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Liana Chua

This article centers on the somatic modes through which ghosts, spirits, and other unseen beings are apprehended as felt experiences by the Bidayuh, an indigenous group of Malaysian Borneo. Such experiences reveal a local epistemology of supernatural encounters that associates vision with normality and its suspension with both sensory and social liminality. The second half of the article explores how this model has been extended to contemporary Bidayuh Christianity, thus rendering God, Jesus, and other personages viscerally real in people's lives. Drawing on the ethnography and recent developments in the anthropology of religion, I argue that these 'soul encounters' hold important theoretical and methodological lessons for anthropologists, pushing us to reshape our conceptions of belief, as well as our approaches to the study of ostensibly intangible religious phenomena.

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Abby Day

Research into the religious beliefs and behaviors of children, young people, adults, and elderly people prompts questions about the way “generation” is understood in the social scientific study of religion. What seem to the researcher at first to be shared values and beliefs on broad moral issues appear, at least to older people, to be lacking amongst the young. Such a difference in perception could be an example of a “generation” gap where generation is perceived by theorists such as Mannheim to be a shared identity of people who have a social history in common. Extensive literature in both anthropology and sociology is explored to find how such concepts are understood and operationalized. Detailed ethnography amongst elderly Anglican women begins to problematize how such notions as boundaries of “generation” blur with gender.

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Recovering Durkheim's 'Second Program of Research'

Roy Rappaport and Jeffrey C. Alexander

Massimo Rosati

Durkheim's 'second program of research' above all refers to his project as developed in Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse. This essay examines how it has in turn been developed and taken up nowadays in the work of Roy Rappaport and Jeffrey Alexander. Both of them are concerned with the centrality of ritual and the sacred as active, constitutive elements not just of religion but of all social life, not least modern social life. However, a key difference between them can be found in the issue of the internal dimension of ritual and of the individual's participation in public performance of this. Rappaport emphasizes some sort of general notion of acceptance, in an effort to open up things and get away from the particular epistemological as well as theological commitments of the idea of belief. Alexander still appears to work with the modernist epistemology and 'Protestant' theology of belief. His project of a new Durkheimian cultural sociology has nonetheless itself opened up all kinds of things, and is one of the most creative and dynamic research programs in sociology nowadays.

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Afterword

Returning to Cosmology—Thoughts on the Positioning of Belief

Don Handelman

Cosmology may be helpful in positioning belief. I suggest, through discussing the contributions to this collection, that belief, especially propositional belief, is integral to monotheistic cosmoses that are constituted through gigantic fractures (like that between God and human being). Such fractures distinguish between cosmic interior and cosmic exterior. The fracture as boundary is absolute, paradoxical, not to be breached. Thus, the infinite Hebrew God integrates His finite cosmos by holding it together from its outside. The absolute boundary signifies cosmic discontinuity. Here belief in the unfathomable may be central to overcoming such discontinuity and, so, to integrating cosmos. By contrast, an organic cosmos is held together within itself, is more continuous within itself, is more holistic, and, in flowing through itself, obviates any centrality of belief.

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Florian Berding and Ilka Lau

Epistemic beliefs are individuals’ beliefs about knowledge and knowing. Research assumes that epistemic messages embedded in learning materials shape learners’ beliefs. In order to provide information about these epistemic messages, this article analyzes 4,169 accounting exercises and 1,265 marketing exercises found in training textbooks for retailers, wholesalers, bank assistants, and industrial business management assistants. A latent class analysis identifies four types of exercises. The findings indicate that most epistemic messages emphasize knowledge that consists of stable, interconnected elements that are not useful for professional situations. Knowledge is transmitted by an authority and does not need to be justified. This article provides ideas on the basis of which exercises in textbooks may be revised.

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John Gillespie

On first reading Les Mots, it was as much of a surprise to note that references to religion and belief were both so frequent and so central to Sartre's unconventional autobiography as it was to learn that the famous Christian missionary Albert Schweitzer was his cousin. Further readings and analyses have reinforced my view that the language of belief plays a critical part in the text. These questions of belief and the references to religion that appear frequently in Les Mots have received less attention. It could be said that these references are merely illustrative of Sartre's attempt to explain himself to himself and to us, and function as any metaphor would. But such a suggestion would fail to account for the many references to religion and belief and to explain why they are so tightly interlinked. We will argue that closer attention to these subjects provides significant insight into the work. Sartre, it would appear, uses a religious template, rather than an existentialist or a Marxist one, to understand his life's project, his past and his present. We will therefore investigate the nature of this use of the language of belief as a religious template and evaluate its significance.

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Epistemology and Ethics

Perspectives from Africa

Henrietta L. Moore

There has been much discussion in anthropology of the problem of belief and of the difficulties inherent in understanding and interpreting alternative life-worlds. One consequence of anthropological understanding and interpretation being intimately tied to the epistemological and ethical project of contextualization is that other people's knowledge is often rendered as parochial, defined by its local contexts and scope. This article discusses the recent conversion to radical Protestant beliefs in a community in northern Kenya that has resulted in new forms of knowledge and agency. The moral continuities and discontinuities between researcher and researched cannot in this situation be glossed by making the informants rational in context or by asserting the existence of culturally distinct worldviews. The article explores how this sets up a series of epistemological and ethical dilemmas that shape both the research project and the research process.

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'Obviously It's Worth It'

The Value of Being a Canadian Student Athlete in the U.S.A.

Meghan Gilgunn

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.

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Beyond Belief?

Social, Political, and Shamanic Power in Siberia

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

An analysis of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in the Russian Federation reveals a variety of village and urban reactions to crises of faith and power. The significance for group identity and instances of synergistic group belief are discussed. The transition that has seen amorphous underground shamanic practice lead to the institutionalization of shamanic cosmology is reflected in the recent opening of a temple in the Republic's capital, Yakutsk, and in the various groups that adhere to charismatic healers and seers. Debates about faith, as well as fragmented faith epistemologies, are described. The data derive from over 25 years of intermittent fieldwork in the Republic and with the Sakha diaspora. My approach is situated at the crossroads of medical-psychological anthropology, political anthropology, and new religious movement analysis.

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Religious Belief and Practice in Itelmen History

The Historical Efficacy of Ideological Frameworks

David Koester, Viktoria Petrasheva and Tatiana Degai

Itelmen people of the Kamchatka Peninsula have felt and experienced the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church for over 300 years. Explorers' reports tell us that at the same time that Itelmens rebelled violently against the tsar's representatives, they accepted and appropriated the power of the church. This article examines religiosity in Itelmen history as it is revealed through a critical approach to sources, especially by focusing on Itelmen actions. Missionaries and ethnographers' preconceptions gave shape to their depictions of Itelmen religious beliefs and practices as (1) Christian beliefs, (2) anathema to Christian beliefs, or (3) mere superstitions. In order to speak about Itelmen perceptions, the article focuses primarily on actions taken during this early period of recorded Itelmen history and on the writers who showed an interest in describing how Itelmens thought about religious questions. The article also recounts the little known story of the 1848 Kutkh rebellion.