This article is an ethnographic essay on the notion of an 'ontological turn', taken here in its literal sense of ontological change. It explores a specific sociocosmological transformation – one resulting from the conversion of an Amazonian people, the Wari', to Christianity – via the concept of ontology. The central question here concerns the relationship between an Amazonian animist/perspectivist ontology and the naturalism characteristic of Christian-Western thought. Through a critical reading of the notion of ontological change advanced by Descola (2013) in Beyond Nature and Culture, the article aims to show that the transformation experienced by the Wari' with the arrival of Christianity can be described neither as a linear transition between ontologies, nor as the result of the foregrounding of conceptions or kinds of relationship previously found in an encompassed form. The separation between humans and animals, and the constitution of an inner self typical of Christian naturalism, are becoming gradually absorbed into the Wari' world now but were non-existent and inconceivable in their traditional universe. An examination of the translation choices made by the Evangelical missionaries from the New Tribes Mission and the apprehension of these ideas by the Wari' suggests a complex and non-linear transition between the two ontologies.
Discussing an Ontological Turn
Christianity functions as a significant identity marker for the Bunun, an Austronesian-speaking indigenous people of Taiwan. However, identity construction and boundary maintenance are not given by them as immediate reasons for conversion. Instead, the continuity between Bunun traditional beliefs and Christianity is commonly viewed as the most important reason why the latter took strong hold among the Bunun. This article aims to explain why this is so, and to illustrate how the Bunun have transformed Christianity from a foreign religion into something that is familiar, indigenous, and of their own. Among the local Christians, theology is downplayed in favor of piety, which is cultivated and expressed through practical activities. Healing, in particular, is seen as a demonstration of the power of the Christian God and constitutes the Bunun experience of Christianity.
Dependencies and Differences in Alasdair MacIntyre's Critical Social Thought
Alasdair MacIntyre, a leading moral philosopher in the English speaking world, was from his earliest intellectual formation influenced profoundly both by Christianity and Marxism. MacIntyre argues that Marxism has religious roots, in that it gains its vision of the good life of peace and reconciliation from Christianity, mediated by Hegel, but makes this life historically concrete. The article views MacIntyre's early intellectual career as a case study in the productive tension generated by an analysis of the connections between Christianity and Marxism. It is suggested that by examining the similarities and differences of these two traditions, MacIntyre points to the sources of radicalism that lie at the apparently conservative heart of western culture and reveals aspects of the continuing significance of this culture's religious background. He also points to the difficulties both traditions have in engaging with modern liberal culture.
Simmel, Space, and Urban Subjectivities
This article examines the growing scholarly interest in urban religion, situating the topic in relation to the contemporary analytical significance of cities as sites where processes of social change, such as globalization, transnationalism, and the influence of new media technologies, materialize in interrelated ways. I argue that Georg Simmel's writing on cities offers resources to draw out further the significance of “the urban” in this emerging field. I bring together Simmel's urban analysis with his approach to religion, focusing on Christianities and individuals' relations with sacred figures, and suggest this perspective opens up how forms of religious practice respond to experiences of cultural fragmentation in complex urban environments. Drawing on his analysis of individuals' engagement with the coherence of God, I explore conservative evangelicals' systems of religious intersubjectivity to show how attention to the social effects of relations with sacred figures can deepen understanding of the formation of urban religious subjectivities.
Girls and Women Forge New Paths
, often successfully, conflicting messages and convictions create an important space in the religion and sexuality literature. It disrupts the secular narrative that often dominates this discourse that posits the utter incompatibility of Christianity, in
“I didn’t know that we were the repugnant other,” my student Tracy exclaimed as she entered the classroom and tossed her books on the table. “I didn’t know that anthropologists were interested in studying us at all!” “Yes, I imagine it comes as a surprise,” I responded as I finished moving the classroom desks into a semi-circle that was intended to facilitate the creation of spaces marked by open dialogue and diversity—core pedagogical concerns of the institution at which I was teaching. It was the second day of class, and Tracy’s comments were in response to Joel Robbins’s (2003) article “What Is a Christian? Notes toward an Anthropology of Christianity.” His discussion of Susan Harding’s infamous ‘repugnant cultural other’, which Robbins describes as an “anomalous mixture of the similar and the different” (ibid.: 193), had hit a nerve. Tracy’s question about anthropological interests in the Christian subject was an expected one, given that I was leading a special topics seminar on the Anthropology of Christianity to master of divinity students at the Candler School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Theorizing Religious Traditions from the Point of View of How They Disappear
What does it mean for a new religion to arise or take hold among a group of people? What does it mean for a religious tradition to endure? These are questions that are quite commonly addressed, at least implicitly, in the study of religion. Less frequently asked is the question of what it means for a religious tradition to come to an end. This article addresses this question, paying particular attention to the ways people actively dismantle a religious tradition that previously shaped their lives. I also consider what studying the process of religious disappearance can teach us about what it means for a tradition to arise and endure, arguing that a grasp on processes of religious dissolution is necessary for a fully rounded approach to the study of religious change. Throughout the article, I illustrate my arguments with material from the study of Christianity, Judaism and indigenous religious traditions, particularly from Oceania.
Personhood and Cognitive Disability in Urban Uganda
disabilities in a country where Christianity has been hegemonic for over 100 years, and where Christian initiatives have long been central to the provision of education, medicine and welfare (e.g. Hansen 1984 ; Taylor 1958 ). This article takes seriously the
Transforming Amerindian Sociality in Peruvian Amazonia
first of three generations of SIL members to live and work among them. 1 The SIL is a North American evangelical organization that bases its work on the belief that indigenous people should learn about Christianity from the Bible in their own language
Time and Transmission in the Anthropology of Christianity
Acknowledging the growing interest in issues of religious transmission, this article reviews two promising yet contradictory approaches to religion that could be described as historicist and universalist. It offers an alternative view premised on their convergence in a pragmatic approach that can link the material, contextual, and institutional dimensions of transmission with corresponding cognitive, perceptive, and emotional processes. This perspective recognizes the historicity of religious transmission and its cognitive underpinnings while attending to the materiality of its semiotic forms. The article focuses on the relationship between time and transmission in recent ethnographies of Christianity that show how Christian temporalities influence perceptions of social continuity or rupture and individuals' becoming in history. Within this frame, it examines the case of Old Believers, an apocalyptic movement that emerged out of a schism in seventeenth-century Russian Orthodoxy, to indicate how a pragmatic approach works in practice.