Religions, Histories, and Comparisons
Simon Coleman, Ruy Llera Blanes, and Sondra L. Hausner
Legacies, Trajectories, and Comparison in the Anthropology of Buddhism
Nicolas Sihlé and Patrice Ladwig
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.
Winter Sleep is the latest film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a Turkish director and screenwriter who has received international acclaim. For the purpose of social and cultural analysis, this article critically focuses on the film’s key themes and maneuvers that have diagnostic value from a social theoretical viewpoint. These themes are religion, the relationship between religion and capitalism, and symbolic exchange. Organized around these topics, the article examines the religion-capitalism-symbolic exchange nexus by analyzing the motifs of formation, intervention, and intelligibility as these themes arise. This site of intersection is the conceptual pivot around which the article configures itself. It explores Winter Sleep based on what the film shows and says on screen, how its thought processes emerge, and at what points this thought supports or conflicts with dominant societal opinions.
J. D. Y. Peel
Marloes Janson, Wale Adebanwi, David Pratten, Ruth Marshall, Stephan Palmié, Amanda Villepastour, and J. D. Y. Peel
Edited by Richard Fardon and Ramon Sarró
The Cosmopolitics of an Apparently Non-religious Practice
Sergio González Varela
Scholars commonly associate the religiosity of capoeira with the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, although some consider capoeira to be exclusively a martial art or even a sport. From the vantage point of the leaders of capoeira Angola groups, their individual power comes from a set of magical attributes that go beyond the influence of Afro-Brazilian religions. In this article, I explore an alternative form of spirituality that is based on the existence of spiritual beings such as the ancestors and the dead mestres (leaders). I argue that these entities emerge only in capoeira performances, affecting ritual action in such a way as to constitute an alternative form of religion that co-exists with Candomblé. By focusing on the effects that these spirits have in the configuration of charismatic personal power, it is possible to delineate cosmological attributes that make capoeira a potential religious practice in its own right.
Anthropological studies of spirit possession in Theravada Buddhist worlds continue to be strongly shaped by many of the theoretical presumptions embedded in the analytic models proposed by the earliest generation of scholars. The ability of subsequent theoretical developments in the discipline to influence analyses of spirit possession, Theravada Buddhism, and the relationship between them has been hindered in recent decades by the limited institutionalization of the anthropology of Buddhism as a shared, comparative research agenda. This article re-examines anthropological models of spirit possession in Theravada Buddhist South and Southeast Asia in light of three theoretical developments in anthropology in the final decades of the twentieth century—the critique of culture, the rise of practice theory, and the historical turn. Incorporating these developments more fully will, it is argued, advance a more analytically robust and empirically nuanced framing of both Buddhism and spirit possession as objects of future anthropological study.
An Inquiry into the Initiation Process in a Burmese Organization of Exorcists
Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière
The Manaw Seittokpad congregation, an organization of Burmese exorcists with headquarters in Bago, presents some unique features, such as a rigorous registration procedure during the initiation process. Exorcism is linked to superhuman figures, or weikza, at the center of a religious domain often characterized as a form of Buddhist esotericism. Based on observation of rituals during this congregation’s annual conventions in Bago, the initiation process is analyzed with reference to an anthropological understanding of rites of passage and religious conversion. The article shows how undergoing these rites induces healed patients to enter a specific community formed by the members of the congregation. Furthermore, the acquisition of a new ‘truly’ Buddhist identity is understood as a process equivalent to an ‘internal conversion’. Finally, the contrastive use of ritualism is seen as a way to construct the practice of exorcism in the weikza domain as a specific ‘path’ within the Burmese religious field.
Charisma and Clothes in Tibetan Buddhism Today
Magdalena Maria Turek
Contextualized in discussions around charisma as originally conceived by Max Weber, this article examines the case of Tsültrim Tarchin, a charismatic adept from Eastern Tibet whose everyday dress consists of a specialized garment, a white cotton robe. Earned as a mark of virtuosity in the Tantric tummo practice and worn as a sign of an ascetic lifestyle, this robe functions as a key instrument in Tsültrim Tarchin’s charismatic actions. More than a repository of power and beyond insignia that signify privilege or superiority, the religious garment I consider in this article does not merely channel the routinized charisma of the lineage. It also effectively augments the master’s personal power through the performativity of its symbolism, while its real potency lies in structuring all meanings within the master’s network of influence.
Playing at Diminished Reality in East Jerusalem
Fabio Cristiano and Emilio Distretti
Augmented reality enables video game experiences that are increasingly immersive. For its focus on walking and exploration, Niantic’s location-based video game Pokémon Go (PG) has been praised for allowing players to foster their understanding and relationship to surrounding spaces. However, in contexts where space and movement are objects of conflicting narratives and restrictive policies on mobility, playing relies on the creation of partial imaginaries and limits to the exploratory experience. Departing from avant-garde conceptualizations of walking, this article explores the imaginary that PG creates in occupied East Jerusalem. Based on observations collected in various gaming sessions along the Green Line, it analyzes how PG’s virtual representation of Jerusalem legitimizes a status quo of separation and segregation. In so doing, this article argues that, instead of enabling an experience of augmented reality for its users, playing PG in East Jerusalem produces a diminished one.