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Religion through the Looking Glass

Fieldwork, Biography, and Authorship in Southwest China and Beyond

Katherine Swancutt

ABSTRACT

This article is an exploration into how a distinct fascination with the study of religion traverses the biographies of researchers who, through fieldwork, episodically enter into the life-worlds of the peoples they study. In it, I offer up ethnographic and auto-ethnographic reflections on the experiential crossroads and personal biographies that are perhaps as constitutive of religion as they are of the persons who study it. Through a discussion of interconnected events that arose during and outside of my anthropological fieldwork among the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China, I highlight how Nuosu claims to authoring my biography have brought their animistic religion and culture, as well as its international import, further into focus for myself, local scholars, and rural Nuosu persons. My argument pivots around the idea that fieldwork-based researchers and their interlocutors often appropriate each other’s biographies in rather cosmic ways, thus revealing the historically, socially, and personally contingent qualities that are involved in studies of religion.

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Ashley B. Lebner

This article begins by exploring why secular studies may be stagnating in anthropology. Contrary to recent arguments, I maintain that rather than widening the definition of secularism to address this, we should shift our focus, if only slightly. While secularism remains a worthy object, foregrounding it risks tying the field to issues of governance. I therefore suggest avoiding language that privileges it. Moreover, in returning to Talal Asad's 'secular', it becomes evident that care should be taken with the notion of 'secularism' to begin with, even if he did not emphasize this analytically. Conceiving of secularism as a transcendent political power, as Asad does, is not only a critique of a secularist narrative, but also a secularist truism itself that can potentially cloud ethnography if applied too readily. A way forward lies in carefully attending to secular concepts, as Asad suggests, and in exploring a version of secularity inspired by the work of Charles Taylor.

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Judith Casselberry, Stephen D. Glazier, Minna Opas, Viola Teisenhoffer, Anastasios Panagiotopoulos, Brendan Jamal Thornton, Joseph Trapido, Sergio González Varela, Bruno Reinhardt, Cristóbal Bonelli, Bernardo E. Brown, and Grete Viddal

ABRAMS, Andrea C., God and Blackness: Race, Gender, and Identity in a Middle Class Afrocentric Church, 195 pp., references, index. New York: New York University Press, 2014. Paperback, $26. ISBN 9780814705247.

CHRISTENSEN, Jeanne, Rastafari Reasoning and the RastaWoman: Gender Constructions in the Shaping of Rastafari Livity, 202 pp., bibliography, index. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014. Hardback, $80. ISBN 9780739175736.

COX, James L., The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies, 192 pp., notes, bibliography, index. Durham: Acumen, 2014. Paperback, $ 31. ISBN 9780520280472.

DAWSON, Andrew, Santo Daime: A New World Religion, 240 pp., notes, bibliography, index. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Paperback, $40. ISBN 9781441154248.

DESCOLA, Philippe, Beyond Nature and Culture, trans. Janet Lloyd, 488 pp., notes, bibliography, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. Hardback, $52. ISBN 9780226144450.

FLORES, Edward Orozco, God’s Gangs: Barrio Ministry, Masculinity, and Gang Recovery, 243 pp., notes, references, index. New York: New York University Press, 2013. Paperback, $22. ISBN 9781479878123.

GESCHIERE, Peter, God’s Witchcraft, Intimacy and Trust: Africa in Comparison, 243 pp., notes, references, index. 328 pp., notes, references, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. Hardback, $75. ISBN 9780226047584.

Johnson, Paul Christopher, ed., Spirited Things: The Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions, 344 pp., notes, bibliography, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. Hardback, $97.50. ISBN 9780226122625.

KLASSEN, Pamela E., Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity, 348 pp., notes, bibliography, index. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Paperback, $29.95. ISBN 9780520270992.

KOHN, Eduardo, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human, 288 pp., notes, bibliography, index. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. Paperback, $29.95. ISBN 9780520276116.

LUHRMANN, T. M., When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, 464 pp., notes, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. Paperback, $20. ISBN 9780307277275.

RAMSEY, Kate, The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti, 448 pp., illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Hardback, $50. ISBN 9780226703794.

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Cosmogony Today

Counter-Cosmogony, Perspectivism, and the Return of Anti-biblical Polemic

Michael W. Scott

In this article I review critical thought about cosmogony in the social sciences and explore the current status of this concept. The latter agenda entails three components. First, I argue that, even where cosmogony is not mentioned, contemporary anthropological projects that reject the essentialist ontology they ascribe to Western modernity in favor of analytical versions of relational non-dualism thereby posit a 'counter-cosmogony' of eternal relational becoming. Second, I show how Viveiros de Castro has made Amazonian cosmogonic myth—understood as counter-cosmogony—iconic of the relational non-dualist ontology he terms 'perspectival multinaturalism'. Observing that this counter-cosmogony now stands in opposition to biblical cosmogony, I conclude by considering the consequences for the study of cosmogony when it becomes a register of what it is about—when it becomes, that is, a form of polemical debate about competing models of cosmogony and the practical implications that they are perceived to entail.

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Debate

In Response to Charlie

Faisal Devji, Jane Garnett, Ghassan Hage, and Sondra L. Hausner

There is a close relation between satire and secularism as the latter came to emerge in Europe. Secularism, as is well-known, gained strength historically as a reaction to an era of European interreligious violence and massacres. It was not only a desire for the separation of church and state, as the classical formula has it. It was also an attempt to keep religious affect out of politics. This was in the belief that religion, because it is faith rather than reasoned thinking, produces too much of a narcissistic affect—that the faithful are unable to ‘keep their distance’ from what they believe in. It was thought that this narcissism was behind the murderous intensity of religiously driven conflicts. Being able to laugh at yourself literally means being able to not take yourself overly seriously. This, in turn, is crucial for the deintensification of the affects generated by the defense of what one believes in and for the relativization of one’s personal beliefs. Such relativization, as Claude Lévi- Strauss argued, is crucial for thinking oneself comparatively and in relation to others (the opposite of narcissism).

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Glossolalia and Linguistic Alterity

The Ontology of Ineffable Speech

Evandro Bonfim

This article proposes a revised definition of glossolalia based on the ritual value of incomprehensible speech, which allows for an approach to meaning emergence in non-human languages and the issue of extreme linguistic alterity. The main social and acoustic features associated with glossolalia will be presented through the case study of a Christian charismatic community in Brazil (the Canção Nova), showing us how linguistic evidence supports different notions of Christian personhood and an iconic-based communication between human and divine beings.

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Introduction

The Borders of Religion

Ruy Llera Blanes, Simon Coleman, and Sondra L. Hausner

This volume of Religion and Society is marked by borders, boundaries, and limits. The borders here are those that make religion operative and politically powerful, as well as those that are enabled and put into place by religious arguments and worldviews. All these dimensions of borders are included in the special section of this volume, coordinated by Valentina Napolitano and Nurit Stadler, entitled “Borderlands and Religion: Materialities, Histories, and the Spatialization of State Sovereignty.” The section includes articles by Alejandro Lugo, Nurit Stadler and Nimrod Luz, Alberto Hernández and Amalia Campos-Delgado, and Alexander D. M. Henley. They dwell upon two of the most notorious and contentious borders in the world: the one that separates Lebanon and Palestine from Israel, and the one that separates the US from Mexico. Both Israel and the US are known for their fenced and walled frontier politics. From these contributions, we learn how borderlands and their religious framing become spaces of political negotiation by affirmation and/or by exclusion: they determine sovereignty, ontology, history.

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Introduction

Materialities, Histories, and the Spatialization of State Sovereignty

Valentina Napolitano, Nimrod Luz, and Nurit Stadler

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.

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“Ashgate Studies in Pilgrimage” Series

New Book Series: “Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics”

Website for New Books in Religion

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Alejandro Lugo

Following Ann Stoler's analysis of 'imperial debris' and Gastón Gordillo's notion of the 'void', this article examines how, in the context of the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848, imperial and religious impulses have endured from the mid-nineteenth century to the present at the US-Mexico border. Using photographs taken at different 'sites of memory' located along the 60-mile corridor that connects Las Cruces, New Mexico, with El Paso, Texas, this analysis demonstrates that the continuing American occupation of Mexican lands has contributed to the oblique inclusion and parallel exclusion or erasure of the historical presence of the Mexican community, as well as its political, cultural, and historical legitimacy in the region. However, the essay argues that ultimately the 'voidable' status of the American presence in the US-Mexico border region continues to reproduce itself. The article closes with a series of photographs of churches that capture religious landscapes that manifest, challenge, and transcend the occupied borderlands through the materiality of their presence.