In this article I explore the contemporary relevance of Émile Durkheim’s classic theory of anomie with respect to both the discipline of social anthropology and the study of politics in Africa. I take as a case study present-day, post-war Angola, where an activist mobilisation (the Revolutionary Movement) has engaged in what I call ‘anomic diagnostics’ in opposing the country’s current regime. Through a political reading of Durkheim’s theory, I suggest that, while the French author situates anomie and suicide as cause and consequence respectively within a conservative view of society, Angolan activists instead see anomie as the starting point for a progressive political proposition productive of rupture.
Ruy Llera Blanes
Ruy Llera Blanes
In this article, through a set of ethnographic vignettes from fieldwork conducted in Angola since 2015, I discuss the political semantics of crisis and austerity, and simultaneously outline an itinerary of a “traveling austerity” between Portugal and Angola, exposing the interconnectedness and mutual binding of both political and economic contexts. Invoking stories of migrant workers in Luanda and the work of local “financial activists” protesting against financial inequality in Angola, I question the relevance of national-based approaches to austerity politics, explore conceptualizations of austerity beyond its “original,” mainstream Eurocentric setting, and argue towards the necessity of analyzing transnational intersections in the study of austerity.
Authority, Aesthetics, and the Wisdom of Foolishness
Simon Coleman and Ruy Llera Blanes
With characteristic playfulness, the subject of this volume’s portrait, Gananath Obeyesekere, calls his contribution a celebration of ‘foolishness’. But this is indeed a fertile foolishness. It implies not only an admission that the ethnographer lacks omniscience, but also a positive freedom to engage passionately in comparison, to avoid disciplinary overspecialization, to understand that the “non-rational is not necessarily irrational,” and to acknowledge the power of art and literature as potential inspirations for our work. Of course, as Obeyesekere admits, the ludic and the ironic also entail risks, as they can provoke anger in others. Nonetheless, his words have many echoes in this volume, particularly in their invocation of the power of the aesthetic combined with the ironic, exemplified by reference to the fool in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. They also provoke thoughtful reflections from our three commentators on Obeyesekere’s work, Douglas Hollan, Luís Quintais, and Unni Wikan.
Ruy Llera Blanes and Abel Paxe
In this article we chart the histories and political translations of atheist cultures in Angola. We explore the specific translations of atheist ideologies into practical actions that occurred in the post-independence period in the 1970s–1980s and perform an ethnographic exploration of their legacies in contemporary Angola. We also debate the problem of atheism as an anthropological concept, examining the interfaces between ideology, political agency, and social praxis. We suggest that atheism is inherently a politically biased concept, a product of the local histories and intellectual traditions that shape it.
One Hundred Years of Anthropology of Religion
Ramon Sarró, Simon Coleman and Ruy Llera Blanes
One could say that in 2012 the scientific study of religion, particularly in its anthropological form, has become one hundred years old. In 1912, Durkheim published The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, perhaps the most influential book in the social study of religion, and certainly in the anthropology of religion, of the entire twentieth century. But this was not the only seminal work published around a century ago. A little earlier than that, in 1909, Arnold van Gennep’s Les rites de passage inaugurated an interest in liminality and ritual that has accompanied our discipline ever since. That same year, Marcel Mauss wrote La prière, an unfinished thesis that started an equally unfinished interest in prayer, one of the central devotional practices in many religions across the globe. In 1910, Lévy-Bruhl published his first explicitly anthropological book, How Natives Think, a problematic ancestor of a debate about rationality and modes of thought that has accompanied anthropology and philosophy ever since. In 1913, Freud tackled the then fashionable topic of totemism in his Totem and Taboo. Around those early years of the century, too, Max Weber was starting to write about charisma, secularization, and rationalization, topics of enduring interest.
Godless People, Doubt, and Atheism
Ruy Llera Blanes and Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic
In the introduction to this special issue, we set the agenda for researching the aspirations and practices of godless people who seek to thin out religion in their daily lives. We reflect on why processes of disengagement from religion have not been adequately researched in anthropology. Locating this issue's articles in the anthropological literature on doubt and atheism, we argue for the importance of a comparative investigation to analyze people's reluctance to pursue religion.
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.
Religions, Histories, and Comparisons
Simon Coleman, Ruy Llera Blanes and Sondra L. Hausner
Religion and Society is constructed out of themes and variations. While we have a basic grammar of contents, we try to innovate within a recognizable frame. In previous volumes, we have always begun with a portrait of a living scholar. In this volume, however, we are publishing a portrait around an absence as a tribute to J. D. Y. Peel. John Peel was an extraordinary man and scholar—a great thinker on religion—who died in November 2015. His influence, writings, and memory continue to resonate strongly in many fields and networks. Our six memorial portraits give a flavor (to use a suitable culinary metaphor) of Peel’s wide range of interests and friends, all nourished by his generosity and enthusiasm and his ability to live his life through his work and his work through his life.
Narratives, Ontologies, Entanglements, and Iconoclasms
Sondra L. Hausner, Simon Coleman and Ruy Llera Blanes
This volume of Religion and Society offers a personal portrait from a self-described shy academic, who also happens to be an intellectually powerful scholar of South Asia—Ann Grodzins Gold. Anthropologists of religion and South Asia know Gold’s work to portray an astonishingly subtle evocation of the realities of women’s lives, families’ lives, village lives, and everyday existence. Her respondents in this volume’s portrait section all note their admiration for the impact of her work, illustrating further Gold’s capacity to write Rajasthan into the anthropological canon, along with her poignant reflections on the nature of fieldwork, the ways in which texts and people speak to one another, and the nature of religion as lived on the ground, particularly in rural India. Well-known through her ethnographic accounts of rural India, Gold has often incorporated stories about her own experiences into her powerful, larger narratives about Rajasthan, but this volume is the first time we read of her own personal history as the basis from which she learned to observe, research, and write about religion.