Around Andreas Bandak's Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria

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Maya Mayblin Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh, UK maya.mayblin@ed.ac.uk

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Joel Robbins Professor, University of Cambridge, UK jr626@cam.ac.uk

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Amira Mittermaier Professor, University of Toronto, Canada amira.mittermaier@utoronto.ca

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Bjørn Thomassen Professor, Roskilde University, Denmark bthomas@ruc.dk

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Andreas Bandak Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen, Denmark bandak@hum.ku.dk

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Exemplarity is one of those startlingly interesting ideas that deserves to be up there with ‘power’ as a foundational concept for the social sciences. Exemplarity is memory, learning, and mimesis; it is self-recognition in the Other, and therefore key to theory of mind. One of the curious things about exemplarity is how pervasively we encounter it in its multiple, material, and ideational forms; as copies, repetitions, iterations, duplications, models, seriations, similes, icons—the list goes on. Examples (of some sort) can always be found.

Wanted

Exemplars, Dead or Alive

Maya Mayblin

Exemplarity is one of those startlingly interesting ideas that deserves to be up there with ‘power’ as a foundational concept for the social sciences. Exemplarity is memory, learning, and mimesis; it is self-recognition in the Other, and therefore key to theory of mind. One of the curious things about exemplarity is how pervasively we encounter it in its multiple, material, and ideational forms; as copies, repetitions, iterations, duplications, models, seriations, similes, icons—the list goes on. Examples (of some sort) can always be found.

The power of the example for cultural reproduction in this broad sense is something that Andreas Bandak, with coeditor Lars Højer, has examined before in a special issue for the Journal of the Royal Anthropology Institute. There, the editors propose fruitful explorations of the differences between evidence and example, and between ‘good examples’ and ‘mere examples’. They also note the continuity between theories of exemplarity and scholarly forms of production. As theory stands or falls on the power of its (counter)example, “it is through the example that both reality and analysis are thought and, equally importantly, reconfigured” (Højer and Bandak 2015: 3).

Exemplarity has broad purchase, but in Exemplary Life Bandak focuses on the power of example in a specifically religious context. The book revolves around the exemplary life of Myrna Nazzour, a Christian woman from Soufanieh in Damascus who receives various miraculous signs (stigmata, apparitions, exuding of oil), and whose home has become a shrine.

Among her followers Myrna is celebrated both for her gendered ordinariness—her pious life as a wife and mother—and for the miraculous occurrences that project her faith into the realm of the extraordinary, making her into an exemplary figure. Over the course of his research, Bandak develops a warm working relationship with Myrna and various members of her faithful community, and becomes a frequent visitor in the sacred space of her family home.

Gaining such access to a living saint is surely an extraordinary situation for any anthropologist of religion to find themselves in, and Bandak has honored it with an equally extraordinary book. Exemplary Life interweaves sensitive ethnographic descriptions with deep erudition, offering page after page of philosophical and anthropological insight. It is a wonderful instance of one of the ways academics build theory: through amassment of evidence, and continual detours through other scholars’ ‘exemplary’ ideas and words.

Exemplary Life has much to say about the formation of Christian subjects and the modeling of saints. But one thing that makes it an unusual offering on this subject is that Myrna, the exemplary figure at the center of it all is still alive, meaning that her “concrete instantiation is always up for negotiation” (Bandak 2022: 190). In the Catholic tradition, the power of the saint derives from the stabilizing processes that unfold once they are dead. Saints, by definition, are dead people, and this fact does profound things to the politics of their example. Death does not put an end to the story of the saint (that continues through stories of miracle intercessions on behalf of petitioners), but the story of their well-lived life ends, and in doing so ossifies in the spiritual imaginary, eventually putting it beyond the bounds of the negotiable. The exemplarity of the dead saint comes to exist at one remove from the living by a crucial degree, and this presents both problems and opportunities for the power of the Church.

I once wrote an article about dead saints entitled “People Like Us” (Mayblin 2014). The point of that piece concerned self-recognition; exemplars must be different from us but also, on some level, relatable—‘people like us’—or we wouldn't even attempt to emulate them. And this makes for one of the most interesting aspects of the saintly exemplar in some retellings: the saint's relatability—whether as a sufferer of worldly woes, or as a person with a particular social or gendered identity.

A colleague once took me to task over this. The whole point of the saint, he argued, is that they are not like us. This observation also seemed to me pretty incontrovertible; saints have the status they do only because in many ways they are anti-exemplars—people not to be emulated, particularly in some of their extremer habits, like abandoning young children to pursue a consecrated life (Saint Jane Frances de Chantal), fasting to death (Saint Catherine of Siena), or dragging a dead dog from a string tied around one's waist (Saint Simeon). If the ‘good example’ of the Catholic saint was meant only for emulation, the category itself would cease to exist, or—as is the case in some denominations—everyone becomes a saint.

In Catholicism, the canonized saint enters a category of representation that is not necessarily one of exemplification in a sense that compels emulation but one of veneration that must happen from an appropriate distance and through which the saint might be coaxed into a relationship of care and intercession. In practice, the dead exemplar achieves their supernatural power because of the ‘good example’ they set in life, but anyone—even mafia bosses—can benefit from that power without any attempt at emulation. This is not a claim about the ‘corrupt’ nature of religion so much as a nod toward the division of labor principle that structures Catholic religiosity, particularly at the level of the institution, and has been just as historically important in the spread and influence of Christianity as the cultivation of the interior self.

Having just completed a book about the lives of some political Catholic priests (Mayblin, forthcoming), I have been fascinated by the impossibility of their religious examples. Living priests face a similar predicament to Myrna in the sense that they are called to exemplify, to stand above and beyond ordinary people, but their status as still alive works paradoxically to their disadvantage. What ordinary secular priests struggle with is a kind of midway status as spiritual exemplars, but in that struggle they illuminate something of the huge range (and leniency) in types of exemplars that exist across the Catholic religious economy.

Through ordination, the priest is formed into an exemplar almost instantaneously. This is somewhat in opposition to the saint or religious charismatic, who earns the status of exemplar gradually over time, through the performance of miracles and the amassment of repeated signs and evidence (2022: 115–135). Here it is worth noting that if saintliness in itself is not ordination's primary function, symbolism—a kind of exemplarity that saints also partake in—is. The theology of the priesthood is fundamental to the establishment of the priest-as-symbol, for although priests as servants (and representatives) of Christ are meant to live lives of Christian exemplarity, the sacramental ‘seal’ they receive at ordination is unconditional.

The male priest represents Jesus; he is a living, liturgical icon. In his persona as an alter Christus, the priest's exemplarity is not amassed but assumed—stamped on him by a sacrament of ordination that leaves him with an indelible ‘seal’ of holiness that remains efficacious regardless of his moral conduct or personal circumstances. Unlike the living saint whose supernatural reputation is built around the amassment of evidence, and whose power to exemplify can be easily undone by the instability of such evidence, the supernatural power ordination confers on priests (to turn communion bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ) cannot be impeded (LEV 2023: §1550).

In the case of Myrna Nazzour, it is a mass-produced icon of the Virgin Mary on a home altar that starts to ooze olive oil. In his book Bandak provides us with a fascinating summary of the philosophical controversy that has surrounded religious icons, prototypes and copies, and observes that contrary to common assumptions, “in the world of the devotees of the Our Lady of Soufanieh, it is not a question of losing out through duplication, since the copies also have grace bestowed upon them” (2022: 69).

The grace-filled, mass-produced icon challenges the commonly assumed distinction between prototypes and ‘mere copies’, and presents an important move for our understanding of modeling. But I remain curious about the work that ‘mere copies’ do because, as the theology of priesthood would indicate, attenuated (or limited) exemplars still have important roles to play in religious regimes of exemplification. Just as the mass-produced copy of the Byzantine icon is to the hand-painted original, so the Catholic priest is to the canonized saint.

A symbol is not the same thing as an exemplar, but exemplarity is part of any symbol's history. While priests become symbols almost immediately, saintly exemplars become symbols with time. After death, of course, but even after death a long time must pass and a lot must happen for the symbolic potential of an exemplary life to gain traction as a sign.

Once a saint has been canonized, a gold-embossed icon can be rendered, which (broadly speaking) serves to signal that the evidence for that person's saintliness is no longer under scrutiny. In time, the exemplary details of the saint's life will likely be forgotten—buried in text that may or may not get dusted off for the occasional sermon. The image that circulates, however, continues to hold power, maybe serving as trigger for deeper introspection and emulation, but equally serving as a visual shortcut pointing to the power (supernatural or authoritative) of the Catholic Church. Clerics are living symbols of the Church only because their exemplary power as individuals has been tamed and regimented by the Mystery of their ordination. Anticlericalism is a stance against this. As history attests, the formalized refusal of such regimentation leads, periodically, to institutional schisms.

The good exemplar is a powerful figure, as Bandak shows us, one who sets worlds in motion. But such worlds are just as charged by semiotic shortcuts as they are by the scrutiny of detail. We should remain attentive to the difference between exemplars and symbols, and particularly to the different kinds of purchase exemplarity has between the living and the dead.

The saint, whether dead or alive, always has their work cut out, and this is just one among many points that Bandak illuminates for us in this remarkable text. In the background are Myrna's detractors and nonbelievers, and at the heart of it all is the question of the miraculous. Here the reader finds themselves inevitably drawn toward the underlying dynamic that the book is describing. Is Myrna for real? What should we make of the miracles described? It is precisely because Myrna is ‘people like us’ that we are called to identify with her, but also to examine the evidence for her claims. Whether she is still destined to become an official symbol for the Church—a painted icon in her own right—only time will tell.

References

  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Højer, Lars, and Andreas Bandak. 2015. “Introduction: The Power of Example.Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (S1): 117. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12173

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  • LEV (Libreria Editrice Vaticana). 2023. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Accessed 1 December. https://www.vatican.va/archive/eng0015/_index.htm.

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  • Mayblin, Maya. 2014. “People Like Us: Intimacy, Distance, and the Gender of Saints.Current Anthropology 55 (10): 271280. https://doi.org/10.1086/678265

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  • Mayblin, Maya. Forthcoming. Vote of Faith: Priest Politicians and Desire in Catholic Brazil. New York: Fordham University Press.

Exemplification and Desire

Beyond Mimesis in the Explanation of Social Motion

Joel Robbins

Exemplary Life is the culmination to date of Andreas Bandak's influential efforts to make the phenomena of examples and exemplars central to contemporary anthropological theory. It develops its approach to these topics in dialogue with ethnographic materials about a Syrian woman, Myrna Nazzour, who has seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary and received messages from Mary and Christ. She has also experienced ecstasies and stigmata, while her own body and a Marian icon in her home have both miraculously shed holy oil. Based on these events, she has gathered followers who see her as a ‘living saint’ and see themselves as devotees of Our Lady of Soufanieh (the neighborhood in which Myrna lives, and where the Marian apparitions have appeared). Among these followers are several Catholic priests who celebrate masses at her home on Saturdays, an indication that the Church, even if it has not officially endorsed Myrna, has not by any means condemned her. The core of her message is the need for unity, love, and faith. Among these, she and her followers put greatest stress on unity, a goal both for the families of her followers and for all Syrian Christians, divided as they are between Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and other churches—a fragmentation that only heightens the vulnerability all Christians experience as minorities in Syria.

Key to Bandak's theoretical explorations is his account of a chain of exemplarity that runs throughout the community gathered around Our Lady of Soufanieh and, its members hope, beyond. Myrna takes Mary as an example of faith, love, and the drive for unity, while her followers take Myrna as an example of these same virtues. Finally, the followers work to persuade others to take them and their own exemplars as examples for themselves. As Bandak puts it, drawing on the philosopher Nelson Goodman, each of these persons or groups of people become “co-exemplars” with their own models, and seek out new people to take on this kind of relationship with them and those they co-exemplify. It is this process of mimetic exemplification that, as Bandak often puts it, allows examples to “set local worlds in motion” (2022: 7–8). Although he does not argue this out, his analysis indicates that the motion he refers to is driven by a kind of ‘desire to exemplify’ that actors feel in relation to their models, and this desire keeps these exemplary chains moving through the social world as they add new links of co-exemplification. But how do examples and exemplars generate such desire? This is a crucial social theoretical question that Bandak's argument leads us to ask.

Before exploring answers to this question, it will be useful to do a bit of definitional work on the domain of the example. Bandak never fully stabilizes a definition. This is perhaps appropriate, as the example is not, at least in present scholarly usage, a stable construct. As Bandak points out, one key source of conceptual instability in this domain is the difference between the “example” as a “sample” or “instance” of something, and the example as an “exemplar,” “the most fully embodied form of a class, an ideal form” (2022: 9). There is a tension here, he goes on to note, between the example as a matter of “particularity” and as one of “universality.” If we accept that this is a real tension, as I think we should, then we are led to ask if both kinds of examples solicit, or equally solicit, the desire to emulate or co-exemplify what they embody or represent. I do not have an answer to this question, but I do want to make some observations drawn from the book that might help to develop one.

One clue lies in a book by the political philosopher Alessandro Ferrara (2008) entitled The Force of the Example. Bandak draws on this work, as I have also done in my own work on exemplarity (Robbins 2015). Ferrara points out that there are several kinds of forces in the world. There is the force of things as they are (which he calls the “force of things”), and there is the force of things as they ought to be (which he calls the “the force of ideas”) (2008: 1, 2). Bandak (2022: 96) points out that Ferrara treats a third force, what he calls “the force of the example,” as what emerges when these two forces align. But he does not discuss Ferrara's (2008: 2–3) own phrasing of the nature of this third force, which speaks of examples not quite as an alignment of the is and the ought, but rather as emanating from something that quite concretely “is as it should be” (I should note that Bandak [2022: 104] does later in the book use this framing, but not when introducing Ferrara's theory). I think this specific phrasing is critical for Bandak's vision, however, because it is precisely things that are as they ought to be that resolve the tension he rightly identifies between particularist and universal notions of examples as samples and examples as exemplifications. They are where the particular thing and the universal idea become one. My guess is that these kinds of examples elicit the greatest desire to co-exemplify, and that they do so precisely by giving people hope that at least sometimes life itself can be as it ought to be.

Such an understanding of examples as existing things that are as they ought to be helps us address another issue that Bandak's book raises quite powerfully. From whom do examples understood in this sense elicit desire? The question arises because it is clear that not all those who encounter Myrna become links in her chain of exemplification. Some simply take no interest in her, and others do not consider her an example at all. As a hypothesis I would suggest that examples foster desire in those people who feel very keenly in their own lives the difficulty of bringing together precisely the things and the ideas that the example succeeds in fusing.

Bandak's rich ethnography demonstrates the plausibility of such an argument that finds the drive to link oneself to specific examples flowing from those domains in the followers’ lives in which the thing and idea are most disjoint. He shows time and again throughout the book how difficult the people around Myrna feel it is to exemplify faith, love, and especially unity in their lives in contemporary Syria. This understanding of how exemplars attract those who gather around them also finds support in the case of Fadi, a follower of Myrna whom other followers urged Bandak not to interview. The problem with Fadi, as Myrna's followers see it, is that he is separated from his wife and children, a grave problem in this Catholic setting and a major and very visible failure to achieve unity. Gifted ethnographer that he is, Bandak does of course spend time with Fadi, and what emerges as striking at least on my reading is how intensely committed Fadi turns out to be to Soufanieh's message. Fadi is no ambivalent or lazy follower of Our Lady. Instead, Bandak (2022: 107) tells us, his “longing to see the message of Soufanieh spread throughout Syria and the world . . . is a burning one.” And this even as he is “well aware that his life is not perfect.” It is out of this recognition of his difficulty in becoming a co-exemplar with Soufanieh and Myrna that Fadi prepares very intensively for his meetings with Bandak, writing out the messages he wants to deliver. We see, then, how much he struggles to reach the very states Myrna and Soufanieh exemplify. His passion to achieve a relationship of co- exemplification with them fits very well with the idea that people are drawn to exemplars that unite precisely those realities and ideals they find it hard to conjoin in their own lives.

I have dwelled on the question of what motivates people to enter into relations of co- exemplification in part because I have always been a bit allergic to social theories, like those of Gabriele Tarde (1969) and René Girard (1979), that take all social behavior to be mimetic in origin. People emerge as too passive in these models, and their capacities for reflexivity and judgment are at best backgrounded, when not disregarded completely. It is a great virtue of Bandak's theoretical work on examples and exemplification that it allows us to treat exemplary mimesis as a special, rather than generic, kind of social relationship that is rich in precisely the kinds of human complexity that often escapes these other models of mimesis. Overall, the book is a major contribution to our study of religion and of social motion more generally, one that in its own accomplishment bears emulation.

References

  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Ferrara, Alessandro. 2008. The Force of the Example: Explorations in the Paradigm of Judgment. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

  • Girard, René. 1979. Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Robbins, Joel. 2015. “Ritual, Value, and Example: On the Perfection of Cultural Representations.Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (S1): 1829. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12163

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  • Tarde, Gabriel. 1969. On Communication and Social Influence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The Moving Power of Examples

Amira Mittermaier

In his remarkable book Exemplary Life, Andreas Bandak maps out the afterlife of a series of Marian apparitions that occurred in a Damascus neighborhood starting in 1982. Myrna, Our Lady of Soufanieh, received the apparitions, and in the eyes of her followers, that makes her a living saint. Expanding out from Myrna's home to Syria at large, Bandak traces fields of devotion, contestation, and indifference, along with “economies of knowing, feeling, and relevance” (2022: 6). We learn about the making of a saint—through apparitions, oil oozing from hands and icons, stigmata, and ecstasies—and about the community and social life compelled by the saint—prayers, sermons, and pilgrimages. Through carefully chosen examples (of interlocutors, places, practices, moments, and conversations), the book offers a sustained reflection on the power of examples. In fact, primarily, “this book is about examples” (5). Myrna hovers in the space between being “just an example”—among the many Marian apparitions worldwide, this wasn't the most impactful one—and being an exemplar, an ideal, inviting others to emulate her and to draw closer to God. The book traces the movement, tension, and slippage between these two meanings of example.

Even when Our Lady of Soufanieh is recognized as an “exemplar,” this can mean multiple things. Her followers seek to emulate her saintly life, but saintliness also remains out of reach: “In one register, imitation is impossible; in another mirrored effect, it is the only viable response” (69). The structure of exemplarity, moreover, is intertwined with an economy of sacrifice: “Myrna's piety may well be imitated, whereas her stigmata conversely are believed vicariously to stand for the community in a sacrificial economy” (88). Guiding us through these layered meanings, each chapter in Exemplary Life takes up a particular example and elucidates an aspect of exemplarity.

By focusing on the power of examples, Bandak blurs the distinction between researcher and interlocutors. The latter are not merely case studies but themselves engage in complex processes of exemplification. Examples, in other words, do not belong solely to the anthropologist. Bandak engages thoughtfully with his interlocutors’ practices of exemplification, and he willingly pursues the examples they suggest without fully submitting to their directions. In the chapter “Life and Story,” he gives equal space to Fadi, a character framed by others as a “bad example,” and to Rita, a particularly “good example.” Still, he recognizes, and reflects on, how our choice of examples is rarely fully in our hands. Having written about a Cairo-based Sufi community who saw me as a potential channel for spreading the word about their exemplary shaykh in the “West” (Mittermaier 2015), I experience the dynamics described as intimately familiar. Thinking alongside, and occasionally against, our interlocutors’ modes of ordering the world can be messy, and this book does a wonderful job of navigating, and guiding us through, that mess.

Ultimately, Bandak argues, the power of the example lies in its ability to set things in motion. He, too, is moved. But he also isn't. He literally moves with the community—he goes on hour-long bus rides with the goal of spreading the word to different churches, keeps returning to Syria, travels to Lebanon during Syria's civil war to catch up with Myrna's family—and he notes that he “methodologically found [himself] moved by the attempts [his] interlocutors have made in modelling sainthood and asserting the force of the example” (20). This sentence is noteworthy. It contains an assertion of being moved—even finding oneself to be moved—along with three distancing registers: being moved ‘methodologically’ (rather than personally?), by constructions of sainthood (rather than sainthood itself), and by attempts to model sainthood (rather than the actual modeling). These hesitations made me wonder: What does it mean to be moved? And what does it mean to file the experience of being moved under ‘method’? We learn elsewhere that method equals theory in this book (23), but can method also equal life? Where is the line?

Bandak describes a crucial moment in the epilogue—the moment when he is able to witness with his own eyes the miracle of oil oozing from the saint's hands. At that moment, he writes, he remains utterly unmoved. “To be honest, it was a lost moment, as I had never been so closed off from my own feelings” (192). I would have loved to hear what the author makes of his unmoved-ness at that crucial moment. Closed-off-ness seems to imply that there are feelings but they remain inaccessible. What makes the miracle so risky? Does the miracle cross a line that sainthood (as a social phenomenon) doesn't? Is the habituated move to observing and taking notes an escape of sorts? If yes, escape from what? These aren't just personal questions, but they are about anthropology at large: To what extent is our discipline willing to let itself be moved? What are the limits?

This takes me to the question of God—one of our discipline's more notable limit cases. As Joel Robbins points out, while theologians and anthropologists have entered into productive conversations on a range of topics, they are largely unwilling “to change one another's minds on the issue of the distribution of passivity and agency between the human and the divine” (2020: 29). Bandak engages with lived theologies in depth but ultimately seems to prioritize the social processes of saint-making over God's role. He notes that “the task of the anthropologist is not to verify or falsify particular worlds but to think through their terms and stakes” (2022: 21). Broadly speaking, the book is less interested in the efficacy of the divine than in people's “ways of creating accounts of the efficacy of the divine in specific lives” (22). And yet, Myrna isn't saintly only because of her own doing or because others ascribe saintliness to her but presumably also because God chose her. Catholicism, in local understandings, contains a radical sense of participation in God's work (139), but interlocutors also point to “the power of God to act in his own way” (69). At moments I wondered whether the example, analytically and ethnographically, comes to almost stand in for the divine in this book. The example has agency, acts upon people, and is a “lin[e] of force to be followed” (81), one that also “presses on the anthropologist” (187). Maybe the power of examples offers a quasi-secular way for thinking through more-than-human forces that shape human life-worlds—while still bracketing the God question.

Bandak contrasts understandings of faith dominant among US-based Christians—either you're with God or you're with the devil—with the understanding of faith at play in Myrna's community, where one finds a constant “movement of proximity and distance” (24). In my own work on the God question in Egypt, I have found the idea of taqarrub helpful: a ‘getting closer to God’ that my Muslim interlocutors aspire to, and which I understand to hold ethnographic potential. The metaphor of movement is relevant for anthropological engagements with topics like sainthood, divinity, or the miraculous. We can draw close to something that we might or might not believe in—by cultivating an openness and mode of listening, by not being fixated on the visible, and through a willingness to be surprised and, yes: moved. That makes moments of indifference and unmoved-ness all the more interesting to explore.

Another issue the book touches on revolves around particularity and difference—or what gets erased through the reach for universality. In the final chapter, Bandak offers a reading of Paul “from the East,” taking up the tension between universal and particular. Paul universalized Christianity, but the universalizing move was grounded in a particular location: Damascus. Bringing to mind Darryl Li's (2019) ethnography of jihadist universalisms, Bandak's reading of Paul from the East provocatively decouples universalism from the West. Such a denaturalizing move opens up the question of who is included in, or excluded from, different visions of unity and constructions of universality.

This brings me to the question of Islam. Syria's majority religion appears throughout the book but lingers in the background. We learn that the Marian apparitions began at a time when the Syrian regime was cracking down on Islamists. Occasionally, veiled women show up in the crowd. There are comparisons to how sainthood and miracles work in Islamic contexts, and the final chapter touches on the “interfaith” question. Still, I was left wondering how far the “universal” reaches in this particular iteration. Is the “unity” that is promoted by the community (and by the Marian apparitions) primarily concerned with inter-Christian relations? When and how does it include Muslims and others? The tension between particularity and universality not only is inherent to the structure of exemplarity but also has political implications.

Fieldwork for the book began in 2005, and the writing was wrapped up in winter 2022. In between lies a painful gap, marked by years of war and violence. The shifts to an ethnographic present in the text are jarring—a present that lies in a distant past. Bandak suggests that the saintly world he describes could have relevance for the years of war in Syria that followed. There is a subtle prophetic note—the book asks us to imagine how the people we meet might be placing a difficult future (our present) into the hands of the Virgin Mary, reframing the political happenings as part of a divine order. But we do not learn what they (or the Virgin) make of the war and the violence. Nor does Bandak make explicit what he hopes his book will set into motion. He closes with a notable sentence: “I propose that an anthropology of the example is also an exemplary anthropology that aims at setting the world in motion” (2022: 191). I'm left wondering: What does he want to set in motion? Is it a philosophical-anthropological rethinking of the power of example? Is it a more nuanced understanding of Christian lives? Is it a political vision? Into what direction does he seek to propel us? What lines of force does he hope will unravel from his book?

One thing is for sure: Exemplary Life sets many thoughts into motion.

References

  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Li, Darryl. 2019. The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Mittermaier, Amira. 2015. “How to Do Things with Examples: Sufis, Dreams, and Anthropology.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (S1):129–143. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12170.

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  • Robbins, Joel. 2020. Theology and the Anthropology of Christian Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seeing a Miracle

Bjørn Thomassen

I cannot here bring to light all the aspects worthy of discussion in Andreas Bandak's recent book, Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Suffice to say that it is a good ethnography. One of my anthropology teachers once asked me, “How do you know what a good ethnography is?” I thought of something sophisticated to say until he answered the question himself: “It is when you read it, and you feel like you have been there.” Bandak's book is good ethnography. It takes us into the lives of concrete persons, in concrete settings, in concrete times.

The book is a precious contribution to the still emerging anthropology of Christianity, bringing to life cultural experiences and religiously inspired forms of world-making from within one of the most pivotal centers of gravity of the Christian world, devastated now by war and endemic conflict. Bandak finished fieldwork in Syria before the tragic war events hit the country like a thunderstorm. It is a testimony to what was. It is worth reading for that reason alone. Yet it is not just backward looking. In fact, the last lines of the book, closing the epilogue, invoke the possibility to “think over again and to resituate” (2022: 196). Because it is never too late, “neither for today nor for the time to come.” Here we chronotopically end, at the edge of history, on the road to Damascus, perhaps never to return.

What I do want to bring to light in this short commentary is in fact the epilogue to the book, “Of Miracles and the Belatedness of Examples.” I must admit that I have always had something of a weakness for epilogues. I have to discipline myself not to read them first, even before I embark on the introduction. It is somewhat similar to the temptation I have when jumping to the commentary track beneath online newspaper articles, before I read the article itself. I should not do it. But it is such a temptation. And sometimes I do it nonetheless: start with the epilogue.

I think that epilogues fascinate me because they open up a reflexive space where the author allows himself to be present in a different way. Less securely so. Something needs to be said but cannot (yet) be definitively spoken. The most famous example is perhaps Gregory Bateson's epilogue to Naven. It is an absolutely blunt, yet deep and sincere, reflection of his own work and how to relate to it. Bateson opened by stating, in unheard-of words, that his education had been of no use whatsoever in his attempt to analyze the Iatmul ([1936] 1958: 257). Functionalism had proved useless to make sense of the Iatmul culture he had set out to analyze. Nor could Bateson point to a better framework. Indeed, Bateson openly declared that his university studies had not equipped him with conceptual or methodological tools to do his work properly. This statement, of course, was not a smart career move for a promising young anthropologist, still without a position or job within academia (and, in fact, Bateson would never obtain a permanent job at any university). However, rather than laying bare the shortcomings of the then prevailing schools of thought, the epilogue invites the reader into Bateson's own reflexive searching for another kind of language.

As part of this searching, Bateson put his finger on what he considered a fundamental fallacy pertaining to any objectivist notion of scientific representation. Bateson ([1936] 1958: 263) said that the sciences suffered from what Alfred North Whitehead (1926: 72, 82) had referred to as “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” in other words, the fallacy of regarding scientific explanation as a description of external phenomena rather than as a product of interaction between the observer and that which is observed. To Bateson, science was a process of knowing, not simply an accumulation of facts.

For some reason Bateson's epilogue came to my mind having read Bandak's, although it is very different in kind. The latter is less than six pages long, composed of two sections. The first section is about the miracle, barely two pages. The second section is a reflection on what has happened to Syria since Bandak left the field, how devastatingly different everything looks now, after a decade of civil war. But in these pages, something extraordinary takes place that does bring us back to Bateson's question about the nature of knowledge and the various orders of reality that we as ethnographers try to grasp and represent. Bandak witnesses a miracle. As the epilogue humbly but dramatically opens: “And then it happened.” Bandak states the “it” punctually: “On the joint Easter Saturday (yawm as-sabt an-nūr), during a religious service in Myrna's home, her hands started to ooze oil” (2022: 192).

Myrna is the central character in Bandak's ethnography. He visited her home almost daily during his extensive fieldwork periods in Damascus. The Marian apparitions and messages received by Myrna (dating back to 1982 in Soufanieh, a suburb of Damascus) brought devotees to gather around Our Lady of Soufanieh, the focus of Bandak's book. It is the first ethnography I have read that describes firsthand the unfolding of a miracle: an on-the-spot description of something that according to scientific standards should not be possible. Bandak does not overdramatize the situation, almost quite the contrary: “And as for me? To be honest, it was a lost moment, as I had never been so closed off from my own feelings; instead, as a trained anthropologist, I observed and recorded what was unfolding in front of me.” (ibid.).

Miracles and their legacy are obviously established topics in the anthropology of religion, centrally important for saint worship and therefore in general for religious ideas and practices across the world. Yet I think Bandak's epilogue serves to raise a different question: What does it mean for an ethnographer to observe a miracle? How does he deal with it? And what do we as readers do with it?

Bandak is humble about the event. He is there. He is part of it. Just two meters away from Myrna, in a packed inner courtyard in a suburb of Damascus. But it is not his event, it is not his moment, and he is not trying to seize it. It is a moment longed for by the persons Bandak had come to know during his fieldwork, followers of Our Lady of Soufanieh. “For me, however, it was a moment in which I did not quite know how to react personally. Instead, I recorded in as much detail as possible the reactions of others, suspending my own judgment.” (ibid.).

“But how is this possible?” the reader may ask, “did she really ooze the oil?” For Bandak there is nothing at all to explain. Judgment is suspended. To even try to deal with the veracity of the event would run the risk of committing the Batesonian ‘fallacy of misplaced concreteness’. Bandak simply retells what happened. Myrna's hands oozed oil. More and more people, Christians and Muslims alike, kept flocking to her home, alerted that a miracle was unfolding. Some filmed it. Some were crying, some were smiling, one was shouting. Myrna was just standing there in front of everyone, passively oozing oil. A rather chaotic scene, until the priests brought order to the event, saying that there would be oil enough for everyone, insisting that first the Eucharist had to be consummated—after which Myrna would bless all persons present with the exuding holy oil. Accordingly, “everyone [including Bandak] queued up, first to receive the bread and wine from the hands of the pastors and then for an anointment from Myrna” (p. 193).

The oil kept oozing for half an hour. When it stopped, Myrna sat down, exhausted, in the courtyard, visibly in pain. No messages had accompanied the event this time, no words to decipher. Bandak's interlocutors then came to him, enthusiastically sharing their joy. “It happened for your sake,” one of them said. “Now you have seen it, Andreas! You have to write about it!” another insisted (ibid.).

Writing a Miracle

One thing is to witness a miracle. But how to write about it? Not as a priest, nor as a Vatican-appointed member of the Miracle Commission, but as an ethnographer in an academic book? I imagine Bandak must have reflected on that question for some time (hence the ‘belatedness’, in more than one sense). He could have opened the book with that scene. Any good salesperson would have prompted the author to do so, adding an image of the scene on the book cover, joined by a sensational reference in the online blurbs that supposedly sell our books.

But maybe Bandak reserved it for the epilogue for a reason: to let the miracle speak its own language. To tell the event, and to leave any possible ‘analysis’ suspended. That is what a good ethnographer does, after all. Let the facts speak. Through the people we meet during our fieldwork. And through concrete events and concrete experiences, the stuff fieldwork is made of, not to say life itself. To bear witness rather than to appropriate; to see it through the eyes of the others, rather than starting out with a bombastic “I saw a miracle!” Bandak sits up front, within arm's length of a living miracle. He does not hide away the fact, but nor does he place himself at the center, even if this is exactly where he is.

But the question still lingers: should we treat miracles as any other piece of ethnographic datum? After all, as Bandak writes in the introduction, “the task of the anthropologist is not to verify or falsify particular worlds but to think through their terms and stakes” (p. 21). Yet when Bandak chooses to place the witnessed miracle in the epilogue, and not inside the main part of the ethnographic corpus to be analyzed, could it be because he wants to signal that we must be at least a little bit careful treating such an event just like any other ‘fact’?

This, however, prompts a further question: does our engagement with a religious dimension that makes us partakers of a miracle force us to surrender our rational, scientific minds? Does it require belief? For he who writes, and for us who read? I leave the question open, but would also like to suggest a way to think anthropologically about miracles that, so to say, provides a way around it. After all, what is a miracle? The word comes from Latin, miraculum, from mirari, which means to see—etymologically more precisely, to let oneself be carried away in a wondering-ecstatic recognition of a divinely ordained event: a form of blissful astonishment.

The Indo-European root for the word is *smei, which literally means to smile, exactly as some of the persons present in Myrna's home spontaneously did, as the oil started to ooze. In an important sense the account of the miracle can be seen as a meta-frame for Bandak's insistence on the importance of “exemplarity” and “modelling,” the two keywords of the book, from father to son, from Mary to her children and followers, a line of “filiation,” as Agnes Horvath (2021) calls it, pervaded by the Holy Spirit. The whole book is a testimony to a Syria that was—and so is the epilogue, although of a different order—a transcendent temporality. In fact, to give testimony etymologically means to bear witness. Not coincidentally, Christians talk about the ‘testaments’ of the Bible, not in the modern sense of a ‘will’ but rather in the biblical sense of a ‘contact’ or covenant between humans and God. This is where the ‘modeling’ starts, and Bandak rightly takes it for what it is. When believers celebrate a saint, in this case Our Lady of Soufanieh, they are of course celebrating a person's holy deeds. Saints can be models of as much as models for (importantly, Bandak picks up Geertz's famous distinction, but finely elaborates it throughout the book by insisting on the tension between the two). Ultimately, however, is not sainthood nothing but a vehicle for and an expression of an almighty godly power? Perhaps then practices of sainthood, and the belief and partaking in miracles that belong to it, can also simply be seen as celebrating the wonderful, unfathomable gift that is life—life as given. And let us not forget that this is exactly what the word ‘data’ means, that is, something given to us, and which therefore holds value (from the Latin datum; for an elaboration of this point, see Szakolczai and Thomassen 2019).

Hans Christian Andersen ([1875] 2000) alluded to this opening up for miracles as omnipresent through the very act of creation in his short poem “The Miracle,” ending on these two lines: “The miracle in the grain of wheat you see: You can't understand it, but you see—it happens!” (my translation). We don't understand, yet we see. I believe it was for a similar reason that Søren Kierkegaard (2000: 2) insisted that the miracle has an aesthetic side as well as a moral one, and that it is the former that “opens the eye” for a deeper truth that goes beyond whatever concrete effects (say, cure) miracles may also be perceived to have:

A large number of interpreters have insisted on perceiving the concept of miracle only on moral considerations (about the beneficial consequences for people). But unless you want to avoid the much deeper investigation whereby the miracle pertains to the new order of things, which in the New Testament is called the Kingdom of Heaven, it still seems to me that the purely aesthetic side of the miracle could make just as great a claim to merit attention as the moral one. It seems to me that this consideration at least opens the eye to a far greater ideal infinity than the opinion that Lazarus's resurrection was a miracle because it was beneficial to Lazarus. This final intention robs the miracle, like everything higher, of its true infinity, its true divine Freedom. (my translation)

As my own epilogue to this little piece, let me end by saying that I ended up resisting the temptation to read the epilogue before the rest of the book. I saw it was about a miracle. Bandak had wanted me to read it last. And so I did. Respectfully.

References

  • Andersen, Hans Christian. (1875) 2000. “Miraklet (Fra pyramiden i ørkenens sand)” [The miracle (From the pyramid in the desert)]. In Samlede digte [Collected poems], ed. Johan De Mylius, 620. Copenhagen: Aschehoug.

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    • Export Citation
  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Bateson Gregory. (1936) 1958. Naven. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Horvath, Agnes. 2021. Political Alchemy: Technology Unbounded. London: Routledge.

  • Kierkegaard, Søren. 2000. “Journalen GG: 1839-01-14.” In Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter, vol. 18, ed. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Joakim Garff, Jette Knudsen, Johnny Kondrup, and Alastair McKinnon, 2. Gad: Kierkegaard Forskningscenteret.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Szakolczai, Arpad, and Bjørn Thomassen. 2019. From Anthropology to Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Whitehead, Alfred North. 1926. Science and the Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Frames of Reverence

Engaging Exemplars

Andreas Bandak

It is quite remarkable to be able to engage with some of one's own academic exemplars, not just dead and buried ones, but ones that are alive and very much kicking. And this is certainly the experience that I have been afforded with this section. Engaging with some of my personal exemplars has been a telling exercise, as each of these four scholars, friends, and critics are worthy of emulation in their fields and writings. Each of them highlights significant aspects and problems when dealing with exemplarity: namely that exemplars point to certain features of life that may be worthy of imitation while simultaneously opening for contemplating the question of whether, how, and when such imitation is possible, or perhaps even desirable.

In the following I intend to reflect on issues that these four readings bring forward, while giving my takes on the important questions that they pose. One could also say that I attempt to follow these four critics, even if this may not amount to thinking what they wanted me to think, or for that matter writing what they wanted me to write. In What is Philosophy? Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1994: 28) formulated a similar insight, namely: “What is the best way to follow the great philosophers? Is it to repeat what they said or to do what they did, that is, to create concepts for problems that necessarily change?” If we—as anthropologists, sociologists, and scholars of religion—are not to repeat what our exemplars say but to aspire to do what they do, then we need to pause and reflect and engage with the themes of exemplarity as well as exemplification in their own right. This is the very effort and aspiration that lies behind the writing of Exemplary Life.

First, I should like to point to the central fact of the meaning of the example. The root of the word ‘example’ derives from eximere, which means an incision or a cutting out (cf. Arendt 1982). A cutting out is needed in order for something to stand for something else, a part relating to a whole. In that sense, giving an example is to select something, to take it from its normal location, and place it as something to behold, inspect, reflect, or reject. Accordingly, exemplification is as much about the process of making something stand for something else in order to persuade, convince, amuse, or warn others. As such, exemplification is a critical modality of rhetoric, one Aristotle already pointed to. However, a pertinent question and tension is critical here: is an example only relevant because of the cutting out, or may certain examples in themselves have special qualities that inadvertently make them relevant to ponder? The study of, with, and through examples affords epistemic access (Elgin 2017) to such fundamental questions and allows for an exploration of how social worlds are put in motion around such tensions.

Anthropologically, one could say that Rodney Needham (1985) in his Exemplars initiated a reflection on exemplarity. However, Needham's constellation of exemplars was one where rather diverse figures spanning centuries, even millennia, were amalgamated for reflection with no precise guide on how to engage with them. Needham—akin to Italian novelist Ermanno Cavazzoni ([1994] 2021) in his Brief Lives of Idiots, which perhaps could equally well be translated as Exemplary Idiots—presents 31 figures, which may or may not be worthy of emulation. And this takes us to the heart of what I wanted to explore through Exemplary Life, namely what examples and the quest for exemplarity set in motion.

How are we to relate to exemplars? Are we to venerate them, defy them? And what does the relationship people hold with their exemplars, and in my case saints, tell us about the way people inhabit their social world? If we ponder the question of sainthood, then the question of veneration becomes quite clear. Precisely veneration, or how to relate to saints, is addressed by Maya Mayblin in her lucid reflection. Here Mayblin rightly points out how saints are not just similar but also different and unlike ordinary people. In the Christian lexicon of Catholic—and Orthodox—saints, one finds a whole tradition of holy fools and saints embodying extreme values not necessarily for others to emulate. In Mayblin's own work, she points to the figure of lenience in order to understand Catholic practices, a certain flexibility with which to engage priests, saints, and figures of authority (Mayblin and Malara 2018). As such, Mayblin herself points to how a response to the exemplar may be one of repose or deferral, one where the lesson is still yet to be revealed, is still yet to be drawn.

Another way to put this is that exemplars figure on a broader ground, that they in my wording oscillate, or move, between serving as frames of reference and frames of reverence. A certain traction is to be found between the ostensible and the subjunctive, the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ of the example. In other words, exemplars may allow for veneration but that is not to say that any easy accommodation or imitation need follow on from this. Joel Robbins in his comment addresses this relationship between the ostensible and the subjunctive directly when he reflects on the mimetic desire that social and cultural worlds often are founded on. Robbins here—as I—points to Italian philosopher Alessandro Ferrara (2008) and asks if the purchase of the example is that the good example, at least occasionally, aligns the ‘ought’ and the ‘is’—that things in certain situations are exactly as they ought to be. I believe Robbins is correct, and Exemplary Life explores how this is so by attending to the dilemmas, pains, and failures that devout Catholics may have in living up to their ideals. But also the jubilant feelings, when things are just as they ought to be.

Ethnographically, what is moving is the sense on part of the ordinary person of taking part in elevating Myrna Nazzour, the saintly prospect. And conversely, that by misdemeanor, one can subtract from the message and even change what lesson is to be drawn. A central insight is then that the example points and takes part in a broader series. The ordinary person can add weight to the importance of Myrna and her divine election but also cast doubt on her if not embodying the values preached. Through fieldwork I learned that this is an excruciating task, and one that most frequently is seen as a matter of responding to a love already shown to the faithful from the outside, from the Virgin Mary, from Jesus, from God. Imitation, then, is to take part, to respond, and to give shape to what is seen as good (Robbins 2013). Exemplification, accordingly, is moving in many directions, from the authorized figure to the aspiring follower and vice versa, which critically points to what I call co-exemplification. Taking up prayers, listening and responding to sermons, organizing pilgrimages, and distributing photocopied icons and prayer cards all extend and point back to a particular Catholic vision and form of imitation.

Amira Mittermaier succinctly attends to what the moving power of examples may teach us. Are the movement and motion that examples spur solely in our control? I believe not. Rather, I see the movement as crucial, and as a central feature of human entanglement. Mittermaier perceptively asks if a certain hesitance can be detected in the pages of this book, of following only in part, what the followers of Our Lady of Soufanieh themselves were moved by. She puts her finger on a central point, namely on whether the anthropologist him- or herself is willing to be moved; in her wording: “To what extent is our discipline willing to let itself be moved? What are the limits?” I believe that such a rumination is crucial and, as I have pondered elsewhere, that such limits always also afford openings as they do in the contemporary conversation on what ‘religion’ is and what moves ‘religious’ actors (Bandak and Stjernholm 2022).

Mittermaier (2012) herself has been a prime proponent of an openness toward our interlocutors being acted on from elsewhere. While I agree that such openness is significant, I also think that the scholarly engagement needs to situate for whom God, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, or other saints speaks, and for whom these figures remain silent. Accordingly, I believe that a certain hesitation is important in the scholarly study of religion. Such hesitation does not amount to closing off the doors for what can be revealed and how God as an agent may work in and on the social world of our interlocutors as well as us as scholars. Rather, hesitation allows discernment to become a shared endeavor. Similarly, it allows for tensions to feature so that the triad of ethnographic, methodological, and theoretical attention is forced to address not just scale but also scope in the anthropological study of religion.

The question of openness to how our interlocutors as well as we as scholars are acted on aligns with Bjørn Thomassen's address of the miracle. Thomassen resisted his temptation to read the epilogue first, having read its title “Of Miracles and the Belatedness of Examples.” As Thomassen brings to our attention, the miracle points to what is seen, and perhaps also the gift of seeing things as they ought to be. In Thomassen's felicitous phrasing, “Perhaps then practices of sainthood, and the belief and partaking in miracles that belong to it, can also simply be seen as celebrating the wonderful, unfathomable gift that is life—life as given.” What is given, as pointed out by Thomassen, relates to the meaning of ‘data’. But to appreciate what is given, one could say, amounts to a miracle, which transfigures exactly what to see in what is given. The miracle, for the followers of Our Lady of Soufanieh, as much as anything amounts to an orientation that allows for seeing.

Exemplary Life depicts a Syria that is no more, as Thomassen writes. However, Syria is now also precisely because of that a question that pertains to much of the world, as Syrians have been scattered across the globe since 2011. In that sense, Syria itself has become a global example with which to reflect.

What I hope is that Exemplary Life will stir conversations precisely such as those contained in this section. If anything, a gift would be to have readers engaging with the problem of exemplarity as my four critics have here. What I myself have aspired to emulate are figures—in ethnography and in scholarship—who attend to details and allow these to open up for shared reflection. Another way to formulate this is that we need guides (Szakolczai 2023) that serve for us to reflect not just on the past and present but also on the future predicament—in my case, that of Syria and Christianity. This I see as an exemplary question—ethnographically, methodologically, and theoretically.

References

  • Arendt, Hannah. 1982. Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Bandak, Andreas, and Simon Stjernholm. 2022. “Limits, Genealogies, Openings: Introductory Remarks on Engaging Religion.” Religion and Society: Advances in Research 13: 95–110. https://doi.org/10.3167/arrs.2022.130106.

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  • Cavazzoni, Ermanno. (1994) 2021. Brief Lives of Idiots. Adelaide: Wakefield Press.

  • Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1994. What Is Philosophy? London: Verso.

  • Elgin, Catherine Z. 2017. True Enough. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Ferrara, Alessandro 2008. The Force of the Example: Explorations in the Paradigm of Judgment. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Mayblin, Maya, and Diego Malara. 2018. “Introduction: Lenience in Religious Systems of Meaning and Practice.Social Analysis 62 (3): 120. https://doi.org/10.3167/sa.2018.620301

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  • Mittermaier, Amira 2012. “Dreams from Elsewhere: Muslim Subjectivities Beyond the Trope of Self- cultivation.Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (2): 247265. https://doi.org/10.1111j.1467-9655.2012.01742.x

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  • Needham, Rodney 1985. Exemplars. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Robbins, Joel. 2013. “Beyond the Suffering Subject: Toward an Anthropology of the Good.Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19 (3): 447462. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12044

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  • Szakolczai, Arpad 2023. Political Anthropology as Method. New York: Routledge.

Contributor Notes

MAYA MAYBLIN is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. Her research explores the intersections of politics, theology, religion, sexuality, death, and mourning. She is the author of two monograph on the politics of Catholicism in Brazil, and coeditor of The Anthropology of Catholicism Reader (2017). Email: maya.mayblin@ed.ac.uk

JOEL ROBBINS is Sigrid Rausing Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. His work focuses on ethics, values, and religion. His latest book is Theology and the Anthropology of Christian Life (2020). Email: jr626@cam.ac.uk

AMIRA MITTERMAIER is Professor of Anthropology and the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. She is the author of the award-winning Dreams that Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination (2011) and of Giving to God: Islamic Charity in Revolutionary Times (2019). Currently she is completing a book tentatively titled Ninety-Nine, which weaves together stories about how Egyptian Muslims relate to, think about, and live with (or without) God. Email: amira.mittermaier@utoronto.ca

BJØRN THOMASSEN is Professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Business at Roskilde University. Research areas include global religion, urban studies, identity and memory politics, nationalism, liminality and social change, revolutions, and social and cultural dimensions of globalization. He is the author of Italy's Christian Democracy: The Catholic Encounter with Political Modernity (2024, with Rosario Forlenza), From Anthropology to Social Theory: Rethinking the Social Sciences (2019, with Árpád Szakolczai), and Liminality and the Modern. Living Through the In-between (2016). Email: bthomas@ruc.dk

ANDREAS BANDAK is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Comparative Culture Studies in the Department for Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen. He specializes in the themes of temporality and exemplarity and in anthropological studies of Eastern Christians. He is the author of Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria (2022) and has edited several volumes, including The Power of Example (2015), Ethnographies of Waiting (2018), The Social Life of Prayer (2021), and Porous Becomings (2024). He has conducted research in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. E-mail: bandak@hum.ku.dk

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Religion and Society

Advances in Research

  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Højer, Lars, and Andreas Bandak. 2015. “Introduction: The Power of Example.Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (S1): 117. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12173

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  • LEV (Libreria Editrice Vaticana). 2023. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Accessed 1 December. https://www.vatican.va/archive/eng0015/_index.htm.

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  • Mayblin, Maya. 2014. “People Like Us: Intimacy, Distance, and the Gender of Saints.Current Anthropology 55 (10): 271280. https://doi.org/10.1086/678265

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  • Mayblin, Maya. Forthcoming. Vote of Faith: Priest Politicians and Desire in Catholic Brazil. New York: Fordham University Press.

  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Ferrara, Alessandro. 2008. The Force of the Example: Explorations in the Paradigm of Judgment. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

  • Girard, René. 1979. Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Robbins, Joel. 2015. “Ritual, Value, and Example: On the Perfection of Cultural Representations.Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (S1): 1829. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12163

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  • Tarde, Gabriel. 1969. On Communication and Social Influence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Li, Darryl. 2019. The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Mittermaier, Amira. 2015. “How to Do Things with Examples: Sufis, Dreams, and Anthropology.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (S1):129–143. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12170.

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  • Robbins, Joel. 2020. Theology and the Anthropology of Christian Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Andersen, Hans Christian. (1875) 2000. “Miraklet (Fra pyramiden i ørkenens sand)” [The miracle (From the pyramid in the desert)]. In Samlede digte [Collected poems], ed. Johan De Mylius, 620. Copenhagen: Aschehoug.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Bateson Gregory. (1936) 1958. Naven. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Horvath, Agnes. 2021. Political Alchemy: Technology Unbounded. London: Routledge.

  • Kierkegaard, Søren. 2000. “Journalen GG: 1839-01-14.” In Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter, vol. 18, ed. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Joakim Garff, Jette Knudsen, Johnny Kondrup, and Alastair McKinnon, 2. Gad: Kierkegaard Forskningscenteret.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Szakolczai, Arpad, and Bjørn Thomassen. 2019. From Anthropology to Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Whitehead, Alfred North. 1926. Science and the Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Arendt, Hannah. 1982. Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Bandak, Andreas. 2022. Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Bandak, Andreas, and Simon Stjernholm. 2022. “Limits, Genealogies, Openings: Introductory Remarks on Engaging Religion.” Religion and Society: Advances in Research 13: 95–110. https://doi.org/10.3167/arrs.2022.130106.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cavazzoni, Ermanno. (1994) 2021. Brief Lives of Idiots. Adelaide: Wakefield Press.

  • Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1994. What Is Philosophy? London: Verso.

  • Elgin, Catherine Z. 2017. True Enough. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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