In this introduction we provide a genealogy of anthropological writings on belief and discuss the politics of using the term in cross-cultural contexts. We summarize the contributions to this issue and argue for the virtues of writing 'against'—rather than 'with'—the term in ethnographic texts. The article concludes with reflections on the way anthropological discussions of belief have expressed wider assumptions about the representation of culture.
Galina Lindquist and Simon Coleman
The Value of Being a Canadian Student Athlete in the U.S.A.
Each year, young, elite Canadian athletes travel south to attend American colleges and universities, funded in part by athletic scholarships. These 'student athletes' leave their home country to pursue opportunities they believe are only available in the U.S. The demands made on their time, finances, and personal wellbeing can be staggering. Yet for those who become student athletes, the value of the experience tends to be unquestionably identified as being 'worth it'. In this paper, I explore how this exhortation, repeated so readily by the individuals I interviewed during fieldwork in the U.S., reflects a complicated set of beliefs. This deceptively simple statement provides an entry point for understanding what Canadian student athletes find valuable about their experience and how they believe it affords them a degree of personal distinction that would have been impossible had they stayed in Canada.
When speaking about Wendy Greengross at a memorial service shortly after her death, Rabbi Lionel Blue likened her to other exceptional British Jewish women, like the Hon Lily Montagu and Lady Henriques, who were deeply motivated by their religious beliefs and who undertook pioneering work within the Jewish and wider community.
The Importance of Rituals in Everyday Life in the Middle East
Zubaydah Ashkanani and Soheila Shahshahani
A culture can be expressed in a succinct way in its rituals, the manifestations of the culmination of its deepest beliefs. Rituals are also attempts to maintain cohesion, which they do most successfully in the material and non-material arts. Knowledge of a culture is necessary in order to portray the totality of that culture through its rituals and ceremonies. As a central topic in anthropology, ritual has been regarded as a phenomenon that is resistant to change and bound to a great extent to certain norms and regulations. Yet it is obvious that rituals are not rigid, unvarying sets of performances and that they have undergone many changes in definitions, functions and interpretations. Indeed, all aspects of culture, including rituals, are subject to change. Drawing on the past, cultures sustain their beliefs by making use of what is at hand in the present.
Everyday Life in the Middle East
Ever since the 1970s, when I attended a conference of the American Anthropological Association for the first time, a question had been with me: Why do anthropologists of the Middle East not have a common forum in the form of a journal or an anthropology association? Now, as Anthropology of the Middle East makes its debut, my belief in the need for such a publication has become even stronger.
Whereas questions of race, class and gender may be uppermost in the minds of many late twentieth-century scholars and critics, in the early modern period tradition and belief were the predominant preoccupations, in practical terms, custom and Christianity were inextricably intertwined within the changing culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An awareness of these past concerns motivates each of the seven articles in this issue, articles which re-examine literary and historical texts, not as past mirrors in which we might speculate upon our own particular preoccupations, but as sources of a more anthropological and spiritual history.
Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh
In this, our second issue of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (GHS), we continue our work out of respect for, and in memory of, our founding co-editor, Jackie Kirk, who was killed in Afghanistan earlier in 2008 while she was carrying out her work in girls’ education in conflict zones. We carry on with the belief that we all shared from the beginning about the need to respect girls, to study girl culture on its own terms and to keep in mind the importance of further developing the interdisciplinary field of girlhood studies.
The call to attend to a history of affect is hardly a new one in the profession: in 1941, in a classic essay entitled “La sensibilité et l’histoire: Comment reconstituer le vie affective d’autrefois?,” Lucien Febvre laid out an agenda for just such a historiographical turn. His reasoning, however, had less to do with the need for a history of affect per se than with the belief that the history of ideas or of institutions, both of them mainstays of traditional historiography, “are subjects that the historian can neither understand nor make understood without this primordial interest that I call the psychological.” In a perceptive review essay of the historiography of emotions that marked the beginning of the current affective turn in historical inquiry, Barbara Rosenwein argued that Febvre’s turn toward such a history was less a repudiation of the political focus of history than a belief born from observing the rise of Nazism: “politics itself is not rational, not unemotional.” As Rosenwein notes, Febvre answered the skeptics in his own essay: “The history of hate, the history of fear, the history of cruelty, the history of love; stop bothering us with this idle chatter. But that idle chatter … will tomorrow have turned the universe into a fetid pile of corpses.”
Repatriation and Ritual, Repatriation as Ritual
Laura Peers, Lotten Gustafsson Reinius and Jennifer Shannon
This special section of Museum Worlds explores the entire process of repatriation as a set of rituals enacted by claimants and museum staff: a set of highlighted performances enacting multiple sets of cosmological beliefs, symbolic systems, and political structures. Some of the rituals of repatriation occur within the space of Indigenous ceremonies; others happen within the museum spaces of collections storage and the boardroom; others, such as handover ceremonies, are coproduced and culturally hybrid. From the often obsessive bureaucracy associated with repatriation claims to the affective moment of handover, repatriation articulates a moral landscape where memory, responsibility, guilt, identity, sanctity, place, and ownership are given a ritual form. Theory about ritual is used here to situate the articles in this section, which together form a cross-cultural examination of ritual meaning and form across repatriation processes.
Popular Religious Practices and Perceptions in the Middle East and Central Asia
Mary Elaine Hegland
People at the popular level often hold religious perceptions and engage in religious practices that make sense to them within their own existential situations, even if they fall outside orthodoxy. Although political leaders and religious authorities may attempt to mould people’s religious perceptions and practices according to their own ideas and interpretations of religion, people frequently find ways to evade or ignore such pressures, to rationalise their deviations or to continue to live and think according to their own self-generated religious frameworks. The authors of the articles in this special issue provide examples of how people’s actual practices and religious beliefs arise out of their own personal situations and histories though at odds with the pronouncements of religious specialists.