Posts Tagged ‘language ideology’

Friedner, “The Church of Deaf Sociality”

February 22, 2014

Friedner, Michele. 2014. The Church of Deaf Sociality: Deaf Churchgoing Practices and “Sign Bread and Butter” in Bangalore, India. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 45(1): 39–53.

Abstract: This article ethnographically analyzes the practices of deaf young adults in Bangalore, India. As sign language is not used by families, schools, or other institutions, the church is a crucial educational space. Churchgoing provides deaf young adults with opportunities to orient themselves toward other deaf young adults, to develop new ideas of self and other, and to value sign language.

Hein, “The Semiotics of Diaspora”

July 3, 2013

Hein, Emily Jane Carter. 2013. The Semiotics of Diaspora: Language Ideologies and Coptic Orthodox Christianity in Berlin, Germany. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Abstract: The dissertation is based on field research in Coptic Orthodox Church congregations in Germany, where Copts are living after emigration from Egypt. The data for the study are drawn from participant-observation, interviews, and recordings in these communities and include analysis of texts collected during fieldwork. The focus is on Copts’ ideologies of language in the diaspora, where their linguistic repertoires – Coptic (sacred language of religious texts), Arabic (most community members’ first language, spoken within the home or with other Copts), and German (language of the new location) – are being reconfigured. The dissertation has these main arguments: (1) in the liturgy and in its textual representations, the three languages are being interpreted as in a temporal progression, in which Arabic – devalued for its association with Islam and Arabs– is to be replaced by German, although there are some tensions surrounding this as yet incomplete process; (2) Copts are making a rhetorical effort, and (in effect) sociological project, to be identified with whites, Europe, and Christendom (seen as overlapping categories), thus evading German anti-immigrant prejudice and becoming part of the majority. This identification entails a semiotics of temporality as well, in the assertion that Christ came “out of Egypt” (as, more recently, did the Copts) – thus Egypt is to be included as the root domain of Christianity, rather than excluded from it because of its Muslim majority. This narrated past is part of Copts’ claim to inclusion in the (future) ecumene of Christianity. The author contends that the temporal progression implicit in the language shift in progress (1) can be seen as part of this wider semiotics of temporality (2). The present work contributes to debates on diaspora and the narrative construction of time and space. Its central themes of language ideologies, code repertoires, and textuality and performance are important topics in linguistic anthropology, the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of the Middle East and Europe. Detailing how Copts in the diaspora bring to life a dead language, while enthusiastically shifting to German, the dissertation is an ethnography of language contact and language shift.

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.

King, “The New Heretics”

January 4, 2013

King, Rebekka. 2012. The New Heretics: Popular Theology, Progressive Christianity, and Protestant Language Ideologies. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. for the Study of Religion. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto.

Abstract: This dissertation investigates the development of progressive Christianity. It explores the ways in which progressive Christian churches in Canada adopt biblical criticism and popular theology. Contributing to the anthropology of Christianity, this study is primarily an ethnographic and linguistic analysis that juxtaposes contemporary conflicts over notions of the Christian self into the intersecting contexts of public discourse, contending notions of the secular and congregational dynamics. Methodologically, it is based upon two-and-a-half years of in-depth participant observation research at five churches and distinguishes itself as the first scholarly study of progressive Christianity in North America. I begin this study by outlining the historical context of skepticism in Canadian Protestantism and arguing that skepticism and doubt serve as profoundly religious experiences, which provide a fuller framework than secularization in understanding the experiences of Canadian Protestants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In doing so, I draw parallels between the ways that historical and contemporary North American Christians negotiate the tensions between their faith and biblical criticism, scientific empiricism and liberal morality. Chapter Two seeks to describe the religious, cultural and socio-economic worlds inhabited by the progressive Christians featured in this study. It focuses on the worldviews that emerge out of participation in what are primarily white, middle-class, liberal communities and considers how these identity-markers affect the development and lived experiences of progressive Christians. My next three chapters explore the ways that certain engagements with text and the performance or ritualization of language enable the development of a distinctly progressive Christian modality. Chapter Three investigates progressive Christian textual ideologies and argues that the form of biblical criticism that they employ, along with entrenched concerns about the origins of the Christian faith ultimately, leads to a rejection of the biblical narrative. Chapter Four examines the ways in which progressive Christians understand individual ‘deconversion’ narratives as contributing to a shared experience or way of being Christian that purposefully departs from evangelical Christianity. The final chapter analyses rhetoric of the future and argues that progressive Christians employ eschatological language that directs progressive Christians towards an ultimate dissolution.

Hoenigman, “A Battle of Languages”

January 4, 2013

Hoenigman, Darja.  2012.  A battle of languages: Spirit possession and changing linguistic ideologies in a Sepik society, Papua New Guinea.  The Australian Journal of Anthropology 23(3): 290–317.

Abstract: In October 2009, a dramatic event shook the existing sociolinguistic setting in Kanjimei village in East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. Possessed by a Christian spirit, a woman harshly reproached the most important village leaders. The ensuing verbal fight between ‘the spirit’ and the village prayer leader became a battle of languages: the Christian spirit spoke the community’s native language, Awiakay, overpowering those in authority, who are the most frequent users of the national lingua franca Tok Pisin. As it was believed that it was the spirit of the Virgin Mary who channelled herself through the possessed woman, it was legitimate for people to discuss her words. The spirit possession thus enabled the otherwise condemned social practices: gossip and public criticism, which have the power of changing existing power relations in the village. The analysis of this event shows the complexity behind the ever-changing linguistic ideologies.

McDougall, “Stealing foreign words”

January 4, 2013

McDougall, Debra.  2012.  Stealing foreign words, recovering local treasures: Bible translation and vernacular literacy on Ranongga (Solomon Islands).  The Australian Journal of Anthropology 23(3): 318–339.

Abstract: In Oceania, which is arguably both the world’s most linguistically diverse region and its most Christian, Bible translation projects are sites where ordinary people pay attention to the kind of ‘interlingual articulations’ that are the focus of this special issue. This article focuses on an ongoing vernacular revival movement that arose from the translation of the New Testament into Luqa, an Austronesian language of Ranongga Island in the Solomon Islands’ Western Province. In 2000, the head translator began running workshops that encouraged native speakers to appreciate the lexical diversity and learn the grammatical structures of their language. In the context of the Bible translation and these language workshops, the vernacular is understood to be, simultaneously, an adequately transparent vehicle for God’s Word and something of value in and of itself. In elevating the status of the vernacular, participants also hope to elevate the status of local territories and communities marginalised in an increasingly English-speaking regional world.

Tomlinson, “God Speaking to God: Translation and unintelligibility at a Fijian Pentecostal crusade”

January 3, 2013

Tomlinson, Matt. 2012. “God Speaking to God: Translation and unintelligibility at a Fijian Pentecostal crusade”  The Australian Journal of Anthropology 23(3):274–289

Abstract: In December 2008, a team of American Pentecostals visited Fiji and conducted ‘crusades’ in a public park. In this article, I show how a sermon and altar call at one of the performances modelled for listeners a particular quality of the believer’s relation to the otherness of God, figured via linguistic otherness. The American preacher and his Fijian translator approached the event as a teaching opportunity. They explained to audience members how to pray for repentance and how to speak in tongues (glossolalia) and stated that when a person spoke in tongues, this was really the Holy Ghost ‘praying through’ a person. In glossolalia, the words are supposed to be semantically unintelligible, pointing to the otherworldly, even miraculous, fact of their utterance; but pragmatically, their utterance is supposed to manifest the Holy Ghost’s presence in the speaker, and this presence is held to be the meaning that matters.

Webster, “The Immanence of Transcendence: God and the Devil on the Aberdeenshire Coast”

November 19, 2012

Webster, Joseph. 2012. “The Immanence of Transcendence: God and the Devil on the Aberdeenshire Coast.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, DOI:10.1080/00141844.2012.688762 [first print – pagination, volume and issue not available].

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.

Abraham, “Review Essay: Biblicism, Reception History, and the Social Sciences”

March 4, 2012

Abraham, Ibrahim (2011) “Review Essay: Biblicism, Reception History, and the Social Sciences” Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 1(2):xx-xxx [Advanced Copy, Specific page numbers not yet available]

Article Excerpt: “The works from anthropologist James S. Bielo, an ethnographic monograph of an Evangelical small group Bible study in Michigan and an edited collection, released within a few months of each other, focus and develop the study of “Biblicism.” Abidingly an anthropological undertaking pioneered, in part, by Brian Malley’s earlier ethnography, How The Bible Works, these studies and the broader emerging field offer interesting parallels, insights and divergences when considered alongside somewhat similar developments in the analysis of scripture and society within, in particular, reception history. In his essay comparing processes of exegetical and pastoral authority amongst mainline and charismatic Catholics in Guatamala, Eric Hoenes del Pinal gives us a nice definition of Biblicism as a question of “the ways that social actors construct certain understandings of and relationships to sacred text, and how those understandings and relationships order their religious practices”. As this sandwiching of scripture between the recognition of social agency and the broader process of religious practices suggests, the biblical text is not where the analysis begins or ends.

The social scientific studies presented here are particularly relevant in an interdisciplinary light given recent debates around the practice of recep- tion history within biblical studies. A rather loose term for comparative analyses of diverse understandings and uses of biblical texts in diverse cultures and eras, the manner in which reception history has been carried out to date within biblical studies is exemplified by collections such as John F. A. Sawyer’s, which gives us the Bible in Calvin’s Geneva and the Bible in Barnum & Bailey’s circus. Roland Boer sees within the loosely defined discipline a Bourdieusian distinction between scientific/theological biblical exegesis carried out in the academy that seeks—under appropriate supervision—to uncover an original or authoritative meaning of the text, and the explanation and analysis of comparatively deviant (ab)uses of the text. To cite examples from the two texts under review here, the distinction Boer sees as foundational to reception history would be between the exegeses of the “strange guild” of biblical scholars and scholar-priests in secular and ecclesial academia on the one hand, and the exegeses of the small Evangelical Bible study group that meets for breakfast in a Michigan restaurant featured in Bielo’s monograph  and the exegetical dialogue between anthropolo- gist John Pulis and his interlocutor Bongo (a mango farmer and Rastafarian “bredren”) featured in a chapter of Bielo’s edited collection on the other hand. In a response to Boer’s criticism, Christopher Heard denies any claim that reception history, as a loosely defined discipline, asserts “ideological primacy to singular textual meanings,” but doesn’t quite get to the nub of Boer’s complaint that the very existence of a subdiscipline of biblical scholarship called “reception history” implies that there is a form of biblical studies that is not reception history. There is an echo, then, of Adorno’s act of distinction within twentieth-century music; that which he certified “serious” was suitable for scholarly engagement and philosophical reflection, while that which he proclaimed “popular”—the mass-produced products circulated amongst a browbeaten proletariat—was suitable only for sociological explanation . . . ”

Chao, “Blessed Fetishism”

December 12, 2011

Chao, En-Chieh (2011) “Blessed fetishism: Language ideology and embodied worship among Pentecostals in Java” Culture and Religion 12(4):373-399

Abstract: A prominent trend of late Christianity has been a cultivation of ‘unmediated’ inspiration realised in embodied worship, notably glossolalia, ecstasy and verbal exuberance. Speaking unfathomable language and embracing spontaneous feelings, Pentecostals in Java have relied on and reworked local language ideologies by passionately employing both the babbling and yelling forms of code-switching in Indonesian, English, Hebrew and glossolalia, in an aspiration to achieve ‘true worshiper-hood’. A closer scrutiny of some elements of this embodied worship against the larger religiously heterogeneous context, furthermore, reveals the salient impacts of cross-religious relations on the process of shaping Pentecostal Christianity. This article argues that specific forms of Pentecostal worship can be better understood when situated in Muslim–Christian relations. Specifically, they speak to a thriving form of religious fetishism that is locally primed for a distinct voice out of the flourishing movements of Islamic resurgence.

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