentecostalism be accessed in other, “unbaptized” (i.e. non-Christian) musical contexts?’ The ambivalence of responses from the members of ‘Breakfree’ Christian church point to the fact that this is a political issue: at stake is the authority to determine which experiences are ‘Christian’, and which not.


Dengah, “How Religious Status Shapes Psychological Well-being”

May 27, 2014

Dengah, H. J. François.  2014. How Religious Status Shapes Psychological Well-being: Cultural Consonance as a Measure of Subcultural Status among Brazilian Pentecostals.  Social Science and Medicine.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Research on subjective social status has long recognized that individuals occupy multiple social hierarchies, with socioeconomic status (SES) being but one. The issue, as such, has been to identify culturally meaningful measures of social status. Through cognitive anthropological theory and methods, I show that it is possible to identify multiple cultural models of “status,” and objectively measure an individual’s level of adherence, or consonance, with each—effectively placing them within the multidimensional space of social hierarchies. Through a mixed qualitative and quantitative study of 118 Brazilian Pentecostals carried out from 2011-2012, I show that dominant and limitedly-distributed cultural models of status operate simultaneously and concurrently in the lives of those who hold them. Importantly, each marker of cultural status moderates the other’s association with psychological well-being. I argue that the importance of a given social hierarchy is framed by cultural values. For Brazilian Pentecostals, their limitedly distributed model of religious status alters the influence of more dominant societal indicators on psychological well-being. The interaction between religious and secular lifestyle statuses on psychological health is stronger than the association of SES, effectively explaining 51% of the variance. This finding suggests that among some populations, limitedly distributed cultural models of status may be a dominant force in shaping measures of well-being.


Yidana, “From Divine Word to Divine Wealth”

May 27, 2014

Yidana, Adadow.  2014. From Divine Word to Divine Wealth: Sociological Analysis of the Developmental Phases of Pentecostal Churches in Ghana.  Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 2(2): 346-354.

Abstract: There is an ongoing debate regarding the proliferation of Pentecostal churches in Africa and Ghana in particular. Consequently, Pentecostal denominations are seen as routes through which people gain fame and make wealth. Using a data collection in Ghana in the city of Tamale between July and December 2013, this paper provides an analysis of the different developmental phases of Pentecostal churches in Ghana. The results points to an increasing numbers of Pentecostal churches in Ghana. This increased is partly due to the increasing number of educated elites who have taken advantage of the economic potential in establishing Pentecostal churches. The paper reveals that the real intention of almost all pastors who have planted their churches is to see it grow to become a mega church or reaching a true entrepreneurial stage. The paper further reveals that it is not just a one stop journey, but has to pass through stages before achieving the self fulfilling stage. The paper thus concludes that in as long as the industry remains lucrative, a number of educated elites will join the vacation.


Sites and Politics of Religious Diversity in Southern Europe: Book Review

May 21, 2014

Mapril, José and Ruy Blanes (eds). 2013. Sites and Politics of Religious Diversity in Southern Europe: The Best of All Gods. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

By: Kim Knibbe (University of Groningen)

The anthropology of religion in the South of Europe is alive and well. That is the resounding conclusion after reading this volume. Furthermore, it has stepped out well beyond the bounds of the classic ‘anthropology of the Mediterranean’. In an important sense, this volume also falls outside the scope of the anthropology of Christianity, since its subject is religious diversity, and it includes studies of Islam, Sikhism, Umbanda and Candomblé, New Age, and neo-paganism. In fact, only a small number of chapters deal with Christianity as their main subject matter. Nevertheless, the volume raises some important questions that are worth discussing in this forum.

The introduction by the editors does a good job of introducing the subject and providing a framework for the very diverse contributions to the volume. It starts out with the question of the religious heritage of Europe that emerged around the issue of a European constitution: can this be thought of only in terms of Christianity (in other discussions, ‘Judeo-’ is sometimes added in front of Christianity, still not self-evidently part of what is thought of as the European heritage)? This volume aims to show that the groups discussed here conceptualize Europe in quite different ways, and create new cartographies of this place called Europe. Each of these cartographies in their own right can be read as a challenge to the ‘secularist hegemony’ of public opinion and, one might add, of Eurocrats (1). Europe, even the south of Europe, which appeared so homogenously Christian in the anthropology of the Mediterranean, is quite diverse in terms of religion.

While religious diversity is not a new phenomenon, in the light of the ‘return of religion’ in public debate (if not in fact, since religion had never really gone away) the editors argue that it is something worth noting and exploring. How do different groups shape the relationship between religion and culture on the one hand, and place on the other hand? How are migrant groups subject to ‘double marginalization,’ as migrants and as ‘religiously other,’ and how do they resist this? The south of Europe is particularly interesting, they argue, because it is at the edges of the Schengen area, the place where boundary work is particularly urgent since it is a gateway for migrants from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. Read the rest of this entry »


Ketola et al., “New communities of worship”

May 15, 2014

Ketola, Kimmo, Tuomas Martikainen, Hanna Salomäki.  2014. New communities of worship: Continuities and mutations among religious organizations in Finland.  Social Compass 61(2): 153-171.

Abstract: The authors provide a summary of three key developments that have brought change to the field of religious organizations in Finland: the emergence of new Lutheran communities (the St Thomas Mass, the so-called Nokia Revival and the fundamentalist Luther Foundation Finland); Ashtanga yoga as a form of spirituality; and the spread of migrant religious communities. The article sets these developments in the context of late modern communal belonging and discusses how religious communities have been transforming over the last two to three decades in Finland.


Kaufman, “A Plea for Ethnographic Methods”

May 14, 2014

Kaufman, Tone Stangeland.  2014.  “A Plea for Ethnographic Methods and a Spirituality of Everyday Life in the Study of Christian Spirituality: A Norwegian Case of Clergy Spirituality.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 14(1): 94-102.

Excerpt: What counts as “real spirituality” or “real pastoral spirituality”? What can be sustainable sources of spiritual nourishment for clergy and others who are employed by the church? These questions might call for a wider understanding of pastoral spirituality than has traditionally been the case, and also for the willingness to look for such spirituality outside the explicitly “religious or spiritual sphere.” The quotes above are taken from open ended, in-depth interviews with ordained pastors in my Norwegian, Lutheran context. The twenty-one strategically sampled interviewees of this study on clergy spirituality all served as pastors in the Church of Norway (CofN) at the time they were interviewed.

At the outset of my research, my focus was primarily the contemplative or devotional practices of the clergyHowever, during the analysis, the salience and significance of everyday practices related to children and family life began emerging as a pattern worth exploring more in depth. This is a discovery that I would have probably not reached had I only studied classical texts written by spiritual figures such as Julian of Norwich, St. John of the Cross, or Evelyn Underhill.

This essay, then, has a twofold purpose; one material and one methodological. Materially, it makes a plea for the significance of an everyday spirituality not only for lay (people), but also for clergy, at least in non-Catholic traditions. This might also apply to lay leaders and deacons in Catholic contexts. Methodologically, I want to suggest that an ethnographic approach might enrich the study of Christian spirituality by expanding the sources (or data) to be explored, and by challenging or nuancing existing categories of the field. The ethnographic lens gives access to the spiritual experiences of contemporary people who have not written—or are not in the position to write—spiritual texts themselves.


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