The Anthropology of Christianity

Published by: University of California Press

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The Anthropology of Christianity

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Chanting Down the New Jerusalem

Calypso, Christianity, and Capitalism in the Caribbean

Francio Guadeloupe

In this brilliantly evocative ethnography, Francio Guadeloupe probes the ethos and attitude created by radio disc jockeys on the binational Caribbean island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten. Examining the intersection of Christianity, calypso, and capitalism, Guadeloupe shows how a multiethnic and multireligious island nation, where livelihoods depend on tourism, has managed to encourage all social classes to transcend their ethnic and religious differences. In his pathbreaking analysis, Guadeloupe credits the island DJs, whose formulations of Christian faith, musical creativity, and capitalist survival express ordinary people's hopes and fears and promote tolerance.

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Converting Words

Maya in the Age of the Cross

William Hanks

This pathbreaking synthesis of history, anthropology, and linguistics gives an unprecedented view of the first two hundred years of the Spanish colonization of the Yucatec Maya. Drawing on an extraordinary range and depth of sources, William F. Hanks documents for the first time the crucial role played by language in cultural conquest: how colonial Mayan emerged in the age of the cross, how it was taken up by native writers to become the language of indigenous literature, and how it ultimately became the language of rebellion against the system that produced it. Converting Words includes original analyses of the linguistic practices of both missionaries and Mayas-as found in bilingual dictionaries, grammars, catechisms, land documents, native chronicles, petitions, and the forbidden Maya Books of Chilam Balam. Lucidly written and vividly detailed, this important work presents a new approach to the study of religious and cultural conversion that will illuminate the history of Latin America and beyond, and will be essential reading across disciplinary boundaries.

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Critical Christianity

Translation and Denominational Conflict in Papua New Guinea

Courtney Handman

In Critical Christianity, Courtney Handman analyzes the complex and conflicting forms of sociality that Guhu-Samane Christians of rural Papua New Guinea privilege and celebrate as "the body of Christ." Within Guhu-Samane churches, processes of denominational schism—long relegated to the secular study of politics or identity—are moments of critique through which Christians constitute themselves and their social worlds. Far from being a practice of individualism, Protestantism offers local people ways to make social groups sacred units of critique. Bible translation, produced by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, is a crucial resource for these critical projects of religious formation. From early interaction with German Lutheran missionaries to engagements with the Summer Institute of Linguistics to the contemporary moment of conflict, Handman presents some of the many models of Christian sociality that are debated among Guhu-Samane Christians. Central to the study are Handman's rich analyses of the media through which this critical Christian sociality is practiced, including language, sound, bodily movement, and everyday objects. This original and thought-provoking book is essential reading for students and scholars of anthropology and religious studies.

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Moral Ambition

Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches

Omri Elisha

In this evocative ethnography, Omri Elisha examines the hopes, frustrations, and activist strategies of American evangelical Christians as they engage socially with local communities. Focusing on two Tennessee megachurches, Moral Ambition reaches beyond political controversies over issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and public prayer to highlight the ways that evangelicals at the grassroots of the Christian Right promote faith-based causes intended to improve the state of social welfare. The book shows how these ministries both help churchgoers embody religious virtues and create provocative new opportunities for evangelism on a public scale. Elisha challenges conventional views of U.S. evangelicalism as narrowly individualistic, elucidating instead the inherent contradictions that activists face in their efforts to reconcile religious conservatism with a renewed interest in compassion, poverty, racial justice, and urban revivalism.

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Praying and Preying

Christianity in Indigenous Amazonia

Aparecida Vilaça

Praying and Preying offers one of the rare anthropological monographs on the Christian experience of contemporary Amazonian indigenous peoples, based on an ethnographic study of the relationship between the Wari’, inhabitants of Brazilian Amazonia, and the Evangelical missionaries of the New Tribes Mission. Vilaça turns to a vast range of historical, ethnographic and mythological material related to both the Wari’ and missionaries perspectives and the author’s own ethnographic field notes from her more than 30-year involvement with the Wari’ community. Developing a close dialogue between the Melanesian literature, which informs much of the recent work in the Anthropology of Christianity, and the concepts and theories deriving from Amazonian ethnology, in particular the notions of openness to the other, unstable dualism, and perspectivism, the author provides a fine-grained analysis of the equivocations and paradoxes that underlie the translation processes performed by the different agents involved and their implications for the transformation of the native notion of personhood.  

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A Problem of Presence

Beyond Scripture in an African Church

Matthew Eric Engelke

The Friday Masowe apostolics of Zimbabwe refer to themselves as "the Christians who don’t read the Bible." They claim they do not need the Bible because they receive the Word of God "live and direct" from the Holy Spirit. In this insightful and sensitive historical ethnography, Matthew Engelke documents how this rejection of scripture speaks to longstanding concerns within Christianity over mediation and authority. The Bible, of course, has been a key medium through which Christians have recognized God’s presence. But the apostolics perceive scripture as an unnecessary, even dangerous, mediator. For them, the materiality of the Bible marks a distance from the divine and prohibits the realization of a live and direct faith.

Situating the Masowe case within a broad comparative framework, Engelke shows how their rejection of textual authority poses a problem of presence—which is to say, how the religious subject defines, and claims to construct, a relationship with the spiritual world through the semiotic potentials of language, actions, and objects. Written in a lively and accessible style, A Problem of Presence makes important contributions to the anthropology of Christianity, the history of religions in Africa, semiotics, and material culture studies.

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Reason to Believe

Cultural Agency in Latin American Evangelicalism

David Smilde

Evangelical Protestantism has arguably become the fastest-growing religion in South America, if not the world. For converts, it emphasizes self-discipline and provides a network of communal support, which together have helped many overcome substance abuse, avoid crime and violence, and resolve relationship problems. But can people simply decide to believe in a religion because of the benefits it reportedly delivers? Based on extensive fieldwork among Pentecostal men in Caracas, Venezuela, this rich urban ethnography seeks an explanation for the explosion of Evangelical Protestantism, unraveling the cultural and personal dynamics of Evangelical conversion to show how and why these men make the choice to convert, and how they come to have faith in a new system of beliefs and practices.

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The Saint in the Banyan Tree

Christianity and Caste Society in India

David Mosse

The Saint in the Banyan Tree is a nuanced and historically persuasive exploration of Christianity’s remarkable trajectory as a social and cultural force in southern India. Starting in the seventeenth century, when the religion was integrated into Tamil institutions of caste and popular religiosity, this study moves into the twentieth century, when Christianity became an unexpected source of radical transformation for the country’s ‘untouchables’ (dalits). Mosse shows how caste was central to the way in which categories of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ were formed and negotiated in missionary encounters, and how the social and semiotic possibilities of Christianity lead to a new politic of equal rights in South India. Skillfully combining archival research with anthropological fieldwork, this book examines the full cultural impact of Christianity on Indian religious, social and political life. Connecting historical ethnography to the preoccupations of priests and Jesuit social activists, Mosse throws new light on the contemporary nature of caste, conversion, religious synthesis, secularization, dalit politics, the inherent tensions of religious pluralism, and the struggle for recognition among subordinated people.

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Studying Global Pentecostalism

Theories and Methods

Allan Anderson

With its remarkable ability to adapt to many different cultures, Pentecostalism has become the world’s fastest growing religious movement. More than five hundred million adherents worldwide have reshaped Christianity itself. Yet some fundamental questions in the study of global Pentecostalism, and even in what we call "Pentecostalism," remain largely unaddressed. Bringing together leading scholars in the social sciences, history, and theology, this unique volume explores these questions for this rapidly growing, multidisciplinary field of study. A valuable resource for anyone studying new forms of Christianity, it offers insights and guidance on both theoretical and methodological issues.

The first section of the book examines such topics as definitions, essentialism, postcolonialism, gender, conversion, and globalization. The second section features contributions from those working in psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. The third section traces the boundaries of theology from the perspectives of pneumatology, ecumenical studies, inter-religious relations, and empirical theology.

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To Be Cared For

The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum

Nathaniel Roberts

To Be Cared For offers a unique view into the conceptual and moral world of slum-bound Dalits (“untouchables”) in the South Indian city of Chennai. Focusing on the decision by many women to embrace locally specific forms of Pentecostal Christianity, Nathaniel Roberts challenges dominant anthropological understandings of religion as a matter of culture and identity, as well as Indian nationalist narratives of Christianity as a “foreign” ideology that disrupts local communities. Far from being a divisive force, conversion integrates the slum community—Christians and Hindus alike—by addressing hidden moral fault lines that subtly pit residents against one another in a national context that renders Dalits outsiders in their own land."

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