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Khaled Furani

ABSTRACT

Anthropologists have recently shown an increasing concern with secular formations. This exploratory article inquires into the secular formation of anthropology itself by initiating an examination of its relation to theology, deemed anthropology’s disciplinary Other. I argue for recognizing a complex relation, whereby anthropology in some ways forgets theology, in others sustains it, and in still others invites critique by it. Analyzing anthropology from its theological edges may reinvigorate awareness of its ethical dimensions as a secular enterprise, as well as help measure its distance from (or proximity to) dominant projects, such as the Enlightenment and the nation-state, which were crucial for its founding in the modern world. An anthropology critically curious about its inherited alienation from theological modes of reasoning may not only become better at investigating the possibilities that cultural forms can take, but also become aware of new forms that the discipline could itself take.

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The Uncanniness of Missionary Others

A Discursive Analysis of a Century of Anthropological Writings on Missionary Ethnographers

Travis Warren Cooper

ABSTRACT

This article examines discussions of missionaries penned by anthropologists and existing in disciplinary consciousness. Questions of alterity, distance and sameness, the potentially exploitative effects of ethnography, and the uncomfortable colonialist underpinnings of both missionary and anthropological pasts come to the fore in these texts. Drawing on a wealth of journal articles, ethnographic monographs, and edited volumes, I identify, describe, and analyze six predominant discourses on missionaries, including anthropological depictions of missionaries as foils (Discourse One), as intermediaries (Discourse Two), and as present in good or bad manifestations (Discourse Three). Other threads constitute missionaries as data (Discourse Four), conceive of them as methodological ancestors and ethnographic colleagues (Discourse Five), or identify them reflexively as both anthropologists and Christians (Discourse Six). I suggest that missionaries serve as an archetypical foil against which the anthropological discipline emerges. Missionary ethnographers are for anthropologists a necessarily uncanny, repressed, productive other.

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Afterword

So What Is the Anthropology of Buddhism About?

David N. Gellner

ABSTRACT

This afterword considers the history of the subfield of the anthropology of Buddhism in light of the essays in this special section of Religion and Society. Anthropologists have sought to combat conventional assumptions about Buddhism and have long made contributions to the study of Buddhism, the state, nationalism, and politics. As part of a maturing field, they have also made contributions through the study of Buddhism to many other subfields of anthropology, including morality, spirit possession, the emotions, and materiality. It is no longer necessary for the anthropology of Buddhism to be overwhelmingly concerned with the authenticity and identity of its subjects.

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Belonging in a New Myanmar

Identity, Law, and Gender in the Anthropology of Contemporary Buddhism

Juliane Schober

ABSTRACT

“To be Burmese is to be Buddhist” is a slogan commonly identified with the dawn of nationalism in the country known today as Myanmar, where violence between Buddhist, Muslim, and ethnic communities has increasingly jeopardized liberalizing reforms. How do contemporary forms of Theravada Buddhist discourse shape ideas of belonging in a multi-religious and ethnically diverse Myanmar following the dissolution of military rule in 2011? How do digital technologies and globalizing communication networks in this nation influence rapidly changing social identities, anxieties, and imaginaries that Brigit Meyer identifies as ‘aesthetic formations’? In this article, I trace diverse genealogies of belonging to show how contemporary constructions of meaning facilitate religious imaginaries that may exacerbate difference by drawing on past ideologies of conflict or may seek to envision a new and diverse Myanmar.

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Ayse Serap Avanoglu, Diana Riboli, Juan Javier Rivera Andía, Annalisa Butticci, Iain R. Edgar, Matan Shapiro, Brooke Schedneck, Mark Sedgwick, Suzane de Alencar Vieira, Nell Haynes, Sara Farhan, Fabián Bravo Vega, Marie Meudec, Nuno Domingos, Heidi Härkönen, Sergio González Varela, and Nathanael Homewood

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The Chaco Skies

A Socio-cultural History of Power Relations

Alejandro Martín López and Agustina Altman

ABSTRACT

This article looks into notions of the sky among the Guaycurú aboriginal groups in the Argentine Chaco within the context of the socio-religious changes they have undergone since the eighteenth century. By using ethno-astronomy and anthropology of religion perspectives, and based on our own ethnographic and documentary work, we have analyzed both the continuities and the ruptures in the Guaycurú skies. In doing so, we have found that social relations between humans and non-humans shape the Guaycurú experience of celestial space. These bonds have a strongly political character as they are structured around power asymmetries. The colonial experience, including Christian missions, has imposed modernity on these groups as an overall horizon of possibilities. However, the Guaycurú have sought to redefine modernity, creating their own ‘modernity paths’.

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Eschatology, Ethics, and Ēthnos

Ressentiment and Christian Nationalism in the Anthropology of Christianity

Jon Bialecki

ABSTRACT

Christian nationalism, a long-running and arguably increasingly influential political force, appears to consist mainly of an open set of affectively charged but cognitively underdetermined concepts and images that are capable of being constituted in a number of widely divergent forms. Despite this potential variety, the various instantiations of Christian nationalisms documented by the anthropology of Christianity tend to have similar features, even as they are actualized in quite different milieux and understood as being responses to quite different threats. Drawing on ethnographic work in the United States, this article argues that this recurrent crystallization of Christian nationalism into the specific form under certain conditions—the adoption of a temporally ambivalent eschatology, an ethics oriented around mimesis, and, most of all, an outward-facing ressentiment—works to self-catalyze the production of a racialized Christian nationalism that envisions itself at once as an entitled majority and as an embattled minority.

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The Ethics of Collective Sponsorship

Virtuous Action and Obligation in Contemporary Tibet

Jane Caple

ABSTRACT

A significant strand of anthropological work on Buddhist generosity practices in Therāvādin and Tibetan Buddhist societies has examined their role in reproducing and reinforcing social and economic hierarchies. Inspired by the recent ‘moral turn’ in anthropology, this article addresses the moral dimensions of these practices by analyzing debates, decisions, and judgments about what to sponsor and how to do so during times of accelerated ‘modernizing’ change. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in northeastern Tibet (Amdo) conducted between 2008 and 2015, I focus on a mode of collective sponsorship that has, in different contexts, been considered good, problematic, or even wrong. The moral grounds for such evaluations show that sponsorship is evaluated and experienced not only as a Buddhist practice but also as a social and economic practice with direct consequences for both individuals and communities. The moral stakes of generosity practices are shown to extend beyond individual ethics to the common good.

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Introduction

Legacies, Trajectories, and Comparison in the Anthropology of Buddhism

Nicolas Sihlé and Patrice Ladwig

ABSTRACT

The anthropology of Buddhism may give the impression of already having a well-established lineage. However, understood as a collective endeavor bringing together specialists from different parts of the Buddhist world in a comparative spirit, it remains very much an emerging project. We outline in this introduction some of the striking features of the beginnings of this subfield, such as how it has undergone a process of emancipation from textualist interpretations of Buddhism, and survey some of its main thematic and analytic orientations, pointing in particular to its most substantial ‘long conversation’, on the structure and dynamics of Buddhist religious fields. Throughout, we focus primarily on the period following an assessment of the subfield made by David Gellner in 1990. Finally, we stress the importance and highlight the promise of a comparative anthropology of Buddhism that builds on a critical, reflexive examination of its central concepts.

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Introduction

Religions, Histories, and Comparisons

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