One could say that in 2012 the scientific study of religion, particularly in its anthropological form, has become one hundred years old. In 1912, Durkheim published The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, perhaps the most influential book in the social study of religion, and certainly in the anthropology of religion, of the entire twentieth century. But this was not the only seminal work published around a century ago. A little earlier than that, in 1909, Arnold van Gennep’s Les rites de passage inaugurated an interest in liminality and ritual that has accompanied our discipline ever since. That same year, Marcel Mauss wrote La prière, an unfinished thesis that started an equally unfinished interest in prayer, one of the central devotional practices in many religions across the globe. In 1910, Lévy-Bruhl published his first explicitly anthropological book, How Natives Think, a problematic ancestor of a debate about rationality and modes of thought that has accompanied anthropology and philosophy ever since. In 1913, Freud tackled the then fashionable topic of totemism in his Totem and Taboo. Around those early years of the century, too, Max Weber was starting to write about charisma, secularization, and rationalization, topics of enduring interest.
One Hundred Years of Anthropology of Religion
Ramon Sarró, Simon Coleman, and Ruy Llera Blanes
The Multiple Agencies of Afro-Brazilian Religions
Roger Sansi and Luis Nicolau Parés
The debates on identity politics and the invention of tradition led the study of Afro-Brazilian religions to a certain impasse in the 1990s. However, in the last several years, the field has been totally renewed, although in different directions. In this article we will consider some of these new trends, from a wider historical engagement with the Atlantic world, through the religious field and the public sphere, to new approaches to spirit possession and cosmology. Our objective is to assess the extent to which these new debates have managed to overcome this impasse.
Ashgate Studies in Pilgrimage
Pilgrimage Studies Database
Centre for Religion, Conflict and the Public Domain
XXI World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions
Occupied Territory at the Interstices of the Sacred
Between Capital and Community
In the autumn of 2011 and the spring of 2012, the Occupy London protests, informed by the ideal of a moral, territorially defined community, caught the imagination of British and global publics. For a short while, this moral imaginary was mobilized to contest some of the most glaring contradictions of the neo-liberal city. I argue that the Occupy protests in London registered a sense of public outrage at the violation of certain 'sacred' norms associated with what it means to live with others. More concretely, I contend that Occupy London was an experiment initiated to open out questions of community, morality, and politics and to consider how these notions might be put to work. These questions were not merely articulated intellectually among expert interlocutors. They were lived out through the spatially and temporally embodied occupation of urban space.
Jean Comaroff, Peter Geschiere, Kamari M. Clarke, and Adeline Masquelier
Colonial frontiers, we have long been told, put conventional categories at risk. I grew up on one such frontier, itself an anachronism in the late-twentieth-century world—apartheid South Africa, where many of the key terms of liberal modernity were scandalously, publically violated. Religion was one of them. Some have argued that the act of separating the sacred from the secular is the founding gesture of liberal modern state making (Asad 2003: 13). In this, South Africa was a flagrant exception. There, the line between faith and politics was always overtly contested, always palpably porous. Faith-based arguments were central to politics at its most pragmatic, to competing claims of sovereignty and citizenship, to debates about the nature of civilization or the content of school curricula. As a settler colony, South Africa had long experimented with ways to ‘modernize racial domination’ (Adam 1971) in the interests of capitalist production, frequently with appeals to theology. After 1948, in contrast with the spirit of a decolonizing world, the country fell under the sway of Afrikaner rulers of overtly Calvinist bent. They set about formalizing a racial division of labor that ensured that black populations, the Children of Ham, remained economically subservient and politically marginal.
Religion and Diaspora
Paul Christopher Johnson
Diaspora, and with it 'diasporic religion', has exploded as an area of research in the field of Religion, opening important paths of inquiry and analysis. This article traces the itineraries and intersections of Diaspora and Religion over the last two decades, especially vis-à-vis groups that activate multiple diasporic horizons. It then evaluates the risks of the overdispersion of Diaspora. To counter this, the article recommends more narrowly circumscribing Diasporic Religion in relation to 'territory', while at the same time rendering the question of what territoriality means more complex and diverse.
Reflections from an AAA Teaching Workshop
James S. Bielo
Good teaching is a craft. It requires constant honing. While perfection eludes most of us most of the time, our best days are intellectually generative, meaningful, and often quite fun. I intend this essay as a gesture in that same spirit.
Seriousness, Irony, and the Mission of Hyperbole
Seriousness is achieved when a speaker effectively moves the audience according to his or her intentions. But seriousness is fragile and subject to countless vicissitudes, as illustrated in an encounter with the television evangelist Oral Roberts. I interrogate one of the means used to counter such vicissitudes-hyperbole. Hyperbole may include exaggeration and amplification of all kinds, and may be manifest in deeds as well as words. I first follow hyperbole through 9/11 and the competing ideologies of Salafi jihadists and the Bush administration to show how 'absolute metaphors' are enlisted hyperbolically. I examine too how epic narratives are created as a similar form of hyperbole. Finally, I show how sacredness, another allied form of hyperbole, is attributed to the Holocaust in present-day Germany. Throughout I argue, and illustrate, how anthropological writing is of necessity ironic, such that irony is better than 'cultural relativism' as an understanding of the anthropological enterprise.
The Anthropology of Religious Controversy
A Masters Level Course
Peter Collins and Yulia Egorova
I (Peter) remember sitting in a departmental meeting, doodling, preoccupied with the image of a hospital chapel. I had recently been involved in a research project seeking to document and explain the construction of religious/spiritual space in National Health Service (NHS) acute-care hospitals in the north of England. What was becoming more and more obvious was the growing tension between the distinction that staff and patients were making between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’. Admittedly, this tension was not especially surprising; indeed, it can be understood, in principle, as a reflection of the ambient climate of religiosity in the UK, as in many other Western countries (Flanagan and Jupp 2007; Heelas 2008; Heelas et al. 2004).
An Author Meets Her Critics
Around "Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria" by Ruth Marshall
Ruth Marshall, J.D.Y. Peel, Daniel Jordan Smith, Joel Robbins, and Jean-François Bayart
In the now very rapidly growing literature on Pentecostalism in Africa, Ruth Marshall’s book occupies a special place. In disciplinary terms, most of that literature falls under religious studies or history. The anthropologists came later, particularly those from North America, who had to get over their distaste for a religion that seemed so saturated in the idioms of the US Bible Belt. The originality of Marshall’s book is grounded in its linkage of questions derived from political theory with rich data collected through intensive and sustained fieldwork. But she insists it is not “an ethnography of the movement” (p. 5), so what exactly is it?