To share/sharing/shared/a share of/to share with. What do we create when we share objects, embodied experiences, languages, or ideas with others? Intimacy? Ties of obligation? A sense of belonging to something despite differences of investments and position? In this special section, Hillewaert and Tetreault experiment with reimagining the notion of ‘sharedness’. They have assembled a set of articles that use the term when describing less hegemonically spiritual and religious communities from a variety of places, traditions, and social formations. Some contributors focus on communities marginalized by more dominantly recognized state or institutional religiosity (Riley, Cochrane, Tetreault). Others ask what constitutes the grounds for defining religious/spiritual communities at all (Hillewaert, Elisha). The majority of the communities discussed probably fit most comfortably in scholarship on new religious movements or New Age scholarship (Elisha). What links these contributions is a focus on processes by which participants’ sharedness is achieved despite their differences of belief, practice, or both, which might seem to threaten their existence as a collectivity. That is, the authors consider how difference rather than sameness becomes the grounds for creating a sense of joint purpose. They also emphasize that sharedness is a jumping-off point, a category for ethnographic investigation specifically through attention to language, materiality, and embodiment. This contrasts to assumptions that community of any sort necessarily relies on or emerges from participants’ sameness.
Amid a moment of crisis, how might the anthropology of religion shift its focus from ethics to politics? This 2021 Rappaport Lecture, delivered at the Society for the Anthropology of Religion (SAR) Biennial Meeting on 15 May 2021, begins by highlighting three ways in which our field has taken on politics in recent years: by troubling the distinction between ethics and politics, by thinking religion together with pressing political issues, and by taking a critical look at our conceptual horizons. Elaborating on this third way, it proposes that the anthropology of religion needs to move beyond the human horizon by ethnographically grappling with something bigger, namely, God. Prompted by a reflection on the phrase Allāhu akbar (God is the greatest), the lecture maps the challenges posed by a god greater than the human imagination and considers a range of writing strategies that might help make our texts more hospitable to such a figure. Bringing Islam into the conversation about the relationship between theology and anthropology, it suggests that the figure of God directs us toward the evasive and unknowable—that which exceeds our grasp and analysis.
The Border Politics of Anti-communism and Anti-discrimination in South Korea
This article examines how the language and logics of the Christian Right in South Korea contributed to the propagation of anti-asylum sentiment during the Yemeni refugee crisis in 2018. By analyzing the Christian Right’s historical origins in anti-communism and its moral opposition to anti-discrimination law, it shows how the anti-asylum movement owed much of its support to a conservative Protestant view of international refugee rights, seen through the lens of minority rights at home. Ultimately, it argues that overlaps between religious and national ideologies of anticommunism activate conservative Protestant linkages between moral boundaries and border security.
Haunting Sufis and the Also-Here of Migration in Berlin
This article delves into the spectral and affective reserves of Zikr, the Sufi exercise of godly remembrance. It explores how performances of religious longing broaden the moral experience of a post-migrant Berlin by offering contemporary believers critically thin zones of hypersocial contact with Islamic holy figures. Zikr emerges as a key interface of felt and material worlds: through acts of remembrance, subliminal figures and migrant inheritances are made contemporaneous while suppressed civic-political matters find a spectral, more-than-visual presence in Berlin. Sufi haunting thus achieves, amid enduring conditions of migration, a provisional positioning of the not-here and the not-now as an also-here. Such remembrance affords migrants a greater awareness of being distinctly historical as well as the critical means to look past conditions of the present.
Sarah M. Hillewaert
This article contemplates the construction of sharedness that underlies the success of alternative lifestyle communities in Eastern Africa. In Kenya, a new tourism niche market that focuses on yoga, mindfulness, and alternative medicine is flourishing. Tourists travel to East Africa to practice yoga, but also to introduce local communities to ‘alternative lifestyles’. By considering Western and Kenyan practitioners’ discourses about the benefits of alternative healing, mindfulness, and yoga, I explore the significance of sharedness to the emergence of communities that are structured around not just physical practice, but also an envisioned joint purpose. I argue that discursively constructing shared purpose, in the face of seemingly evident differences, is central to Western expats’ validation and commercialization of these initiatives. I also demonstrate that local participants equally, although along different lines, feel compelled to construct a particular kind of sharedness to justify their yoga practice to themselves and their own communities.
Russian Baptist Faith as Text
This article is about Russian Baptists’ perception of their faith as a text. I argue that they practice their lived faith by interiorizing the language of the Russian Synodal Translation of the Bible as their ‘language of reasoning’. I support this claim by analyzing two aspects of faith: as an act of conversion and as a process of living a Christian life. To illustrate the mechanism of sustaining faith, I use the case of a rehabilitation ministry for addicted people to unpack narratives of conversion, gender order, and family life. Biblical literalism is the basis of the Russian Baptist faith narrative, and in this article I scrutinize the mechanism of its construction.
Systematic Reflections and Exemplary Answers
How should instructors conceptualize an introductory course on the academic study of religion? This article combines an abstract and broader review of different conceptualizations of such courses with hands-on discussions of two exemplary teaching models. The ‘case study model’ applies different approaches within the study of religion to a single case study in order to exemplify and compare their potentials and limitations. The ‘monograph model’ illustrates how an ethnography is used as a reference point for a discussion of the history of and current strands within the study of religion. Both models are particularly well suited to facilitate the combination of an overview of key themes, approaches, terms, and scholars with a close study of the intricate and captivating empirical reality of ‘lived religion(s)’.
Place, Horizon, and Imaginary
Sondra L. Hausner and Simon Coleman
Perhaps it is no coincidence that as we approach two years of a COVID-adjusted world, this volume of Religion and Society turns its sights to horizons, imaginaries, and lenses of legibility. What does this new world look like, and from what vantage point might we best approach it? And how might these new ways of seeing imply new ways of acting in community, in concert, over time, and across space—or how might we see our old ways of acting anew?
Communities Reimagining Sharedness in Belief and Practice
Sarah Hillewaert and Chantal Tetreault
In this introduction, we bring together diverse anthropological considerations of community, belonging, and belief to argue for a reconsideration of the notion of ‘sharedness’ that often underlies these concepts. Scholars have long critiqued the use of ‘community’ for its broad application and vagueness, and most now recognize communities to be newly emerging rather than pre-existing. Despite this critical approach to scholarly uses of ‘community’, forms of unity often continue to be viewed as undergirded by a seemingly more self-evident idea of sharedness, in practice, belief or purpose. In this special section, we question this self-evidency to focus on how sharedness itself needs to be discursively and semiotically co-constructed and fostered by people who imagine themselves as belonging to communities of apparent mixed beliefs and practices. We propose that a focus on discourse and semiosis can provide insights into the innovative ways in which individuals negotiate, co-construct, and enact sharedness.
Laura L. Cochrane
How do people create their religious selves and a religious culture through their everyday practices and discourses? This article examines residents of two rural daaras (Sufi religious communities) in Senegal and their focus on labor and tolerance as religious practice. It uses concepts of tradition, performativity, and citation to trace the themes of labor and tolerance through historical, political, and present-day applications in Senegal. How do common ways of talking about and practicing labor and tolerance unite a religiously diverse population, both in the daaras and more broadly in Senegal? The daaras’ shaykh and residents cite Murid teachings to inform their practices and discussions of labor and tolerance, and have developed the daaras to consciously embed those values in everyday life. These shared practices and discourses form a cultural milieu in which people intentionally participate in the interests of a unified community that can work toward both spiritual and environmental purposes.