Posts Tagged ‘medical anthropology’

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 »

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Mayblin, “The way blood flows: the sacrificial value of intravenous drip use in Northeast Brazil”

April 18, 2013

Mayblin, Maya. 2013. The way blood flows: the sacrificial value of intravenous drip use in Northeast Brazil.  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 19(s1):S42–S56

Abstract: This paper examines a preference among rural Catholics in Northeast Brazil to treat generalized forms of malaise with isotonic solution administered intravenously, even where such treatment goes against biomedical advice. It situates this practice within a nexus of local ideas about the value of blood and sacrifice, which emerge out of socio-historical and environmental factors particular to the region. In this context blood is merely one in a sequence of substances linked to the regenerative martyrdom of Jesus, to the agricultural cycle, and to the economic struggle for existence in a drought-affected region. The materialization of blood, sweat, and tears on the surface of the body indexes social relationships built on sacrifice. The appearance of such substances, often between categories of close kin, are ideally characterized by the loss or flow of substance in a single direction. In such contexts replenishing the blood with isotonics maintains a uni-directional flow, preserving the value of sacrifice.

Williams, “Spirit Cure: A History of Pentecostal Healing”

December 8, 2012

Williams, Joseph. 2013. Spirit Cure: A History of Pentecostal Healing. New York: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Joseph W. Williams examines the changing healing practices of pentecostals in the United States over the past 100 years, from the early believers, who rejected mainstream medicine and overtly spiritualized disease, to the later generations of pentecostals and their charismatic successors, who dramatically altered the healing paradigms they inherited. Williams shows that over the course of the twentieth century, pentecostal denunciations of the medical profession often gave way to ”natural” healing methods associated with scientific medicine, natural substances, and even psychology. By 2000, figures such as the pentecostal preacher T. D. Jakes appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, other healers marketed their books at mainstream retailers such as Wal-Mart, and some developed lucrative nutritional products that sold online and in health food stores across the nation. Exploring the interconnections, resonances, and continued points of tension between adherents and some of their fiercest rivals, Spirit Cure chronicling adherents’ embrace of competitors’ healing practices and illuminates pentecostals’ dramatic transition from a despised minority to major players in the world of American evangelicalism and mainstream American culture.

Eves, “Resisting Global AIDS Knowledges”

February 4, 2012

Eves, Richard (2012) “Resisting Global AIDS Knowledges: Born-Again Christian Narratives of the Epidemic from Papua New Guinea.” Medical Anthropology 31(1):67-76.

Abstract: The recognition that HIV prevention materials need to be adapted to local cultures is not often sufficiently understood and applied. Counter discourses and determined disputation about the best means of HIV prevention show that success is not simply a matter of mindfully translating globally sanctioned knowledge and presenting it to receptive audiences. Beliefs contrary to global AIDS knowledges will not be displaced inevitably by scientific facts. As this study of born-again Christians in Papua New Guinea shows, there is incommensurability between the globalized approach preferred by the government and the approach of these Christians. The answer may lie in two words: respect and dialogue.

Geest, “Shifting Positions Between Anthropology, Religion, and Development”

October 13, 2011

Geest, Sjaak van der. 2011. Shifting Positions Between Anthropology, Religion, and Development: The Case of Christianity. Exchange 40(3):257-273.

Abstract: Anthropologists in Africa used to have an ambivalent relationship with missionary Christianity and international development work. Being active in the same areas but with different intentions reinforced mutual stereotypes and added to the uneasiness. This seems to be changing now. Christianity has passed its missionary stage and is now an African religion, interesting to study for anthropologists and `applied anthropology’ allows anthropologists to make their discipline more meaningful and relevant to today’s world. The involvement of medical anthropologists in health development is a case in point.

Klassen, “Spirits of Protestantism”

October 5, 2011

Klassen, Pamela (2011)  Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity Berkeley: University of Berkeley Press

Publisher’s Description: Spirits of Protestantism reveals how liberal Protestants went from being early-twentieth-century medical missionaries seeking to convert others through science and scripture, to becoming vocal critics of missionary arrogance who experimented with non-western healing modes such as Yoga and Reiki. Drawing on archival and ethnographic sources, Pamela E. Klassen shows how and why the very notion of healing within North America has been infused with a Protestant “supernatural liberalism.” In the course of coming to their changing vision of healing, liberal Protestants became pioneers three times over: in the struggle against the cultural and medical pathologizing of homosexuality; in the critique of Christian missionary triumphalism; and in the diffusion of an ever-more ubiquitous anthropology of “body, mind, and spirit.” At a time when the political and anthropological significance of Christianity is being hotly debated, Spirits of Protestantismforcefully argues for a reconsideration of the historical legacies and cultural effects of liberal Protestantism, even for the anthropology of religion itself.

Zigon, “HIV is God’s Blessing”

October 3, 2011

Zigon, Jarrett. 2011. “HIV is God’s Blessing”: Rehabilitating Morality in Neoliberal Russia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Publisher’s Description: This provocative study examines the role of today’s Russian Orthodox Church in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Russia has one of the fastest-growing rates of HIV infection in the world—80 percent from intravenous drug use—and the Church remains its only resource for fighting these diseases. Jarrett Zigon takes the reader into a Church-run treatment center where, along with self-transformational and religious approaches, he explores broader anthropological questions—of morality, ethics, what constitutes a “normal” life, and who defines it as such. Zigon argues that this rare Russian partnership between sacred and political power carries unintended consequences: even as the Church condemns the influence of globalization as the root of the problem it seeks to combat, its programs are cultivating citizen-subjects ready for self-governance and responsibility, and better attuned to a world the Church ultimately opposes.

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