Recent cognitive and evolutionary approaches to the study of religion have been seen by many as a naturalistic alternative to conventional anthropological interpretations. Whereas anthropologists have traditionally accounted for the existence of religion in terms of social and cultural determinants, cognitive scientists have emphasized the innate—that is pre-cultural—constraints placed by natural selection on the formation and acquisition of religious ideas. This article provides a critical assessment of the main theoretical proposals put forward by cognitive scientists and suggests possible interactions, perhaps interdependencies, with more standard anthropological sensibilities, especially between cognitive and evolutionary perspectives that see religion as a by-product of innate psychological dispositions and anthropological approaches that take the 'meaningful' nature of religious symbols as their point of departure.
A Critical Assessment
Around "The Mind Possessed: The Cognition of Spirit Possession in an Afro-Brazilian Religious Tradition" by Emma Cohen
Diana Espirito Santo, Arnaud Halloy, Pierre Liénard, and Emma Cohen
“Why spirits?” asks Emma Cohen (97)—why are concepts of intentional and agentive supernatural beings such as spirits and gods so prevalent cross-culturally? What makes them appealing, contagious, and lasting? And what kinds of assumptions about the world and its workings do they entail and do they generate? In The Mind Possessed, Cohen offers us some answers; to some degree by appealing to her ethnography of the Afro-Brazilian practice of batuque in the Amazon-bordering town of Belém, but mostly by subordinating particularistic concerns to what she considers more general ‘scientific’ ones. However, it may be the questions, rather than the answers, that merit revising.
Keith Egan, Mathias Thaler, Anna Fedele, Maarit Forde, Tuomas Martikainen, Kim Knibbe, Maria M. Griera, Katerina Seraidari, José Mapril, Roger Canals, Diana Espirito Santo, Titus Hjelm, Vlad Naumescu, Vânia Zikán Cardoso, Mathieu Fribault, Rebecca Prentice, Ryan Schram, Jacqueline Ryle, Alexandre Surrallés, James S. Bielo, César Ceriani Cernadas, and Maïté Maskens
BENTLEY, Alex (ed.), The Edge of Reason? Science and Religion in Modern Society, 222 pp., foreword. London: Continuum, 2008. Paperback, £13.99. ISBN: 9781847062185.
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FAVRET-SAADA, Jeanne, 2009, Désorceler, 169 pp., bibliographical references. Paris: Éditions de L’Olivier. Paperback, €18.50. ISBN: 9782879296395.
GUADELOUPE, Francio, Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Calypso, Christianity, and Capitalism in the Caribbean, 255 pp., illustrations, notes, references, index. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. Hardback, $50.00/£34.95. ISBN: 9780520254886.
HACKETT, Rosalind (ed.), Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets and Culture Wars, 480 pp. London: Equinox, 2008. Paperback, £18.99/$29.95. ISBN: 9781845532277.
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Credit. From the Latin, credere, to trust or to believe. Crisis, from the Greek κρίσις, crisis, but also decision, judgment. Judgment day. I had imagined this article as a series of epistles, short missives with didactic aphorisms—postcards, really—from the credit crisis. Yet the effort foundered on two shores. First, my abilities are simply not up to the task, for this genre with its ancient history boasts so many predecessors and models that selection for the purposes of mimicry—or embodiment—became impossible. Second, and more important, I began to realize, in the effort, that the genre demands an analytical engagement with its material that this article in many respects stands athwart. How it does so will become apparent in due course. The credit crisis began in 2008 and continues to the time of my writing, in May 2010. In naming the credit crisis and its religion, I acknowledge I afford them a degree of reality they may not possess. I also acknowledge that this article comes with temporal limits, the limits of the time of its writing. My debts are many and cannot be fully acknowledged. Reality, time and debt are very much at issue in credit crisis religion. Worldly constraints narrow my inquiry to Anglophone and primarily United States examples. Christianity is, by necessity and design, over-represented.
A Practical Guide
This article discusses structural, logistical, and administrative issues associated with the use of participant observation assignments in teaching the anthropology of religion. Fieldwork presents extraordinary opportunities for teaching students about the nature of cultural difference, but it also poses pedagogical challenges that require careful planning and supervision. The article reviews problems including the scope and nature of the observation, student preparation and guidance, connecting with fieldsites, presentation formats, issues of ethics and confidentiality, and university administrative considerations.
Simon Coleman and Ramon Sarró
When the two editors of this journal were approached by Berghahn Books to start an annual journal on religion, they felt the opportunity had arrived to fill a gap oft en remarked upon when anthropologists meet for a coffee or a beer; namely, the one created by the lack of any journal dealing exclusively with the ‘anthropology of religion’. Of course conversations over coffee have to be taken with a pinch of salt (or sugar). The idea of a separate ‘anthropology of religion’—not to mention the notion that there is such a thing as a separate field of human action and thought called ‘religion’—creates an enduring problematic in itself. But even so, scholars claiming to do something of the sort have been active since at least the days of Frazer and Tylor. Approaches oft en portrayed as different, even opposed (e.g., cognitive, phenomenological, structuralist) have been developing their own dynamics, debates, conferences and publications, sometimes in isolation from one another, and sometimes with little or no connection to nonanthropological disciplines also concerned with the study of religion, such as theology, sociology, or religious studies.
As I began writing this piece, a blog post in the Guardian (18 May 2010) asked if “the markets” are our new religion, likening them to a “bloodthirsty god” in primitive religion. Financial markets are the outcome of thousands of independent decisions, but the media oft en speak of them as a single all-knowing entity. Almost a decade earlier, Thomas Frank (2001) published One Market under God and many others have made a similar connection. The editors of this journal approached me to comment on the possible interest the financial crisis might hold for anthropologists of religion. That begs the question of what religion is and what money has to do with it. In what follows I stick to a Durkheimian line on the affinity between money and religion. Its relevance to the current economic crisis must wait for another occasion.
The Immanent Frame
Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity Afterlife Research Centre
The Non-religion and Secularity Research Network
Teaching Religion in the Social Sciences
Network of Anthropology of Religion
Tracking the Anthropology of Human Rights and Religion
Kamari Maxine Clarke
This article explores the reality of translating or vernacularizing practices in relation to the politics of religion and the realities of faith. Taking violence as endemic to the processes of vernacularization and translation, the article articulates an analytic theory of religious faith—the way it is violated, often in the interest of making it legible within neo-liberal universalizing trends. Thinking about these realities involves understanding translations both as productive of cultural change and as manifestations of struggles over power. Many of these struggles are in the interstices among particular principles of individualism, secularism, legal rationality, and evidence. This article seeks to review the assumptions that emerge with these concepts and show their limits.
Maurice Bloch, Laurent Berger, David Berliner, Fenella Cannell, and Webb Keane
Th e refl ections presented here demonstrate the coherence and continuity of the part of my work that can be labeled as dealing with religion and ritual. Th is of course does not mean that everything I have written on the subject is coherent and continuous. Indeed as time has passed I have learned many things from my readings and experiences, from interacting with colleagues and friends, and from working with others, including the people I have studied and, above all, the PhD students I have supervised. As a result I have had to modify what I thought. Looking back I believe there is an ongoing line of argument in what I have published and this is what I attempt to clarify in what follows.