In the introduction to this special section of Religion and Society, we discuss existing and potentially new intersections of border theories and religious studies in relation to two contested regions—US-Mexico and Israel-Palestine (as part of the history of the Levant)—respectively. We argue for a recentering of borderland studies through an analysis of political theologies, affective labor, and differing configurations of religious heritage, traces, and materiality. We thus define 'borderlands' as translocal phenomena that emerge due to situated political/economic and affective junctures and that amplify not only translocal but also transnational prisms. To explore these issues, we put into dialogue studies on religion, borderlands, walls, and historical/contemporary conditions in the context of US-Mexico and Israel-Palestine borders. In particular, we argue for recentering analyses in light of intensifications of state control and growing militarization in contested areas.
Materialities, Histories, and the Spatialization of State Sovereignty
Valentina Napolitano, Nimrod Luz, and Nurit Stadler
“Ashgate Studies in Pilgrimage” Series
New Book Series: “Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics”
Website for New Books in Religion
Erella Grassiani, Alexander Horstmann, Lotte Buch Segal, Ronald Stade, and Henrik Vigh
Violence, defined as the intentional inflicting of injury and damage, seems to always have been a fact of human life. Whether in the shape of raids, ambushes, wars, massacres, genocides, insurgences, terrorism, or gang assaults, socially organized violence, that is, human groups orchestrating and committing violent acts, has been a steady companion of human life through the ages. The human quest to make sense of violence is probably as old as violence itself. Academic conflict research both continues and advances this quest. As long as wars were waged between nations, the research on armed conflicts focused on international relations and great power politics. This paradigm was kept alive even when the asymmetrical warfare of decolonization spread across the world, because by then the frame of analysis was the binary system of the Cold War and regional conflicts were classifi ed as proxy wars. After the end of the Cold War, the academic interest in forms of organized violence other than international conflict became more general in the social sciences, not least in anthropology, a discipline whose long-standing research interest in violent conflict previously had been directed almost exclusively towards “tribal warfare.” But, following their research tradition, anthropologists also began to conduct field studies in contemporary war zones and other violent settings.
The rationale for this special section of Conflict and Society lies in anthropology’s relatively recent and steadily growing application to the study of political violence in its various manifestations, from everyday instances of subtle structural violence to more overt cases of war and mass atrocities. In the late 1990s, Carolyn Nordstrom’s (1997) work among soldiers and ordinary civilians whose lives had been intimately affected by Mozambique’s civil war and Antonius Robben’s (1996) work among survivors and perpetrators of Argentina’s Dirty War enabled an important shift among ethnographers. Whereas in the past ethnographers typically focused on violence and warfare in substate and prestate societies, Nordstrom and Robben emphasized the foundations of political violence in complex state societies. Their work led to the emergence of a small cohort of ethnographers—among them Philippe Bourgois (2003), Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1997, 2002), and Neil Whitehead (2002, 2004)—specialized in what was soon termed “the ethnography of political violence”
Sovereignty and Social Contestation—Between Violence and Alternative Sociocultural Orders
Martijn Oosterbaan and Wil G. Pansters
In the past decade, the concept of sovereignty has swiftly risen in popularity within anthropological circles, especially in relation to violence in postcolonial and post-authoritarian societies (Das and Poole 2004). The rationale of this section is rooted in the aspiration to build on and further develop anthropological understandings of conflict and violence centered on the notion of sovereignty. Whereas the contributors to the section are indebted to theoretical approaches influenced by the writings of Agamben (1998, 2005), they also present analytic advantages and shortcomings. For instance, a recent critique of Agamben’s notion of sovereignty—and of many of his followers—is that it reproduces totalitarian notions of modern politics that cannot account for the historical existence of “ordered” communities “free from subjection, and … free from subjecting others” (Jennings 2011: 43).
Female Génocidaires in the Aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide
Since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the current government has arrested approximately 130,000 civilians who were suspected of criminal responsibility. An estimated 2,000 were women, a cohort that remains rarely researched through an ethnographic lens. This article begins to address this oversight by analyzing ethnographic encounters with 8 confessed or convicted female génocidaires from around Rwanda. These encounters reveal that female génocidaires believe they endure gender-based discrimination for having violated taboos that determine appropriate conduct for Rwandan women. However, only female génocidaires with minimal education, wealth, and social capital referenced this gender-based discrimination to minimize their crimes and assert claims of victimization. Conversely, female elites who helped incite the genocide framed their victimization in terms of political betrayal and victor’s justice. This difference is likely informed by the female elites’ participation in the political processes that made the genocide possible, as well as historical precedence for leniency where female elites are concerned.
History, Politics, and Exile Identity among Rwandan Rebels in the Eastern Congo Conflict
This article analyzes how the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is recalled and described by members of a Hutu rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) whose leadership can be linked to the 1994 atrocities in Rwanda. The article explores how individuals belonging to this rebel group, currently operating in the eastern territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), articulate, contest, and oppose the dominant narrative of the Rwandan genocide. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with members of the FDLR in a rebel camp, this article shows how a community of exiled fighters and second-generation Hutu refugees contest the official version of genocide by constructing a counterhistory of it. Through organized practices such as political demonstrations and military performances, it further shows how political ideologies and violence are being manufactured and reproduced within a setting of military control.
Authority, Aesthetics, and the Wisdom of Foolishness
Simon Coleman and Ruy Llera Blanes
With characteristic playfulness, the subject of this volume’s portrait, Gananath Obeyesekere, calls his contribution a celebration of ‘foolishness’. But this is indeed a fertile foolishness. It implies not only an admission that the ethnographer lacks omniscience, but also a positive freedom to engage passionately in comparison, to avoid disciplinary overspecialization, to understand that the “non-rational is not necessarily irrational,” and to acknowledge the power of art and literature as potential inspirations for our work. Of course, as Obeyesekere admits, the ludic and the ironic also entail risks, as they can provoke anger in others. Nonetheless, his words have many echoes in this volume, particularly in their invocation of the power of the aesthetic combined with the ironic, exemplified by reference to the fool in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. They also provoke thoughtful reflections from our three commentators on Obeyesekere’s work, Douglas Hollan, Luís Quintais, and Unni Wikan.
Contested Narratives of Storied Places—the Holy Lands
The articles in this special section on pilgrimage and the Holy Lands provide a wide range of perspectives on the practice, representation, and production of sacred space as expressions of knowledge and power. The experience of space of the pilgrim and the politically committed tourist is characterized by distance, impermanence, desire, contestation, and the entwinement of the material and the spiritual. The wealth of historical Christian and Western narratives/images of the Holy Land, the short duration of pilgrimage, the encounter with otherness, the entextualization of sites, and the semiotic nature of tourism all open a gap between the perceptions of pilgrims and those of 'natives'. Although the intertwining of symbolic condensation, legitimation, and power makes these Holy Land sites extremely volatile, many pilgrimages sidestep confrontation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as inimical to the spirit of pilgrimage. A comparative view of the practices of contemporary Holy Land pilgrims demonstrates how communitas and conflict, openness and isolation are constantly being negotiated.
Ends and Beginnings
Ruy Blanes and Simon Coleman
The fact that you are reading these lines indicates that (1) issue number 4 of Advances in Research: Religion and Society has been published; and that (2) the world did not end, as expected by some, in December 2012. The buzz surrounding the Mayan calendar seemed for us as editors to be an appropriate pretext to conjure a debate concerning the intersection of religion and environmental apocalypticism. The four contributions to this debate reflect, in a critical and engaged fashion, on such intersections and their mediatization. Anna Fedele takes the Mayan calendar controversy as a starting point to argue for a history of apocalyptic prophecies in Western New Age and spiritual movements, in which prophetic success or failure have not depended on empirical confirmations. Terry Leahy draws on his research in Newcastle, Australia, to explain that apocalypticism is not exclusive to religious movements, and in fact circulates in different scientific and political spheres. Stefan Skrimshire also pursues this argument, moving beyond the caricature-filled debates between so-called latter-day prophets who campaign on environmental issues and the political orientations of environmental skeptics, and using this approach to decouple apocalypticism and prophecy. Peter Rudiak-Gould, in turn, explores cataclysmic apocalypse narratives in the context of wider expectations of moral and political change, both within and beyond the religious discourse of sin and repentance. All contributions in this section portray logics and contexts of environmental apocalypticism in sketches that overlap but also exceed religious spheres.