Posts Tagged ‘personhood’

Vilaca, “Two or three things that I know…”

December 29, 2013

Vilaca, Aparecida. 2013. Two or three things that I know about talking to the invisible. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 359-63.

Excerpt: When God talks back is a book about how intimacy is produced between members of Vineyard, an American neo-Pentecostal Evangelical church, and God, who they learn to experience as a friend, indeed their best friend (Luhrmann 2012: 5), someone with whom they go out walking, have dinner, and chat. The presentation of an enormous wealth of data—the outcome of long-term, intensive field research— in the form of dialogues, statements, and testimonies from these believers, combined
with the decision to leave the more arid aspects of anthropological discussion to the footnotes, produces a clear and agile text, allowing readers, whatever their background, to immerse themselves in the presented universe.

Harkness, “Songs of Seoul”

November 4, 2013

Harkness, Nicholas. 2013. Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Release Date: December 13, 2013

Publisher’s Description: Songs of Seoul is an ethnographic study of voice in South Korea, where the performance of Western opera, art songs, and choral music is an overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian enterprise. Drawing on fieldwork in churches, concert halls, and schools of music, Harkness argues that the European-style classical voice has become a specifically Christian emblem of South Korean prosperity. By cultivating certain qualities of voice and suppressing others, Korean Christians strive to personally embody the social transformations promised by their religion: from superstition to enlightenment; from dictatorship to democracy; from sickness to health; from poverty to wealth; from dirtiness to cleanliness; from sadness to joy; from suffering to grace. Tackling the problematic of voice in anthropology and across a number of disciplines, Songs of Seoul develops an innovative semiotic approach to connecting the materiality of body and sound, the social life of speech and song, and the cultural voicing of perspective and personhood.

Boyd, “The Problem with Freedom”

August 27, 2013

Boyd, Lydia. 2013. The Problem with Freedom: Homosexuality and Human Rights in Uganda. Anthropological Quarterly 86(3):697-724.

Abstract: The recent backlash against homosexuality in Uganda, culminating in the introduction of the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, has focused tremendous attention on the role religious activists have played in shaping Ugandan attitudes about sexuality. Drawing on long-term fieldwork among the Ugandan born-again Christians at the center of this controversy, I argue that anti-homosexual rhetoric is animated by something more than a parroting of American homophobia. Rather, it reflects a tension between two divergent frameworks for ethical personhood in Uganda, one related to the Ganda value of ekitiibwa or “respect/honor,” and the other based in a discourse of rights, autonomy, and “freedom.” The born-again rejection of a rights-based discourse is analyzed in relation to broader anxieties generated by a neoliberal emphasis on the autonomous, “empowered” individual during a period of growing inequality and economic and political dissatisfaction in Uganda.

Bakker, “Fragments of a Liturgical World”

August 27, 2013

Bakker, Sarah. 2013. Fragments of a Liturgical World: Syriac Christianity and the Dutch Multicultural Debates. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California-Santa Cruz.

Abstract: This dissertation explores the reconfiguration of Syriac Orthodox liturgical tradition among Aramaic-speaking Christian refugees in the Netherlands. Under the pressures of Dutch integration policy and the global politics of secular recognition, the Syriac liturgy is rapidly losing its significance as the central axis of social life and kinship-relations in the Syriac Orthodox diaspora. As such, it has become a site for debate over how to be religiously, culturally, and ethnically distinct despite the narrative binary of Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East that dominates Dutch multiculturalism discourse. Every week, young Syriac Orthodox women and men congregate at their churches to practice singing the liturgy in classical Syriac. What they sing, and how they decide to sing it, mediates their experiments in religious and ethical reinvention, with implications for their efforts at political representation. Singers contend not only with conditions of inaudibility produced by histories of ethnic cleansing, migration, and assimilation, but also with the fragments of European Christianity that shape the sensory regime of secular modernity. Public debates over the integration of religious minorities illuminate this condition of fragmentation, as well as the contest over competing conceptions of ethical personhood inherent in the politics of pluralism in Europe.

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.

Cole, “The Love of Jesus Never Disappoints: Reconstituting Female Personhood in Urban Madagascar”

December 14, 2012

Cole, Jennifer. 2012. “The Love of Jesus Never Disappoints: Reconstituting Female Personhood in Urban Madagascar.” Journal of Religion in Africa 42(4): 384-407.

Abstract: Drawing from extensive fieldwork in east Madagascar, this article examines the role of Pentecostal churches in assuaging gendered suffering among middle-aged women who have become vulnerable to social exclusion. It focuses particularly on two techniques that women use to manage their relationships with husbands and children: cultivated passivity and the creation of a relationship with Jesus through prayer and small acts of exchange. It argues that conversion and the practice of Pentecostal Christianity helps women less by changing their husband’s behavior than by offering them an alternative source of authority and a new set of practices through which to build valued personhood.

 

Kaell, “Of gifts and grandchildren: American Holy Land souvenirs”

September 19, 2012

Kaell, Hillary (2012) “Of gifts and grandchildren: American Holy Land souvenirs.” Journal of Material Culture. 17(2):133–151

Abstract: Despite significant scholarship in anthropology and tourism studies related respectively to gifts and souvenirs, little is known about why and to whom people give souvenir gifts. Using an American case study, this article shows how Holy Land pilgrimage and its attendant gift-giving are a crucial way that older women navigate tensions specific to the consumer culture and religious patterns of the 21st-century US. By giving souvenirs, pilgrims uphold the importance of individuality (as consumers and as believers), while also fulfilling what they believe is their special responsibility to bolster collective faith, particularly amongst networks of female friends and family. Crucial in this endeavor is how pilgrims negotiate the fluid line between commodity and religious object. Sometimes they imbue these commercial objects with divine presence, thereby creating powerful tools for asserting ‘soft’ authority at home. At other times, they present religious souvenirs as commodities, downplaying their spiritual value in order to circumvent rejection.

Smith, “From dividual and individual selves to porous subjects”

March 7, 2012

Smith, Karl (2012) “From dividual and individual selves to porous subjects” The Australian Journal of Anthropology [Pages and Issue not available – advance/pre-publication version]

Abstract: The distinction between understanding persons as dividuals versus individuals began to develop in the latter half of the twentieth century. Originating in Louis Dumont’s comparative work into the differences between Western and Indian subjects in the 1950s, it perhaps reached its zenith in the 1980s when Marilyn Strathern used it to differentiate between Melanesian and Western concepts of the person. By the end of the century, critique and reconceptualisation of the individual:dividual distinction was so well established in the anthropological literature that its explanatory capacity was largely negated. The aim of this paper is to attempt to clarify the different modes of personhood that the dividual:individual distinction sought to elucidate by introducing a useful distinction between the self and the human subject and further developing Charles Taylor’s distinction between porous and buffered selves.

Hann, “Personhood, Christianity, Modernity”

January 15, 2012

Hann, Chris (2012) “Personhood, Christianity, Modernity.” Anthropology of this Century 1(3) [No pagination – Electronic Edition].

Excerpt: In this essay I question widely held assumptions that the emergence of the individualist blob is connected with particular currents of Christianity and, more generally, the invocation of religious ideas to explain changes in societal organization. This is tangential to Bloch’s agenda, but I shall return at the end to his concern with personhood. The assumptions I critique are so widespread that they can be taken for granted by the readership of a new internet journal in anthropology. Mauss himself explicitly invoked the Protestant sects in support of his evolutionist argument linking individualism to modernity. True, some anthropologists have countered these notions. Meyer Fortes and many others reported rich inner states among non-Europeans who had not yet been exposed to Christian missionizing. Not everyone was convinced by Alan Macfarlane’s efforts to locate the origins of individualism in England, or by Louis Dumont’s contrasting of the hierarchies of South Asia with the egalitarian individualism of modern Europe. But these writings have been highly influential, as has Marilyn Strathern’s opposition between the Euro-American individual and the “dividual” of Melanesia. In their very different ways, all these scholars tell stories of Western exceptionalism. Bloch avoids a black and white categorization, but he does not tell us how the statistical difference came about. Is the number of diachronics in Madagascar and elsewhere expanding more rapidly than the global population of episodics? Can we identify tipping points? Is this the Rubicon beyond which we find Bloch’s own version of modernity?

It is widely acknowledged that anthropology was for a long time insufficiently reflexive concerning its own origins in Western social thought and, behind this, in specific currents of Christianity. Much of the discussion has focused on the notion of “belief” (Asad 1993; Cannell 2005; cf. Needham 1972). This essay, too, is concerned to probe long histories of Western bias, including distortions in anthropological work on Christianity itself. I focus on Max Weber rather than Mauss because his contributions have been so massively influential for the whole of Western social science. After giving examples of the shadows he casts in contemporary anthropology, I proceed to note recent criticisms and extensions of Weber’s argument with respect to Catholicism. Protestantism and Catholicism are the largest Christian communities worldwide, and it is therefore not surprising that they have dominated studies of Christianity by socio-cultural anthropologists. Large “Eastern” communities have been neglected. They complicate the familiar models: neither “other” in the sense of a Naturvolk, nor “at home in the West” as we have come to define it. I shall take some examples from the burgeoning literature on Eastern Orthodox traditions with these larger issues in mind. Is there a distinctive Eastern Christian person, corresponding to a unique Orthodox culture or civilization – or modernity?

Making good the deficits in studies of Eastern and Oriental Christians is more than a matter of filling gaps in the ethnographic record. The work now getting under way i) exposes distortions in the large corpus of work on Western Christianity; ii) raises more general issues of theory and method in the study of religion; iii) bears directly on larger debates concerning the interplay between ideas and material transformations in longue durée history. My conclusion is that anthropologists should be wary of all attempts to explain a “breakthrough to modernity” in terms of personhood and theologies, whether those of Protestantism or of earlier Axial Age civilizations. The comparative Weberian agenda remains endlessly fascinating; it can perhaps be freed of its most Eurocentric premises and its idealism; but causalities are complex and in future research it may prove advantageous to pay more attention to the ways in which the emergence of churches and sects, asceticism and mysticism, and our notions of interiorized, text-based belief have all been shaped by evolving technologies of production and communication, rather than the other way around.

Haustein, “Embodying the Spirit(s)”

December 20, 2011

Haustein, Jorg. 2011. Embodying the Spirit(s): Pentecostal Demonology and Deliverance Discourse in Ethiopia. Ethnos 76(4): 534-552.

Abstract: The article explores Pentecostal embodiment practices and concepts with regard to Holy Spirit baptism and demon possession. The studied material is connected to a specific and highly controversial debate in Ethiopian Pentecostalism, which revolves around the possibility of demon possession in born-again and Spirit-filled Christians. This debate runs through much of Ethiopian Pentecostal history and ultimately is concerned with whether or how Christians can be seen to host conflicting spiritual forces, in light of the strong dualism between God and evil in Pentecostal cosmology. The article shows that the embodiment of spirits and/or the Holy Spirit is related to theological concepts of the self, because these concepts define what may or may not be discerned in certain bodily manifestations. Moreover, the article contends that this debate thrives on a certain ambiguity in spirit embodiment, which invites the discernment of spiritual experts and thereby becomes a resource of power.

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