Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Hardin’

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 »

Hardin, “Spiritual Etiologies”

April 30, 2014

Hardin, Jessica. 2014. Spiritual Etiologies: Metabolic Disorders, Evangelical Christianity, and Well-Being in Samoa. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University. 

Abstract: This dissertation examines how rising rates of metabolic disorders are interpreted by evangelical Christians in Samoa as evidence of the need for (re)Christianization. Evangelical Christians critique mainline Christianity as a source of suffering, and posit a relationship between church-based exchange and metabolic disorders. Metabolic  disorders are particularly difficult to heal in the cultural context of Samoa because they require individuals to change their everyday lives in ways that challenge common Samoan practices of well-being, including food-sharing and feeding. Metabolic disorders also require Samoans to reformulate the associations power and potency have with large body size. This dissertation explores the ways medicalized ideas of food, fat, and fitness travel into evangelical Christian contexts in order to examine the generative intersection of religion and medicalization. While the medicalization of food, fat, and fitness is readily accepted, many Samoans struggle with how to actualize changes to their health behaviors (i.e., to eat differently, to exercise) because of the constraints of church and family obligations, and cash-poverty. Evangelical churches offer new ways to participate in church-based exchange, which are explicitly directed at alleviating cash-poverty, and evangelical Christianity has, through the linking of salvation and healing, developed ways for born-again Samoans to change health behaviors. Through conversion and healing practices, many born-again people also examine the relationships that may be a source of suffering. Data was collected over two years of ethnographic fieldwork between 2008 and 2012; fieldwork included participant observation in biomedical facilities (hospitals and clinics), in churches (Sunday services, healing ministries, Bible study, and prayer groups), and in two households. In-depth interviews were also conducted with a range of Christians and health practitioners. In a time of deepening socio-economic inequalities and increased dependence on cash, this dissertation argues that evangelical notions of well-being, in conversation with medicalization, bring into focus the socio-economic inequalities that cause metabolic disorders––inequalities that medicalization alone tends to eschew. In turn, evangelical Christians come to examine the embodied evidence of disease (e.g., stress, anger, high blood pressure) as evidence of those inequalities.

Hardin, “Fasting for Health, Fasting for God”

October 19, 2013

Hardin, Jessica A. 2013. Fasting for Health, Fasting for God: Samoan Evangelical Christian Responses to Obesity and Chronic Disease. In Reconstructing Obesity: The Meaning of Measures and the Measures of Meaning. Edited by Megan McCullough and Jessica Hardin, 107-130. New York: Berghahn.

Excerpt: The motivation to write this paper was sparked during conversations with public health practitioners and Pacific scholars after returning from preliminary fieldwork trips over the course of three years. Whenever I would mention to Pacific scholars working in the United States or public health practitioners working with Pacific islanders that I was doing research on fasting, the response was generally: “Samoan people fast?” This motivated me to explore why the Samoan practice of fasting seems like such a contradictory idea.

The first part of this puzzle is that anthropologists often associate Samoans with lavish food presentations as a key dimension of exchange relationships; this association informs not only social relationships but also bodily idioms and subjectivity. For many public health practitioners, Samoa elicits an image of fast foods, fatty meats, obesity, and attendant diseases. The question arises, then, how and why is the practice of fasting a common topic of discussion among Samoan Christians when it seems, at least on the surface, to contradict Samoan food ideologies and anthropological understanding of the connection between consumption, body size, and abundance? How is fasting appropriated into a food ideology that values large body sizes and views eating as a central dimension of sociality?

Conference Dispatch: 2013 American Ethnological Society Meetings

April 29, 2013

2013 American Ethnological Society meetings, April 11-13, Chicago, Illinois.

By: Jessica Hardin (Brandeis University)

Just under 200 papers were presented in Chicago; only seven of which focused on Christianity, 10 on Islam and one on Candomble. This dearth of papers raised a number of questions for me. Mainly: given the conference theme “Anthropologies of Conflict in a New Millennium,” why weren’t more voices exploring the role of religion, religious mediation and spirituality in contemporary conflict? On a pragmatic level this may reflect the fact that the Society for the Anthropology of Religion meetings were being held the same weekend in California. But, it may speak to a limited engagement with how conflict has been treated in the anthropology of Christianity, and may also reflect the particular shape the anthropology of Christianity emerging today has taken thus far.

As I planned a panel for the conference I had to think hard about how my work related to conflict. In Samoa, where I conduct fieldwork, conflict arises from denominational diversity and competing spiritual economies. My panel sought to expand how we engage with conflict at the micro level through the topic of ritual failure. With this in mind, Hillary Kaell (Concordia U) and I organized a panel to explore the role ethnography can play in illuminating the meaning of failure for ritual participants. How do ritual actors navigate conflict as a context and conflict writ small? We also asked, what does the presence and categorization of failure reveal about humans as reflexive social actors who actively engage in social reproduction? The panel explored ritual action from a variety of perspectives, expanding how to think about failure, mistakes, and mishaps.

Casey Golomski (UMASS Boston) explored generational contest over ritual mistakes in a context of demographic change related to the enduring HIV/AID epidemic in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Elders are increasingly concerned about the lack of ritual socialization among youth. While this incompetence is a source of contestation, ritual efficacy is not contested but instead social action is focused on young ritual actors who require intervention. My paper explored multiple interconnected scales of ritual failure and conflict: (1) at the personal level of the practitioners who manage experiences and expectations and (2) at the social level where community boundaries are reified and contested. In the end I argue that ritual failure reveals a micro-level negotiation of denominational diversity in Samoa. Failed rituals do not just hinder social work but permit new forms of social action and formulations of the essence of social problems.

The panel shifted focus with Kristin Bloomer’s (Harvard U) exploration of the question of authenticity and discernment in ritual performances of Marian spirit possession in Tamil Nadu, South India. Bloomer considers the role of the constitution of subjects and communities in the performance and, more specifically, in the adjudication of ritual action. Elizabeth Brummel (U Chicago) explored the “how” of Pentecostal conversion through a linguistic analysis of how her interlocutors transformed a “mundane” narrative of salvation into an ideal narrative in Kenya. Brummel did not engage with failure but instead explored the social work accomplished in producing a narrative of rupture. Kaori Hatsumi (Kalamazoo C) ethnographically engaged with the unfolding ritual space of the Stations of the Cross in a paper titled “Tamil Catholic Easter in Postwar Sri Lanka.” She shows the regenerative processes engendered by the enactment of Easter rites.

Andrew Buckser (Purdue U) offered commentary on the panel, which highlighted the role of perspective. He asked, according to who are rituals deemed failures, inauthentic or mundane? Who controls such narratives and how is blame assigned or punished? What is the place of conflict in such ritual contestations? Shared across the papers is the problem of evaluation: who determines authenticity and success? Who adjudicates? How do participants themselves manage such expectations and evaluations? Buckser pointed to another common thread, the drive to document and fix narratives and the stories that emerge from ritual action.

Two papers that were part of larger organized panels also addressed Christianity. On a panel titled “Responsibility: Cultural Constructions of Agency and Conflict” organized by Ilana Gerhson (Indiana U), Sarah Bakker (UCSC) presented her work with Middle Eastern Christians in the Netherlands. Bakker explores how Syriac Christians are the targets of integration policies by the Dutch multicultural state. She revealed the conflicts and contestations that arise over distinct ideologies about freedom and responsibility, which require Syraic Christians to transform their embodied and social practices into more secular and private forms encouraged by the state.

Lauren Leve (UNC Chapel Hill) presented a paper on the panel “Interrogating the ‘Post-Conflict’: Temporality, Affect, and Social Transformation” organized by Amanda Snellinger (U Oxford) and Sara Shneiderman (Yale U).  Leve’s paper, “Of Conflict and Conversion:  Engaging the Post-Conflict through the Lens of Christianity in Nepal,” explores how rural Christian converts in post-conflict Nepal navigate emergent forms of democracy and citizenship through Christian orientations towards affect and temporality as well as religious practices including prayer.

The 2013 AES meetings was a vibrant conference exploring multiple facets of conflict and contestation in contemporary life. The papers addressing Christianity were rich and demonstrated the importance of incorporating the anthropology of Christianity into broader anthropological conversations about conflict, contestation, and social transformation

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