This article explores forms of history and memory constructed around the Christian pilgrimage site of Walsingham, England. While exploring different ways of appropriating the past exhibited by pilgrims, ranging from “reliving,“ “remixing,“ and “reframing,“ the article argues that Walsingham's powerful symbolic resonances emerge in part from its role as a context for “archeotheology,“ whereby a sacramental religious ideology is reinforced by the forms of ruination evident at key points of the site.
Pilgrimage, “Archeo-Theology,“ and the Creativity of Destruction
This issue is dedicated to Galina Lindquist, co-editor of this volume, who died of cancer on the morning of 26 May 2008.
Paul Basu and Simon Coleman
At the time of preparing this special double issue of Anthropology in Action, British anthropologists are debating the implications of current British government policy aimed at evaluating the influence of academic disciplines. One of the key functions of the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) is to measure the ‘impact’ of a subject-area’s activity, the extent to which it can be shown to have economic and social effects beyond the quoting circles of colleagues in print or at conferences. The merits or otherwise of the REF can be debated. Arguably, however, it misses one of the key areas where a subject such as anthropology can have a significant effect on the world: the teaching of its basic concepts, both in universities and in other contexts where cultural ‘relativism’ and the recognition of other legitimate ways of being in the world can gain purchase.
Developing a Museum-based Anthropology Education Resource forPre-university Students
Paul Basu and Simon Coleman
In its 2002-3 Strategic Review, the Royal Anthropological Institute reasserted the importance of the public communication of anthropology for the future of the discipline. Two significant venues for public engagement activity were identified: museums and pre-university education contexts. We present an account of the development and piloting of an anthropology teaching and learning resource that bridges these two arenas. Complementing efforts to introduce an anthropology A-Level, the Culture, Identity, Difference resource uses museum collections as a way of introducing anthropological perspectives on topics such as belief, ethnicity, gender and power to enhance students' studies across a range of different A-Level subjects. We reflect on some of the lessons learnt during the process, including the value of developing resources that can be used flexibly and creatively by teachers and students, and the need to approach the museum as a space of encounter, exploration and experimentation rather than as a didactic educational venue.
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.
Dialogues and Trajectories
Simon Coleman and Ramon Sarró
In his luminous reflections on the intellectual trajectory that he has traced so far—beginning with the modern and proceeding through the secular toward the global—José Casanova notes that his evolving interests took him away from anthropology and toward sociology. Yet Casanova’s work has remained influential on, and in conversation with, that of many anthropologists, not least as a result of his desire to transcend a “Western-centric view of history and human development” (this volume) as well as his predictions that Pentecostalism may well become the predominant form of Christianity in the twenty-first century. This second volume of Religion and Society presents Casanova—author of the classic Public Religions in the Modern World (1994)—in dialogue with his own past and shifting present, but also responding to the comments of scholars who are themselves anthropologically informed and yet able to represent perspectives from sociology, theology, and religious studies.
Ends and Beginnings
Ruy Blanes and Simon Coleman
The fact that you are reading these lines indicates that (1) issue number 4 of Advances in Research: Religion and Society has been published; and that (2) the world did not end, as expected by some, in December 2012. The buzz surrounding the Mayan calendar seemed for us as editors to be an appropriate pretext to conjure a debate concerning the intersection of religion and environmental apocalypticism. The four contributions to this debate reflect, in a critical and engaged fashion, on such intersections and their mediatization. Anna Fedele takes the Mayan calendar controversy as a starting point to argue for a history of apocalyptic prophecies in Western New Age and spiritual movements, in which prophetic success or failure have not depended on empirical confirmations. Terry Leahy draws on his research in Newcastle, Australia, to explain that apocalypticism is not exclusive to religious movements, and in fact circulates in different scientific and political spheres. Stefan Skrimshire also pursues this argument, moving beyond the caricature-filled debates between so-called latter-day prophets who campaign on environmental issues and the political orientations of environmental skeptics, and using this approach to decouple apocalypticism and prophecy. Peter Rudiak-Gould, in turn, explores cataclysmic apocalypse narratives in the context of wider expectations of moral and political change, both within and beyond the religious discourse of sin and repentance. All contributions in this section portray logics and contexts of environmental apocalypticism in sketches that overlap but also exceed religious spheres.
Authoring Christian Pilgrimage
Simon Coleman and John Elsner
During the Middle Ages, this story became the biblical model for pilgrimage. Christ himself was perceived to be appearing as pilgrim, and was frequently depicted fulfilling such a role in artistic representations of the journey to Emmaus. Here we have a truly scriptural model for the alignment of pilgrimage with the telling of tales. The narratives at stake are not only the vivid oral accounts of great events that had just occurred, but also the understanding of those stories in relation to older, established and written accounts, such as the scriptures ‘beginning at Moses’. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a place about seven miles from Jerusalem, are discussing what is recent history in the narrative of the Gospel but also sacred action from the perspective of a Christian reader – that is, the events of the crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb. When they encounter Jesus, he specifically requests a repetition of this narrative, which he then attempts to correct by grounding what is at this stage (in Luke’s representation) an immediate and oral sketch, in the deep and literary context of ‘all the scriptures’. Only when Jesus blesses and breaks bread – a reference that is both liturgical, in that it is eucharistic, and literary, in that it specifically refers back to the Last Supper in Luke’s own narrative (22: 19–20) – do the disciples evince appropriate recognition of their Lord, which is immediately the spur for more discussion and a return journey. After their encounter and identification of its significance, they waste no time in telling others of their experience.
Galina Lindquist and Simon Coleman
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.
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.