Posts Tagged ‘Secularism’

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.

Coleman, “Do ‘we’ ‘do’ God?”

August 12, 2013

Coleman, Simon. 2013. Do ‘we’ ‘do’ God? Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19(3): 639-644.

Abstract: What does it mean to talk of the religion ‘of’ a given country? I reflect on an edited volume dealing with religion in Britain and consider two related themes: the secular considered as ‘absence’ or ‘presence’, and the siting of religion not in conventional denominations or ritual practices but in spaces of encounter between religions, and between the so-called ‘religious’ and ‘secular’.

Knibbe, “Faith in the Familiar”

July 6, 2013

Knibbe, Kim. 2013. Faith in the Familiar: Religion, Spirituality and Place in the South of the Netherlands. Boston: Brill. 

Publisher’s Description: Faith in the familiar is an ethnography of religious change in the Netherlands, discussing Catholicism and popular forms of New Age. It focuses on the location of religion in local life and how people relate to religious authority.

Engelke, “God’s Agents”

April 23, 2013

Engelke, Matthew.  2013. God’s Agents: Biblical Publicity in Contemporary England.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

Publisher’s Description: The British and Foreign Bible Society is one of the most illustrious Christian charities in the United Kingdom. Founded by evangelicals in the early nineteenth century and inspired by developments in printing technology, its goal has always been to make Bibles universally available. Over the past several decades, though, Bible Society has faced a radically different world, especially in its work in England. Where the Society once had a grateful and engaged reading public, it now faces apathy—even antipathy—for its cause. These days, it seems, no one in England wants a Bible, and no one wants other people telling them they should: religion is supposed to be a private matter. Undeterred, the Society staff attempt to spark a renewed interest in the Word of God. They’ve turned away from publishing and toward publicity to “make the Bible heard.”

God’s Agents is a study of how religion goes public in today’s world. Based on over three years of anthropological research, Matthew Engelke traces how a small group of socially committed Christians tackle the challenge of publicity within (what they understand to be) a largely secular culture. In the process of telling their story, Engelke offers an insightful new way to think about the relationships between secular and religious formations: our current understanding of religion needs to be complemented by greater attention to the process of generating publicity. Engelke argues that we are witnessing the dynamics of religious publicity, which allows us to see the ways in which conceptual divides such as public/private, religious/secular, faith/knowledge, are challenged and redefined by social actors.

Leichtman, “From the Cross”

March 4, 2013

Leichtman, Mara A. 2013. From the Cross (and Crescent) to the Cedar and Back Again: Transnational religion and politics among Lebanese Christians in Senegal. Anthropological Quarterly 86(1):35-75.

Abstract: This article examines the changing relationship between religion, secularism, national politics, and identity formation among Lebanese Christians in Senegal. Notre Dame du Liban, the first Lebanese religious institution in West Africa, draws on its Lebanese “national” character to accommodate Lebanese Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians in Dakar, remaining an icon of “Lebanese” religion, yet departing from religious sectarianism in Lebanon. As such, transnational religion can vary from national religion, gaining new resonances and reinforcing a wider “secular” ethno-national identity.

Roberts, “Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousnesss’?”

January 18, 2013

Roberts, Nathaniel. 2012. Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousness’? Anthropological Theory 12(3):271-294.

Abstract: The trope in which conversion – especially of non-Western people to Christianity – is envisioned as a type of conquest is one many scholars have found compelling. This article examines the implicit moral psychology behind the idea that conversion is a ‘colonization of consciousness’, which it identifies as rooted in a secular liberal model of the self and of religion. The appeal of the conversion-as-conquest trope lies in its focus on power, but by building secular liberal assumptions into its theoretical optic it remains ironically blind to some of the most pervasive ways power operates today – namely, through the production of secular truths about religion, and by authorizing ‘autonomous’ secular subjectivities as normative. Drawing on examples from the author’s research on Pentecostal conversion in Indian slums, and on a national context where violent anti-conversion activism is prevalent, the article argues that while both conversion and opposition to it entail power, this power is not well understood on the model of mental colonization, or ‘resistance’ by uncolonized subjectivities.

Magolda and Gross, “Misinterpreting the Spirit and Heart: Religious and Paradigmatic Tensions in Ethnographic Research”

October 30, 2012

Magolda, Peter and Kelsey Ebben Gross (2012) “Misinterpreting the Spirit and Heart: Religious and Paradigmatic Tensions in Ethnographic Research.” Religion & Education 39(3):235-256.

Abstract: This article discusses the unique methodological challenges that 2 secular researchers encountered while studying an evangelical collegiate enclave. The article showcases the researchers’ retrospec- tive sense making of their fieldwork and offers insights for qualitat- ive researchers interested in studying faith-based organizations.

Etter, “‘Women With No One’: Community and Christianity in a Secular South Indian Homeless Shelter”

August 27, 2012

Etter, Connie, (2012) “”Women With No One”: Community and Christianity in a Secular South Indian Homeless Shelter.” Anthropology – Dissertations. Syracuse University, Susan Wadley, Advisor. Paper 96. http://surface.syr.edu/ant_etd/96

Abstract: This dissertation examines daily life and social service practices in a secular homeless shelter for women in Tamil Nadu, south India. The residents of the shelter have diverse backgrounds but local staff members and volunteers describe them collectively as “women with no one”: unwed mothers, orphans, widows, women abandoned or abused by husbands and lovers, former sex workers, prisoners’ wives, and women deemed mentally or physically unfit for marriage. Daily negotiations of belonging take place among this transient and diverse group of marginalized women and equally diverse and transnational care providers. The closed shelter campus provides an opportunity to query the everyday experience of secularism and pluralism. Shelter board members emphasize these concepts as guiding principles of the institution. Indeed, they are touted in many settings as a necessary and laudable framework for democratic life in globalized and increasingly diverse populations. But how do individuals and communities, in everyday life and interactions, understand and engage with such abstract ideals?

Ethnographic research, conducted between August 2008 and August 2009, revealed important insights regarding the ideals shaping the secular goals of the shelter, namely women’s social rehabilitation. First, the definition of secularism cannot be assumed and is not universal. Inline with commonsense equations of secularism and pluralism in India, the secular goals of the shelter involved passionate displays of religious conviction, continuous ethical deliberation, and reflection on cultural ideals of womanhood and family. Secularism, in other words, was a religious, cultural, and gendered idea and practice. Second, just as there were many secularisms, many Christianities were embodied and articulated within the shelter. The institution depended on various local and international Christian communities for donations of time and money. They each had different understandings of the relationship between Christianity and women’s social rehabilitation. Third, cultural ideals are fragile. The social stigma faced by women living outside of patriarchal family structures and the forced intimacy of women with diverse backgrounds living together on a closed campus emphasized this fact. Faced with the fragility of social and cultural ideals, women at the shelter took great risks to forge new terms of belonging, community, and womanhood.

Coleman, “Encountering the archive”

August 24, 2012

Coleman, Simon (2012) “Encountering the archive.” The Immanent Frame. http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2012/08/24/encountering-the-archive/ (accessed August 24, 2012).

Excerpt: Where on earth to begin with the rich but deeply disturbing material presented to us on BishopAccountability.org? (For an example, see the documents relating to the Province of St. Barbara.) How to confront the archive’s huge volume but also the extent of its moral charge?

I also have a number of questions about what we are, or should be, looking at—the proper boundaries of the object of our inquiry.

Is this a particularly American phenomenon? After all, clerical sexual abuse has been reported in many parts of the world, even if nation-wide inquiries have been instituted in just a few places, such as the U.S. and Ireland. And is this an exclusively Christian (or even Catholic) phenomenon? In fact, a Chicago Tribune story from 2011reported the laxity of control over Buddhist monks who engage in sexual abuse in the U.S., though interestingly the tenor of the story implies that the problem was the lack of central control of such priests, whereas in the cases we’re looking at here there are clear problems with the center itself.

But can we even say that this is an exclusively or an especially religious phenomenon and be sure that the levels of abuse we’ve witnessed in the archive greatly exceed those in society at large? That last question has to be asked, even if the answer seems likely to be in the affirmative.

A more historical question relates to the framing and trajectory of the issue in the archive itself and whether, for instance, we can discern a shift away from an exclusively spiritual framing of behavior by church officials towards one where both legal and psychiatric languages are being brought in, if sometimes also conspicuously ignored.

Thinking about the archive in terms of the history of Christianity prompts another question for me. I wonder about the extent to which invoking history suggests both causality and context. In other words, does locating these sexual acts in the context of the history of Christianity or Catholicism either explain them or explain them away? The answer to both of these questions should, I think, be “no,” but we still need to look for patterns and shifts in the trajectories of opinion or activity that we might deem to be significant. In what follows, I use different histories to show how they inflect my readings of the archives, though I do not attempt to connect these four historical fragments in a systematic way . . .

 

Mahmood, Saba. (2012). “Religious Freedom, the Minority Question, and Geopolitics in the Middle East”

March 22, 2012

Mahmood, Saba. (2012). Religious Freedom, the Minority Question, and Geopolitics in the Middle East” Comparative Studies in Society and History 54(2):418-446.

First Paragraph

The right to religious freedom is widely regarded as a crowning achievement of secular-liberal democracies, one that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of religiously diverse populations. Enshrined in national constitutions and international laws and treaties, the right to religious liberty promises to ensure two stable goods: (1) the ability to choose one’s religion freely without coercion by the state, church, or other institutions; and (2) the creation of a polity in which one’s economic, civil, legal, or political status is unaffected by one’s religious beliefs. While all members of a polity are supposed to be protected by this right, modern wisdom has it that religious minorities are its greatest beneficiaries and their ability to practice their traditions without fear of discrimination is a critical marker of a tolerant and civilized polity. The right to religious freedom marks an important distinction between liberal secularism and the kind practiced in authoritarian states (such as China, Syria, or the former Soviet Union): while the latter abide by the separation of religion and state (a central principle of political secularism), they also regularly abrogate religious freedoms of their minority and majority populations. Despite claims to religious neutrality, liberal secular states frequently regulate religious affairs but they do so in accord with a strong concern for protecting the individual’s right to practice his or her religion freely, without coercion or state intervention.

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