Adonis, Sufism and Surrealism, 243 pp., notes, index. London: Saqi Books, 2016. Paperback,$13.56. ISBN 9780863565571.
In this book, translated by Judith Cumberbatch and first published in 2005, one of the most esteemed contemporary Arabic poets, Adonis, juxtaposes Sufism and Surrealism. Sufism for him is an ecstatic, mystical tradition that pre-dates Islam and is different from ‘religious Sufism’. Most of the sources he uses to clarify Sufi concepts are from the twelfth-century Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi, and Surrealism is represented mainly by Breton’s and Aragon’s writings on Surrealism. His aim is, as he declares in the introduction, both to lay out the kinship between the two as to how they use the same path to knowledge, which consists of penetrating the interior and invisible in order to unify contradictions, and also to bring fresh insights for the followers of both traditions. Comparing a politically and philosophically anarchistic, artistic movement, which arose as a reaction to rationalism and bourgeois conventions in art in the aftermath of World War I in France, to a mystical, philosophical Islamic tradition that sets forth to find God might appear far-fetched. However, for Adonis, who is close to both traditions, the affinity is obvious and asserted throughout the book. In the process of sharing his findings with the reader, Adonis brings insights to discussions on the nature of the human being, knowledge, reality, and art.
Adonis is not alone. Especially after his book was first published in Arabic in 1995, comparative studies of Islamic (mainly Sufi) and Western European philosophical theory and practice have become more common in various disciplines of the humanities. In these studies, clear-cut distinctions between West and East become blurred; the conception of linear time collapses and converges in the depths of thought and concepts. Katherine Ewing (1997) attends to the approaches of self and desire in Lacan and Ghazzali in her anthropological book. Peter Coates (2002) examines the parallels and differences between Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought and contemporary thought and offers in-depth analyses of the concept of ‘unity of being’ and the limits of intellect in the search for reality. Ian Almond (2004) compares the methods of deconstruction in Derrida and Ibn ‘Arabi. Laura Marks (2010) suggests an enfolding (immanent, contracting) and unfolding (expanding in time and place) model of history that explains interconnectedness and variety in manifestation. She draws mainly on theories of Deleuze and Ibn ‘Arabi when comparing medieval Islamic art with new media art.
In presenting his ideas, Adonis builds on Sufi theory and moves over to Surrealist theory to show how they converge. In the first, longer part of the book, he addresses dichotomies—such as external/internal, known/unknown, conscious/unconscious, open/secret, wakefulness/dream-state, reason/imagination—and suggests that both Sufis and Surrealists have an interest in releasing what is suppressed. He highlights the ecstatic state, imagination, love, and writing as the means to knowledge. When reason and logic are overcome, the unknown is penetrated, and the mystery behind the outer appearance arises in visions that reveal its meaning. These visions are expressed in figurative writing in Sufism and automatic writing in Surrealism. The unknown can be attained only with a body that is transformed “into a dynamic tide, by rendering ineffective the senses and reason” (p. 141). The second part of the book consists of four studies: (1) an analysis of the language used by the tenth-century Sufi poet al-Niffari; (2) a commentary on the ‘mysticism’ theory of art, where the artist must see through outer appearances with the ‘eye of the heart’ in order to discover inner meanings; (3) a critique of Arab poetry, and (4) a reading of Rimbaud as a visionary Sufi poet.
For the most part, Adonis remains theoretical throughout the book and concentrates on similarities. He has deep insights into some Sufi concepts, such as the perfect man, exile, and idolatry. Yet the similarities he finds in some concepts—the desire for freedom, self-discovery, love, and creating a new world or higher reality—remain superficial and vague. He does not go into the methods and practices of how each tradition deals with the body and the mind. Doing so would have clarified what the transformation processes are and where they lead, and would have highlighted the differences as well as the similarities. Providing examples of artwork would also have yielded a more thorough and satisfying analysis.
Adonis insists that Sufism is an alien within a generally normative religious culture, just like Surrealism rose up against a rational society. Sufism expressed its dissatisfaction with superfluous recitation and imitation, as he states. However, it has not developed as a reaction to the single truth idea, as he claims, but as an insistence for direct experience and practice of the teachings. Although there was competition and at times rivalry among various schools (traditionalist, literalist, philosophical), they existed side by side, and Sufism was often accepted and was even popular until modern Salafi/Wahhabi interpretations as well as some secular, rational movements of the nineteenth century became dominant.
Adonis’s book is worth reading as long as one does not expect academic clarity. For those who are interested in knocking on truth’s door with hands that are less culturally conditioned, this book is sure to inspire.
Ayse Serap Avanoglu
BACIGALUPO, Ana Mariella, Thunder Shaman: Making History with Mapuche Spirits in Chile and Patagonia, 304 pages, notes, bibliography, index. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016. Paperback, $29.95. ISBN 9781477308981.
Thunder Shaman: Making History with Mapuche Spirits in Chile and Patagonia by Ana Mariella Bacigalupo is a stunning, challenging, and outstanding book with great potential to be recognized, in the near future, as a seminal scholarly contribution not only to studies of shamanism(s) but also to anthropology in general.
In 1991, Mapuche thunder machi (shaman) Francisca Kolipi, inspired by Christian Bibles, asked Bacigalupo to write a bible about her.1 It would be a bible that Francisca perceived as an alive, powerful, polysemic sacred object, storing and textualizing her power, and, at the same time, as a space that encompasses the potential to mediate between the different human and other-than-human worlds and groups. It would be a bible that, in the end, would narrate and rewrite the history of the Mapuche from a new and very different perspective.
Despite my deep appreciation of Bacigalupo’s previous works, when reading about the author’s intent to write Francisca’s bible, I admit that I was skeptical. This book would be many things: a bible; an anthropological study; a ritual object to be used in the present and in the future, even after Francisca’s death; a written history of the Mapuche, yet fluid and respecting the oral dimension of Mapuche history; a fine and challenging work with the aim to redefine concepts like ‘history’ and ‘memory’ in a very different way from the one imposed by the Global North; and—last but not least—an analysis of the deep significance and functions of Mapuche shamanism in light of past, recent, and contemporary regional and global historical events. After reading just the first few pages, my skepticism gave way to astonishment as I discovered and felt that the anthropologist and her machi guide and friend had fully achieved their task.
The volume consists of eight closely interconnected chapters that sequentially describe Francisca’s life, death, and rebirth. Her, and by extension machi’s, “multitemporal spiritual reality” (p. 69) is highlighted, as is the shamans’ capacity to perceive and see the world through different modalities of personhood that allow them to embody and even transform temporalities.
Francisca was a controversial and ambiguous figure. As a champuria (mixed race) woman and a ‘civilized’ Christian machi, she embodied the spirit of Rosa Kurin, a powerful thunder shaman of the past. Francisca, who during her life also challenged Mapuche gender roles and patriarchal norms with her unusual behavior and independency, stands out in the volume as a courageous, even ferocious warrior. Her ancient thunder power as well as her ability to master altered states of (historical) consciousness became powerful tools in her capacity to simultaneously deal with and experience different temporal dimensions in a process where the power and knowledge of the past and of the present come together to forge a better future for Mapuche.
Machi’s multi-temporal ritual actions, battles, healing, and discourse move from the achronological “time of spirit masters of the forest and warfare” (p. 159) to the wars between Mapuche and Spaniards, the violent appropriation of Mapuche lands by greedy wingka (outsiders), colonization, Christianization, Allende’s government, Pinochet’s dictatorship, conflict with the Chilean state, and spiritual warfare against the transnational logging companies and the spirits of neo-liberalism. In writing Francisca’s bible, Bacigalupo also wrote what is probably the best and most fair book on Mapuche history ever published, where Mapuche ‘civilized’ shamans’ multi-temporal history and memory contradict those of the ‘savage’ settlers and, in doing so, the history of the Global North and the notion that Europeans brought ‘civilization’ to non-European countries and cultures.
As in many other indigenous cultures and histories the world over, the most distinctive element in Mapuche’s history is violence, in direct and indirect form, since the invasion of Europeans. Shamans are manipulators of violence (Riboli and Torri 2013), healing their community’s social and physical suffering through a creative process of perennial construction and deconstruction. But as Bacigalupo brilliantly reveals in her work, “a machi’s diagnosis and healing are simultaneously historical explanations and unique creative acts that transform illness into health and chaos into order” (p. 102).
In 1996, after a few ‘transgressive’ deaths and rebirths that represented a violation of social and spiritual relationships related to machi’s personhood, Francisca decided to physically die, maintaining and confirming her ambiguity and controversial status until the end. Since 2009, the Mapuche have interpreted violent environmental phenomena, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, as signs of the imminent return of the machi’s spirit in the Quepe area, confirming and renewing the historical and spiritual multi-temporal and achronological presence of the thunder shaman.
From a methodological and stylistic point of view, Thunder Shaman is probably one of the best and most successful examples of collaborative anthropology published in the last decade. It is academically rigorous yet easily readable, sincere, deep, engaged, and inspiring. This is what anthropology (and a bible) should be.
Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences
I have respected Bacigalupo’s decision to use uppercase ‘B’ for the Christian Bible and lowercase ‘b’ for machi Francisca’s bible.
BESSIRE, Lucas, Behold the Black Caiman: A Chronicle of Ayoreo Life, 310 pp., halftones, notes, bibliography, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. Paperback, $27.50. ISBN 9780226175577.
This book by Lucas Bessire is written as a chronicle of the contemporary life of the Ayoreo, a people who inhabit the frontier between Paraguay and Bolivia. As the author himself says, he is interested as much in Ayoreo forms of being as in how “our interpretations of their lives [have] become inseparable from the fate that awaits them” (p. 195). This double project involves a critique of the anthropologists who have previously conducted research in South America’s Gran Chaco region and of socio-cultural theorists working on indigenous religions within the so-called ontological turn, that is, theorists who equate “legitimate Ayoreo life … with an Ayoreo culture itself reduced to the permanent structures and causalities of mythic order” (p. 33).
Reacting against this equation, Bessire intends “to account ethnographically for the palpable social presence of anthropological knowledge and the unequal forces that it conjures and exerts against human life” (p. 26). First, this formula transforms “the unequal relationships between outsiders and Ayoreo into the object of traditional culture” (p. 39). Subsequently, this object, often examined as religiosity, takes the place of “the psyches, history, and value of Ayoreo life,” producing a substitute that at the same time “required an active omission of the conditions and relationships by which anthropological knowledge was possible” (p. 39). The result of this ‘mystification’ in ethnography for the Ayoreo is, according to the author, the negation of “the full range of human being, the capacity for human becoming … the very tools of moral adaptation” (pp. 44–45).
Behold the Black Caiman goes even further: the process it describes “is the key to understanding how the figure of that [true primitive] difference is reproduced and sustained by the same apparatus that consumes it and targets actual Ayoreo lives for extermination in the present” (p. 45). The current restrictions on the search for a ‘primitive ontology’ of religion in fact “reproduces the metanarrative that liberalism tells about itself and thus reanimates the colonial space of death for many people like the Ayoreo” (p. 192).
Asking “how tradition became such an eagerly sought object and diabolical fetish” (p. 35), Bessire argues that current anthropology in the Chaco is dealing with a sort of “revisionary futurism, in which some vertically ranked world- and life-making projects count more than others … [and that] masks and requires the standardization of multiplicity itself” (p. 228). Ethnographers, then, are not only similar to religious missionaries, an analogy we are more or less used to, but also to miners. Trafficking—either with silver or with tradition (p. 39)—allows “the relationships between people to take on the phantom characteristics of an object or thing” (p. 26).
Among other references to Taussig’s works, Bessire suggests that anthropologists in the Chaco have fetishized religion and tradition as exemplified by their imagination of the Ayoreo. Nevertheless, while Taussig talks about the Colombian people’s appropriation of power and fetishization of commodity through the devil, Bessire is rather interested in the malicious social and political effects of Westerners’ fetishized primitivism on the Ayoreo. According to Bessire, nothing would then be more useless than this latter fetishization if we want to take into account “the turbulence of the contemporary” (p. xi), a turbulence that in the case of Ayoreo people is depicted through religious indoctrination, brutality and shame, constant starvation and slavery, murder, and being hunted in the forest.
Nevertheless, even in the worst scenarios of this life (such as the forced prostitution of teenagers), Bessire manages to see a radical Ayoreo critique instead of mere destruction. For example, abandoning old ritual songs is considered a “reaffirmation of Ayoreo capacities to transform themselves … an affirmation not of being but of becoming, one that reclaims a kind of radical agency for ontological self-determination” (p. 44). Furthermore, even entering in a world of intoxication is considered by him as a “form of moral reasoning about the nervous system of internal colonialism and state fetishism” (p. 191). Bessire is nevertheless quite adamant: if ruptures (and changes) in Ayoreo (religiosity, ways of life, embodied selves, etc.) have a ‘moral value’, it is because they constitute “one of the few ways to account for the nonsensical intersections of ecological devastation, soul-collecting missionaries, tradition-fetishizing ethnographers, unscrupulous humanitarian NGOs, and neoliberal economic policies” (p. 17).
The readers of this book will certainly not be faced with a primitivist bemoaning of culture loss, a humanitarian shock of structural violence, or even an “absolute loss, voiceless abjection, or bare life,” but instead with the suggestion that the Ayoreo answers to their situation disclose new possibilities for them and allow the recognition of a “negative kind of ‘possibilism’” (p. 191). In sharp contrast to those anthropologists Bessire sharply criticizes, he explicitly invites us to consider that Ayoreo people “did not piece together history from the remainders of their lives. Rather, they made the remainders of history into the future space of life itself” (pp. 53–54).
At the end of this fascinating book, the question of how to approach religious worlds of indigenous groups of South America like the Ayoreo remains open. Bessire suggests “applying the heuristics of rupture and transformation to the arenas of public debate as much as to the social afterlives of prior analytic categories” (p. 229). This book might constitute an excellent forum to start reconsidering the various persistent conundrums of Amerindian peoples today.
Juan Javier Rivera Andía
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
BLANTON, Anderson, Hittin’ the Prayer Bones: Materialities of Spirit in the Pentecostal South, 236 pp., notes, bibliography, index. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Paperback, $27.95. ISBN 9781469623979.
For the last two decades, the study of religion has experienced a very fruitful encounter with media studies. This has given birth to what Matthew Engelke (2010) calls ‘the media turn’—a new scholarly attention to the social uses of media within religious life and an awakened interest in the role and power of religious materiality and practices. The media turn has led to an intriguing cross-fertilization and circulation of terms, ideas, and concepts that have opened up new lines of research on the mediated dimension of religion and the religious-theological dimension of media and technology.
Examples are Jeremy Stolow’s (2012) edited volume Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between, in which several authors examine the relationship between religion and technology, and J. David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s (2000) Remediation: Understanding New Media, in which, among other intriguing theoretical stances, the authors explore the theology of cyberspace and the ‘transparent immediacy’ of Renaissance church altar pieces. These works particularly illuminate the in-between space, or the gap, that separates human beings from the divine and the supernatural. Along with other scholars such as Robert Orsi (2006, 2016), Birgit Meyer (2012), Matthew Engelke (2010), and my own recent work (Butticci 2016), these scholars examine the history, genesis, problems, and politics of those material forms that become receptacles of the supernatural and transform the untouchable, invisible, inaudible, and unscented divine and supernatural into perceivable real presence(s).
Anderson Blanton’s vibrant ethnography joins this body of work devoted to the study of the sensorial and technological aspects of this in-between space that produce the touchable and hearable ‘real presence’ of the Holy Ghost. He does so by examining the materialities of prayers, sensorial and technological regimes, and embodied practices of Charismatic Christian worship of southern Appalachia.
This outstanding ethnography is the result of two intense years of fieldwork with charismatic radio preachers, their in-studio congregations, and dispersed audiences. During this period, Blanton carefully observed the enthusiastic worship through which these congregations “get a prayer” to “the divine ear” (p. 17). The outcome is a wonderfully written work in which scholars and students will find enthralling case studies and original analytical stances about the entangled relationship between religion and media.
Blanton examines in detail what he calls “skein prayer,” an oral performance of these congregations that is intertwined with manual techniques, haptic sensations, and “moments of prestidigitations,” in which the Holy Ghost become a perceivable real presence and the difference between spirit and matter abruptly collapses. The book takes the readers to “radioland,” a vast area in southern Appalachia where Blanton met Brother Aldie Allen and Sister Dorothy Allen and observed the healing waves of their radio station, their anointed “poetics of breath” (p. 9), and the texture of their faith.
The book has a concise, well-crafted, and helpful introduction and four chapters, each devoted to the various embodied and technological devices that produce the perceivable presence of the Holy Ghost’s healing power. It also includes transcribed original sermons, pictures, and iconic images of Oral Roberts’s ministry through which Blanton nicely analyzes charismatic mediations of the Holy Ghost’s presence throughout the history of Charismatic Renewal. Over the course of the book, the analysis oscillates between the peculiarities of the observed practices in southern Appalachia and the broader practices of Pentecostalism, in which Oral Roberts’s legacy of radio healing and massive use of points of contact, including prayer cloths, emerges.
The first chapter examines the sensorial regimes of the radio, especially the surprising tactility of radio, and the materialization of prayers through which Charismatic Christians of southern Appalachia fabricate and hear the sounds of the numinous. The chapter shows how the radio circulates and amplifies the healing power of the numinous through the hypersensitivity of the radio’s microphone and how the skein prayer of the congregation turns the radio apparatus into a tactile experience of faith and healing. Blanton describes and analyzes the moments in which the congregation walks around the microphone, demarcates the sacred space, and invokes through their voices and body gestures the healing power of the Holy Ghost. This is the moment when “the artificial sensibilities of the microphone become a divinatory apparatus that will soon reveal the locus where the healing efficacy will be instantiated” (p. 32).
In chapter 2, in a similar way, Blanton observes the metamorphosis of a mere rag into a sacred cloth that becomes “a kind of supernatural skin or prosthetic dermal layer that grants access to sacred sensations” (p. 57), as well as a transmitter of the apotropaic power of the Holy Ghost that the congregation uses as a miraculous device. Carefully cut by the members, the cloths perpetually reassert their efficacy through the narrative of the testimonies, their circulation, and their replication.
The sacred sensorial regimes of these congregations are profoundly haptic or tactile, distinctly acoustic, but also creatively visceral. Chapter 3 explores the miraculous possibilities of the sacred belly laugh, bulldog preaching, Gandy dancing, and compulsive rhythmic breathing that spasmodically involves the mouth of the preachers and reveals the explosive force of embodied sacred noises that get to the limited ears of the congregations and the heavenly ear of the divine. The skein prayer performed around the microphone, the sacramentalized cloths, and the anointed poetics of breath are points of contact—moments of “divine communication when, through a manual gesture and technological artifice, the experiential gap between the ‘limited self’ and the ‘limitless God’ is filled with a resonance outside the frames of everyday temporal awareness” (p. 173).
Chapter 4 examines how the logic of communication and the transmittance of radio waves strongly resonate in the skein prayers performed for long-distance healing. Blanton devotes this chapter to “standin’ in the gap,” locating in this suspended space “the very precarious contingencies of the gap between the sacred and the everyday” (p. 156). When facing this gap, the sacred devices analyzed in the book are activated but also tested. Their mediation of sacred power can indeed reinforce a strong faith or enhance the “inertia of unbelief” (p. 156).
Here is another outstanding contribution of this book. At the hub of his thick description of the materiality of prayers, Blanton shows when and how faith and belief powerfully sustain the embodied practices and the materiality of prayer. This is the moment when the embodied and sensorial experience of religion makes an appeal to belief. As Blanton puts it: “Faith therefore makes its appearance in this precarious space of alterity between the ‘limited self’ and the ‘limitless God.’ Faith emerges and circulates at this indeterminate ‘point’ or interface between the subject and the divine (p. 173).
The introduction and the four chapters of the book nicely prepare the reader to engage the main question that Blanton so brilliantly poses: how did these technologies change the experience of ritual presence and divine communication? Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Blanton argues that by materializing prayer into new haptic sensations, radio prayer initiated a new and profound shift in the meaning and performance of faith and divine communication within the Christian tradition and produced the emergence of an “acoustic unconscious,” a “new sensation of devotional awareness unleashed by the sensitivities of the microphone and the amplifications of the loudspeaker” (p. 181).
Blanton concludes his book with his concern for what I would define as ‘ethnographic blasphemy’. He stresses the challenge of ethnographic interpretation, especially when it comes to a conclusion that sounds like blasphemy—such as arguing that for Charismatic Christians of southern Appalachia the presence of the Holy Ghost is merely relegated to “the warm vibrations of a radio loudspeaker or the stark materiality of a devotional object” (p. 186). His concern sounds slightly Weberian and reminds me of Weber’s critique of what we might consider the moment of prestidigitation par excellence: the Catholic transubstantiation. Indeed, what might sound like blasphemy can be seen in terms of Marshall McLuhan’s media theory and his famous statement: “The medium is the message.” To McLuhan, in the age of mass media there is no separation, distance, or difference between the medium and the message: they become conflated just as in the sacramental miracle. The ‘sacramentality’ of the congregations that Blanton observed takes me back to the ‘catholicity’ of the African Pentecostals in Catholic Europe that I studied for four years (Butticci 2016). His findings mesh well with one of the central arguments of my work—that the presumed iconoclastic and commonly anti-Catholic Pentecostals seem to celebrate their catholic substance more than their Protestant principle.
Blanton’s sophisticated yet accessible theoretical analysis and lively case studies make this book particularly engaging for use by anthropologists at all levels. Its innovative approach to classic concepts will be of great value to specialists working in the areas of media theory, religious studies, and global Christianit(ies).
MeyerBirgit. 2012. “Mediation and the Genesis of Presence: Towards a Material Approach to Religion.” Inaugural LectureUtrecht University19 October.
BULKELEY, Kelly, Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion, 352 pp., tables, notes, bibliography, index. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Hardback, $23.96. ISBN 9780199351534.
Kelly Bulkeley is a fine writer and researcher on dreams, and I frequently refer to some of his earlier works, such as his Dreaming in the World’s Religions. He has a gift for summarization and a clarity of writing that make his concepts readily available and valuable to both professional dream researchers and an interested general public. The scope of this book is very large as his goal is to integrate a cross-cultural survey of ‘big dreams’ with the latest results of brain neuroscience and evolutionary theory. Bulkeley adopts an Aquinasinspired approach, starting each chapter with a skeptical section that disputes the chapter’s central argument. Such an approach is effective as a focusing device and provides a dose of necessary skepticism throughout.
The first section of the book contains chapters on the neuroscience of the brain and the whole gamut of questions about the dreaming brain, such as the recent new understandings of REM and non-REM sleep and dream patterns, neuroplasticity, and so forth. Likewise, a chapter on health is a very good summary of sleep disorders and the current neuroscience findings. Bulkeley also refers throughout to a rich array of cultural examples of human dreaming and backs these up with the available quantitative analyses of human dreaming behavior and reports, some of which are elicited through his own generated database (Sleep and Dream Database, SDDb). Overall, these first few chapters provide an excellent summary of the current scientific understanding of the human—and animal—dreaming brain.
The second section overviews dreams in general as a preliminary approach to delineating big dreams. This section focuses on dream recall frequency, typical patterns in people’s dreaming, and the relationship of dreaming to waking life. The third section develops Bulkeley’s idea of the ‘prototypes’ of big dreaming, such as aggression and nightmares, sexuality, gravitational (falling and ascent) dreams, and more mystical dreams, such as flying in one’s sleep.
However, this extensive and very useful survey means that the more in-depth consideration of the link between the big dream experience and religion is limited to the last four chapters, and although I welcomed the earlier chapters, I found this to be frustrating. This last section, though, does offer a fine overview of meditation and dreaming, dream incubation and dream healing traditions, lucid dreaming, prophetic vision, and demonic possession dreams. I expected to see more relevant data on the cross-cultural incidence of the big dream and how different human populations have defined and experienced this phenomenon. Particularly, I expected more material and analysis about the political and cultural impact of people’s big dreams on both their lives and their societies. What, for instance, are the similarities and differences between secular and spiritual big dreams? Who defines what is a big dream? Is the dream’s impact on the lives of others more important than the emotional intensity of the impact of the dream on the dreamer? Is the big dream a particular class of dream, or is it one end on a continuum of ‘big’ to ‘little’ dreams? Is an audible dream less important than the more commonly experienced visual dream? Given that big dreams are, or seem to be, a central wellspring of human creativity and religious/spiritual imagination, as Bulkeley concludes, I expected a more continuous focus on this theme. Arguably, much of this material is already covered in his earlier work.
Does this elegant and very readable overview of the state of scientific and cultural knowledge about dreaming advance Bulkeley’s case as to the fundamental importance of dreaming to religious experience and human creativity? To a significant degree it does, through his articulation and summary of current knowledge about dreaming. Dreaming itself remains as a mysterious inner experience whose full measurement and meaning is still to be grasped. In Big Dreams, Bulkeley has gone to the center of the problem of dream research in which qualitative studies work primarily with unverifiable dream reports and quantitative neurocognitive studies are, as yet, only beginning to map the physical science of the dreaming mind. Decades may be needed to fully synthesize these perspectives. Bulkeley attempts to integrate, at this point in time, these two core approaches, and his work is a fine testament to a talented and creative dream researcher.
A glossary of terms would have been useful.
Iain R. Edgar
University of Durham
BUTTICCI, Annalisa, African Pentecostals in Catholic Europe: The Politics of Presence in the Twenty-First Century, 208 pp., halftones, notes, index. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. Hardback, $39.95. ISBN 9780674737099.
Butticci’s ethnography deals with the contested relationship between African Pentecostalism (mainly from Ghana and Nigeria) and Roman Catholicism in contemporary Italy. Butticci argues that both these Christian spiritual doctrines share a common ‘catholicity’: “the sacramentality manifest in the conflation of spirit and matter that generates perceived real presences of divine and supernatural powers pulsating in the material world, in nature, objects and substances, as well as in the human body” (p. 8). Catholicity generates an ‘aesthetic of presence’, which Butticci understands as a principle of mediation between divine ontology and human worlds that enables practitioners to experience divine presence in mundane reality. Based on long-term fieldwork in what Butticci calls ‘contact zones’—churches, cathedrals, and parish buildings shared by both Pentecostal congregations and Roman Catholic communities—the book analyzes how different aesthetic regimes compete with each other to invoke and feel the ‘real’ presence of God.
Butticci unpacks her argument in four chapters followed by an excellent conclusion. The first chapter uses Gramsci’s famous analysis of the subaltern to analyze how Catholic hegemony reconstitutes the triple marginality of African church visitors, who are Pentecostals in a largely Catholic social space, black in a predominantly white society, and immigrants. In this context, subaltern African Pentecostals’ creed, liturgy, sacramentality, and embodied bodily sensations become symbolic acts of resistance by which churchgoers articulate their ongoing oppression. Pentecostal worship practice in Italy is a thorny political issue precisely because it fuses the history of economic migration, European xenophobia, and religious cosmology.
The second chapter focuses on the dynamics of social encounters in contact zones, wherein aesthetic regimes meet and clash. In this chapter, which I regard as the core analytic substance of the book, Butticci claims that praying in the parish allows African pastors to move away from social relegation to emancipation, as they use a typically Catholic social space both to connect with the divine on their own terms and to transcend symbolically their spatio-temporal marginality in Italian society. Their aesthetics of presence, which includes anointment, speaking in tongues, and exorcism, temporarily inverts hegemonic power relations. African Pentecostals ultimately become what Butticci understands as ‘bodies of power’, which is a political, economic, and spiritual currency that suspends the Catholic order.
The third chapter looks at the phenomenology of disgust as it relates to the dangerous powers associated with human relics. Relics that are presented in Italian churches and cathedrals force Pentecostals to deal with the intrinsic paradox of the body and the constant spiritual struggle to tame it in the service of the divine. On the one hand, the body is the temple of God and thus the means by which to achieve transcendence; on the other hand, the body is inherently impure as it involves passions, needs, euphoria, and the absorbing and dispersing of fluids and substances. Disgust thus becomes a visceral response that reflects and reconstitutes deeply entrenched notions of Pentecostal purity, love, and power.
The last ethnographic chapter provides a fascinating analysis of Pentecostal ceremonies that take place under a replica of Raphael’s Renaissance masterpiece The Transfiguration. Butticci demonstrates that for her African Pentecostal research interlocutors, the transfigured Christ represents an image of humanity after resurrection, which is beyond social hierarchy, where categories of race, color, and nationality are no longer available as markers of difference. More than just an instrument to achieve spiritual inspiration, the replica of Raphael’s Transfiguration becomes a powerful signifier of glory and deliverance, a representation of true liberation from ascribed social marginality. African Pentecostal church visitors thus turn the painting itself into a contact zone parallel to the church parish or cathedral.
The conclusion asserts that aesthetics of presence creates a theological and political ‘short circuit’ between Pentecostal and Catholic practitioners who meet in contact zones (pp. 132–136). Butticci emphasizes that African Pentecostal worship practices in this context are real political tools that produce moral subjects who act in the world of human conflict in ways that ultimately relinquish the divine. While preserving Christ’s agency to appear as He pleases, they strip it from His role in affecting human reality. African Pentecostal aesthetics of presence thus expresses a desire to overcome the limits of human existence and achieve not only immortality but also the power to manipulate that which is unseen and otherwise unattained.
Aside from several copyediting errors, the book is well written, thought provoking, and innovative on two major plains of reference. Firstly, in ethnographic terms, it is one of the first books to account for the contemporary politics of religious encounters in Italian contact zones. Secondly, in analytic terms, Butticci develops concepts that could (and should) serve researchers comparatively in analyzing the political, cosmological, and economic processes that undergird the sharing of sacred spaces beyond the Italian case, an emerging theme in religion studies and anthropology. The book thus makes an important contribution to recent cutting-edge studies that focus on the nexus of religious encounter, mobility, and migration (Mapril and Blanes 2013a; Pype et al. 2012).
While Butticci’s analysis is inspiring, by way of a more critical reading I would like to point out two possible directions for future research. Firstly, Butticci does not analyze the large-scale macro-political consequences of this particular association of religious creed and contemporary patterns of immigration into Italy. She chooses instead to concentrate on the phenomenology of intra-connectivity with the divine across boundaries of social alterity. This analytic choice is of course credible, but I suggest that further research on contact zones in this context should also consider an in-depth analysis of the ways in which shared sacred spaces enhance, hinder, or accelerate the contemporary southernization of European Christianity (Blanes 2013; Jenkins 2002).
Secondly, Butticci thinks about catholicity as a common feature of Pentecostalism and Roman Catholicism—which could thus undermine the common association of Pentecostalism with Protestantism—but this fascinating point mostly serves to analyze the marginalization of Africans in Italian society. It would be interesting to pursue this issue further in order to think of the heuristic ethicotheological consequences for the pious beyond marginalization itself (cf. Sarró 2015). This could be compared with relevant encounters between Pentecostals and Catholics across the globe, such as in Brazil in recent years.
University of Bergen
BlanesRuy Llera. 2013. “Prophetic Visions of Europe: Rethinking Place and Belonging among Angolan Christians in Lisbon.” In Mapril and Blanes 2013b19–36.
PypeKatrienSteven van Wolputte and Anne Mélice. 2012. “The Interdependence of Mobility and Faith: An Introduction.” Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue canadienne des études africaines 46 (3): 355–365.
SarróRamon. 2015. “Hope, Margin, Example: The Kimbanguist Diaspora in Lisbon.” In Religion in Diaspora: Cultures of Citizenship ed. Janet Garnett and Sondra L. Hausner226–242. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
CASSANITI, Julia, Living Buddhism: Mind, Self, and Emotion in a Thai Community, 232 pp., illustrations, tables, glossary, references, index. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015. Paperback, $22.95. ISBN 9780801456718.
The history of Buddhist studies has focused primarily on texts and doctrines. With its teachings of impermanence, non-self, and karma, much of Theravada Buddhism can seem remote and abstract. Recently, a number of ethnographic works have described Thai Buddhism in practice, as it is lived in communities of non-religious experts (Cook 2010; Eberhardt 2006; Kitiarsa 2012; McDaniel 2011). Julia Cassaniti’s Living Buddhism: Mind, Self, and Emotion in a Thai Community does not just add another case study of popular Buddhism in practice. It enhances our understanding of Buddhism through a new angle—a focus on emotion. As a cultural psychologist, her training puts her in a unique position to describe and analyze lived Buddhism. Through her eyes, we see how Buddhist doctrines are lived out in ideal and not so ideal ways, adding much complexity to conceptions of Theravada Buddhism.
Set in rural Mae Jaeng, this work can be considered a traditional anthropology, where the author has spent considerable time in a delimited village space. However, what is unique about this book is its tone. Throughout, the author is clearly one of the characters who narrates her own methodological decisions, growth, and understanding of this society and her increasing closeness with the people of Mae Jaeng. In numerous places, the text offers some background and context from primary and secondary scholarship on Buddhist doctrines and the history of Southeast Asia. Yet in focusing on the author and her travails and triumphs of fieldwork in rural Thailand, this book is most useful as a primer for budding ethnographers.
After the introduction, part 1 (“Emotions”) and part 2 (“Attachment”) are structured in pairs of opposites. This allows the reader to see first the positive and valued emotion and how this works and is embodied. In chapter 1 (“Cool Hearts”) and chapter 3 (“Letting Go”), the reader is brought into the values of calmness and acceptance through the author’s efforts to grapple with these emotional practices. Cassaniti describes her difficulty fitting in and ultimately understanding how both calmness and acceptance work in this Thai village society. The author as narrator can be related to by the reader as someone not used to the emotional practices and values in this space, but she also represents someone who can learn and embody these practices as she continues to live in Mae Jaeng. These positive values of calmness and acceptance are related to Buddhism in various ways, including connections to the Buddhist temple spaces, rituals, and practices. Cassaniti also shows how even though it was not spoken of by villagers as explicitly relating to Buddhist doctrines, there was “a general sense that cultivating calmness is a good Buddhist thing to do” (p. 55).
Chapter 2 (“Heat”) and chapter 4 (“Holding On”) reverse these ideals and illustrate what happens when Thai members of the Mae Jaeng community, for various reasons, do not fit with the values of calmness and acceptance. Cassaniti shows how their emotional displays of anger and attachment are instead at odds with the dominant culture and societal norms of Mae Jaeng. She also tests whether Buddhism is a major factor in emotional practices through comparison with a nearby Karen Christian village called Ban Ko Tai. She contrasts the emotional energy in the Christian churches with the quiet that was cultivated in Buddhism temples: “I could easily sense a different emotional tenor in Ban Ko Tao from that in Mae Jaeng” (p. 74). Interviews that revealed more robust emotional practices in Ban Ko Tao led the author to conclude that “jai yen wasn’t just a national project or a universally human practice; it was a religious and cultural one” (p. 76). But the major figure who represents what happens when Thai people do not meet the ideals of calmness and acceptance is the author’s friend in Mae Jaeng, whom she calls Sen. Much of chapters 4 and 5 relate his story of alcoholism and isolation. Through descriptions of his struggles to adapt to change and attachments to the past, the value of letting go in Mae Jaeng can clearly be seen.
Part 3 (“Karma”), which includes chapter 5 (“Cause and Effect”), is not situated within a dichotomy of positive and negative emotions, perhaps because karma is so complex it can be both good and bad. Cassaniti focuses her discussion of karma on how the villagers and monks in Mae Jaeng described it to her. She utilizes some ethnographic accounts but finds that “karma is not a prominently addressed concept in English-language Buddhist scholarship, beyond a ‘superstitious’ belief rooted in ritual,” which she contrasts with Mae Jaeng, where “karma is considered to be a cosmological entity that is obvious, true, and everywhere” (p. 150). She discusses how karma is felt and enacted in Mae Jaeng, addressing the complexity of creating good karma through Buddhist practice.
In the conclusion (“Acting Apart”), we reach the end of Sen’s tale and learn how he eventually gets better. Apart from finding out what her friends are doing when the author goes back to visit Mae Jaeng after finishing her PhD, the reader sees in these pages most clearly how this book contributes to various scholarly conversations—including the intertwinement of culture, mind, and religious practice—by drawing attention to a local model of personal agency, as well as lived religion and lived Buddhism. In breaking down dichotomies of high Buddhism and low Buddhism, superstitious village Buddhism and formal monastic Buddhism, popular Buddhism and Buddhism in abstract texts, Cassaniti shows the complexity in the lived world of Buddhist ideas through a cast of characters we come to know well.
This book will be most useful in anthropology and religious studies classes and of interest to scholars working in the fields of cultural psychology, anthropology of religion, and Theravada Buddhism.
EDGAR, Iain R., The Dream in Islam: From Qur’anic Tradition to Jihadist Inspiration, 178 pp., tables, bibliography, index. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016. Paperback, $25.55. ISBN 9781785332227.
There has been increasing interest in recent decades in the anthropology of the dream, and much interesting work has been done. Dreaming in the Islamic traditions, however, has been relatively neglected, and Iain R. Edgar, the author of The Dream in Islam: From Qur’anic Tradition to Jihadist Inspiration, is one of the few scholars to work in this area. His book, then, is to be welcomed as a major addition in a rather sparse field. This 2016 publication is a revised re-edition of a book first published in 2011.
Despite its subtitle, the book is not really about how a Qur’anic tradition became a jihadist inspiration. The role of dreams for jihadists is indeed considered, but it is not the exclusive focus. The book is in fact a fairly comprehensive treatment of the dream in Islam as a Qur’anic tradition among Sufis and as lived religion among ordinary Sunni Muslims and—yes—among jihadists and the Afghan Taliban. One thing the book shows is the widespread interest among Muslims in dreams and their interpretation. Given this, it would be surprising if jihadists did not also pay attention to dreams.
Edgar’s own text is sandwiched between a foreword by Steve Lyon and an epilogue by Elisabeth Kirtsoglou, both of which are actually short articles in their own right. Lyon reports on some of his own fieldwork and re-evaluates it. Kirtsoglou asks a number of thought-provoking questions about dreaming in general and dreaming in Islam in particular, including the question of why it was not just al-Qaeda operatives who dreamed in advance of 9/11, but also Jean Baudrillard.
The book focuses on the type of dream known in Arabic as the ru’ya, the ‘true dream’ or vision, which is carefully distinguished from dreams that are meaningless or actively misleading. The first chapter considers the status of the dream in Islam in general terms, looking at both historical and modern times. It is followed by a chapter on methodological issues. Then comes a chapter on the practice of istikhara, which Edgar renders as ‘dream incubation’, but which might alternatively be rendered as ‘(legitimate) divination’. This is one of the most valuable chapters in the book, as istikhara is a very standard religious practice that, as Edgar shows, plays a major part in the lives of Muslims everywhere and yet has been almost totally ignored by Western scholarship.
The next chapter deals with dreaming among Sufis, again showing its importance and analyzing its function. Then come two chapters, one dealing with jihadists and the other with Mullah Omar (1960–2013), the Taliban commander and former ruler of Afghanistan. These two chapters in some ways belong together and share a common conclusion. They are followed by a chapter on dream manuals and then a final chapter comparing Islamic and Western understandings of dreaming. This last chapter argues that while the Islamic understanding of dreaming as something that gives access to the divine and the unseen is incompatible with a Freudian understanding of dreaming, the understanding of Karl Gustav Jung might provide a common basis. Edgar does not examine this idea in much detail, which perhaps would have been difficult, but that does not stop it from being interesting.
Each of these chapters contains rich empirical material, although in the case of the chapters on jihadists and Mullah Omar, this material is (necessarily) second-hand. Edgar reports on fieldwork in Pakistan, Turkey, Bosnia, Northern Cyprus (with the Haqqaniyya), and Great Britain. That the book draws on fieldwork in such a wide variety of settings and countries is both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because it can, for example, show how widespread a practice such as istikhara is. It is a weakness because the settings are so varied that Edgar is forced to ignore the significance of setting and in effect to treat Islam and Muslim as single units, with Western converts, rural Pakistanis, and elderly Bosnians all being merged together. This is in some ways problematic.
The book has another shortcoming, in that its structure is a bit uneven. It sometimes feels like an assemblage of different materials more than a coherent whole. Chapter 8 is only eight pages long, which is rather short. The report on fieldwork in Bosnia in the chapter on istikhara includes the verbatim record of an interview at perhaps excessive length, and the chapter on Mullah Omar contains the verbatim record of an interview carried out by someone else, much of which does not even deal with dreaming.
Despite these shortcomings, the book is to be recommended. It is an important addition to our understanding of a significant phenomenon. Edgar knows his subject very well, and with this book he has made a valuable contribution to the anthropology of dreaming and, perhaps even more so, to an understanding of dreaming in Islamic studies.
FAVRET-SAADA, Jeanne, The Anti-Witch, 232 pp., halftones, references, index. Chicago: HAU Books/University of Chicago Press, 2015. Paperback, $17.99. ISBN 9780990505044.
Ethnography is one of the most vulnerable and potent aspects of anthropological work. It can be the subject of disturbing criticism, yet it can also produce enduring creations in anthropology. Favret-Saada is one of those rare ethnographers who is able to transform the vulnerability of the ethnographic métier into creative power. She highlights one of most subtle and decisive dimensions of fieldwork—namely, ‘being affected’. Her ethnography appears as a knowledge modality, which is exposed to the risk of meeting the unknown as well as to affects, influences, and unrepresentable forces.
In her book The Anti-Witch, Favret-Saada depicts the consequences of the encounter between ethnography and witchcraft. Such an encounter changes the two devices in a simultaneous way: witchcraft leaves the domain of belief and of symbolic systems to be rehabilitated as a therapeutic practice and as a violence modality, whereas the ethnographic work is no longer seen as a question-and-answer game but as a ‘being affected’ modality. This is how the book reveals another possible path to criticism and, at the same time, to the reinvention of the ethnographic method.
The book is presented to English-language readers by Veena Das, who wrote the foreword, and it was carefully translated by Matthew Carey. It is the last book of a triad about witchcraft written by the Tunisian-born anthropologist, whose background lies in the French anthropological tradition. The Anti-Witch was originally published in 2009, 32 years after the first publication of Favret-Saada’s ethnography Les mots, la mort, les sorts, translated as Deadly Words, wherein the author dared to be affected by witchcraft during field research (1969–1972) conducted in farm communities in the Bocage region of rural northwestern France.
The Anti-Witch reworks articles written by the author between 1983 and 1991, some of which were co-authored with the psychoanalyst Josée Contreras. It outlines a general theory of dewitching, a subject also found in the second book in the triad, the 1981 Corps pour corps. The first five chapters describe the dewitching process in detail: its therapeutic effects, the illocutionary force of words, the small daily acts of protection and defense, the delicate process of acknowledging the state of being bewitched, and cartomancy techniques. It does so without neglecting considerations about the social fabric that supports these practices and the witchcraft transformations in Bocage since the nineteenth century. The sixth and final chapter brings together these different witchcraft facets to approach the ‘being affected’ issue, which directly addresses the ethnographic method.
The book focuses on the dewitcher’s practice and on the witchcraft narrative, which had not been previously recorded by French ethnologists and historians. Since the witchcraft theme is neither fully accessible to direct observation nor to direct speech, Favret-Saada was able to enter the witchcraft communication network, as well as to have access to another of its dimensions, only because she was caught up in a chain of witchcraft affects. If Favret-Saada appears as a bewitched anthropologist in the first book, Deadly Words, in The Anti-Witch she occupies another position in the witchcraft system: now she is a dewitching apprentice after following the work of Madame Flora for two years.
The dewitcher’s figure is central to this book. Dewitching consists of establishing a relationship between the bewitched one and the dewitcher. The dewitcher then fights an invisible battle against the witch on behalf of the bewitched. It is not a simple behavioral therapy, but a unique form of collective therapy specifically adapted to family production in farms. The head of the family is the object of the therapeutic process, which leads to a provisional change in the power relations between men and women. During the treatment/combat, the wife exercises the art of indirect violence in order to protect and defend her bewitched husband from the witch’s supernatural aggressions.
The author is a talented narrator, and the reader is caught up by her account since Favret-Saada is able to transmit fear and enthusiasm through her writing and to make witchcraft plausible as a life-and-death battle. As an ethnographer, she had to deal with subtle and recalcitrant forms of speech in the ethnographic translation. Communication channels are traversed by a mysterious force in the witchcraft context. Thus, communication is done with great care, since speaking can make the speaker vulnerable to the affects of witchcraft. It is a difficult and demanding research field wherein the witchcraft speech continuously evades the ethnographic records.
Despite the synthesis that is involved in the ethnographic method of participant observation, Favret-Saada highlights that the terms ‘observation’ and ‘participation’ refer to contradictory and irreconcilable movements. Observation complies with the aim of formulating scientific knowledge, whereas participation challenges this knowledge project. In the end, the book endorses participation, seeing it as a crucial methodological device that puts the ethnographic enterprise constantly at risk yet also renews it.
Suzane de Alencar Vieira
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
FREDERICK, Marla F., Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global, 256 pp., notes, bibliography, index. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016. Paperback, $25. ISBN 9780804796989.
Marla F. Frederick’s Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global is a compelling examination of the interplays of religion and (mass) media in the context of neo-liberal global flows. Frederick focuses on the topic of the mediatization of Pentecostal Christianity, mainly as a product of religiosity in the United States and as a phenomenon that has spread to the Caribbean (in particular Jamaica) and beyond. While always understanding this phenomenon as based in neo-liberal economic formations, she discusses the globalization of this brand of religion without relying on market logics or economic models of decision making to explain the motivations of those who preach, those who help distribute preachers’ words through mass media, or those who consume and follow these gospels. Indeed, she does not frame her research along the well-critiqued trajectory of US-produced media circulating to peripheral places, bringing particular types of logic and values with them. Rather, she pays attention to audience reception and what actually happens once the religious message arrives in the ‘periphery’ and is interpreted, entexualized, and incorporated into local social relations and understandings of political economy.
The book is organized around six chapters that incorporate themes of citizenship, race, class, gender, sexuality, and structures of (economic) power within religious media circuits. In the introduction, Frederick outlines the two (often gendered) categories into which the religious messages on which she focuses generally fall: gospels of prosperity and of sexual redemption. She also explains that she concentrates on ‘black televangelism’ as something produced and distributed by African Americans, but also followed by Africans and people of African descent around the world. She then lays out her research questions, which include themes relating the ways in which religious messages are shaped to speak to racialized experiences within the United States, the influence of African American religious broadcasting on the faith of people of color outside of the United States, and the possibilities of social transformation and inspiration provided by these gospels in her particular field site in Jamaica. Chapter 1 then frames her discussion of the globalization of Pentecostal preaching in terms of globalization and the history of religious media in and of the United States.
Chapters 2 and 3 explore prosperity gospels or sermons that suggest sincere faith in God is likely to bring economic prosperity. Chapter 2 focuses on ‘religious dandyism’, arguing that within the particular history of race in the United States, the flamboyance of the dandy is as much about the crafting of narratives of possibility as about the ego of the preacher. She explains that the performance of religious dandyism among African American televangelists allows them to disrupt not only racialized expectations but also religious expectations that valorize poverty, thus redefining black possibility. Chapter 3 then examines the ways that Jamaican viewers appropriate these theologies. In particular, many viewers live in contexts of poverty, physical violence, and other forms of structural violence, yet they readily consume messages of health and wealth, developing their own understandings of what prosperity might mean for themselves and their own identifications and for the possibility of social change.
Chapters 4 and 5 turn to another gendered kind of performance in theology associated with black women and their gospels of sexual redemption. In chapter 4, Frederick discusses how women televangelists construct notions of women’s religiosity, sharing personal stories of sexual promiscuity or trauma and a subsequent turn to God for redemption. She sees these stories, much like prosperity gospels, as being closely associated with the self-help industry and narratives of individual responsibility, both of which are central to neo-liberal ideologies. In chapter 5, Frederick returns to Jamaica, relating how Jamaican women understand their own sexual practices in relation to the televangelists’ messages. While Jamaican women are often in positions of vulnerability in which they may turn to exchanging sex for food, shelter, or other needs, they also use these gospel messages to make sense of personal tragedy.
In chapter 6, Frederick addresses the power of distributors in defining the religious messages that are spread to wide audiences. She argues that black-owned and black-focused networks negotiate the neo-liberal marketplace in order to create a space for renegotiating race and politics in religious broadcasting. The conclusion closes the book by looking at new media—YouTube and other Internet-based forms of getting the message out—and the ways that some preachers are able to subvert the mass media–institutionalized self-help and prosperity gospel messages.
Overall, this is a striking ethnography that adheres to Marcus’s (1995) suggestion to ‘follow the thing’, demonstrating the production, distribution, and then consumption and incorporation of these US-produced gospels into Jamaicans’ daily lives. Frederick’s approach implicitly involves a critique of the ways in which neo-liberalism is embedded within self-help-style prosperity and sexual redemption gospels. As such, religiosity becomes focused on individual motivation rather than social change. More attention to this particular aspect may be welcome for readers who are interested in perspectives on social justice, following scholars such as Ginsberg et al. (2002). However, Frederick’s attention to what is at stake for producers, consumers, and distributors of televangelist messages provides us with a rich, multi-sited ethnography that tackles important intersections among global location, race, class, gender, and sexuality, making this excellent reading for those interested in religion, citizenship, critical race theory, critical race feminism, Caribbean studies, and media anthropology.
GADELRAB, Sherry Sayed, Medicine and Morality in Egypt: Gender and Sexuality in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,204 pp., notes, bibliography. London: I.B. Tauris, 2016. Hardback, $99. ISBN 9781780767512.
The politics of sex and sexual education remains controversial in the Arab world and in Islamic societies. Yet Islam was a significant source of sexual knowledge for the average Muslim in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Egypt. Sherry Sayed Gadelrab’s posthumous work, Medicine and Morality in Egypt: Gender and Sexuality in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, confronts this taboo subject in an accessible and comprehensive way without sacrificing major turning points in Egypt’s colonial and post-colonial history. Gadelrab’s work is a contribution to the historiography of Islamic thought and interpretation of sexuality, differences in the sexes, and sexual education.
In this monograph, Gadelrab investigates how religious and medical communities collaborated in campaigns to regulate sexual behavior in Egypt between the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Combing through the works of significant Muslim polymaths such as Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Ibn al-Nafis, and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, the author demonstrates how the emphasis on the inferiority of the female body in turn defined masculinity. These medical pioneers’ influence, argues Gadelrab, remained significant to prominent religious figureheads of this era in Egypt. The medical community in Egypt, both foreign and indigenous, adopted traditional Islam’s stance on the nature of femininity and womanhood as they articulated health discourses. Medicine and Morality in Egypt is a discussion of how Muslim scholars and medical experts theorized men’s active and innate sexual functionality in contrast to women’s bodily characteristics.
The study begins with an examination of medieval Islam’s conceptualization of sex and sexual differences. Gadelrab notes that there is a “multiplicity of views on sex differences in pre-nineteenth century Arab-Islamic medical and scientific discourses” (p. 3). She is concerned with how theologians and religious scholars of the medieval Islamic world distinguished men and women and how this differentiation process influenced the religious scholarship of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Egypt. To evidence her assertions, Gadelrab samples seminal works of famed Sunni polymaths, although she unfortunately excludes significant contributions of Sufi scholarship. Regardless, her research on sex and sexuality within Sunni theological canon showcases a dense and complicated portrait of sex differences in the medieval period.
Theories on conception defined womanhood, with reproductive power correlating definitions of femininity. Genital composition, however, remained the quintessential reference point of sex difference articulation throughout this period. The latter viewpoint was consistently supported with suras (Qur’anic passages) noting God’s creation as either male or female. Interestingly, Muslim scholars positioned hermaphrodites within suras as well. Sex differences became an important point of contestation within various Islamic jurisprudences, specifically in relation to inheritance and other legal matters where sex-based status dictated outcomes.
While collectively Muslim scholars contended that women’s sexual behavior was submissive on the pretexts of health, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah, Gadelrab demonstrates, articulated his opinion on women’s submissiveness based on health only. We learn that Al-Jawziyah’s theory that women should be “done to and not doers” (p. 43) was promoted in sexual education campaigns that encouraged husbands to always be on top during intercourse. Although the author does not discuss the legacies of bimaristans (medieval Islamic hospitals), she does trace the establishment of Egypt’s first modern medical college and hospital, Abu Za’bal, which was later moved and became the Qasr ‘Aini hospital as part of Muhammad Ali’s effort to standardize medical curricula in the territories he governed. This transition marked the beginning of new approaches to sex and sexual education. Regulatory measures and social norms were redefined through colonial hegemonic projects, such as venereal disease eradication campaigns, which were supported by local stakeholders composed mainly of leading members of the medical and religious communities.
The book is filled with under-investigated topics such as the relationship between Islam and modernity, as well as the debate surrounding chastity and the veil. We learn that nineteenth-century Muslim scholars promoted an image of a free but chaste modern Egyptian woman represented through the veil. The scholars were in agreement that the veiling process was not merely the covering of the hair with the hijab. Veiling, they argued, necessitated “a cover over the whole of [a] wom[a]n’s body, and her seclusion to her house” (p. 99), which she could leave only in an emergency or on special occasions. As such, contemporary nineteenth-century scholarship articulated sex differences through the emphasis on strict Islamic traditions of gender segregation. When opposition called for banning the veil, controversy and staunch counter-discourse arose, advocating stricter social bondages. Gadelrab asserts that Victorian morals and sexual values echoed the sentiments of contemporary nineteenth-century Muslim scholarship on the modern Egyptian woman. Both colonial and anti-colonial debates adopted traditional Islam’s stance on sex and sexuality.
Traditionally, topics on sex and sexuality were approached through moral codification (hygiene and sexual conduct) and criminal law (inheritance, adultery, and other sex-related crimes). While the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) required knowledge of Sharia law, it was through the fatwa (Islamic decree) that muftis reached the popular classes of Egyptians. Gadelrab examines a large number of fatwas and concludes that proper and forbidden behaviors were outlined through explanations of conduct concerning “marriage, divorce, licit and illicit sexual behaviour” (p. 109). One Grand Mufti, Gadelrab tells us, issued a fatwa explaining the non-Islamic nature of polygamy along religious and cultural terms. This decree ran contradictory to the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and his disciples. Astonishingly, the mufti argued that polygamy was in fact a Germanic practice that occurred when resources were abundant. We learn how Muslim leaders’ opinions varied as Qur’anic phrases were interpreted and reinterpreted in order to regulate sexual conduct and specifically to prohibit polygamy and sexual slavery.
In Islamic jurisprudence, zina (sexual intercourse outside of marriage) was another major point of contestation for Islamic scholars. Gadelrab demonstrates that although the Qur’an forbids zina and defines it as a crime against morality, highlighting its punishment and even outlining the necessary number of witnesses required to convict those accused of committing it, it was often tolerated and even defended by some muftis. While numerous Qur’anic verses proscribe zina as haram (forbidden), some points in the hadith (description of the habits, actions, and words of Muhammad) allude to its permissibility in certain situations. In the case of prostitution as a practice, Egyptian Muslim scholars abhorred it, but it remained co-existent with other prohibited social practices such as drinking and gambling. Gadelrab notes that while prostitution was disavowed in rhetoric, Egyptian society tolerated red-light districts. In fact, it was not until the state legalized the practice following increased British pressure that Muslim scholars, the medical community, nationalists, and feminists alike collaborated in a public campaign to criminalize it. Citing immorality, poor hygiene, and imperial and patriarchal subjugations, this collaborative effort succeeded in abolishing prostitution, at least as a state-recognized occupation. But, as Gadelrab alludes, sex work remained prominent in ‘tolerated’ red-light districts.
Gadelrab’s assertion that fatwas on sex and sexual education became common in the early twentieth century, when Muslim scholarship became more accessible through the printing press, is considerably shaky when we consider the overall literacy rates. With illiteracy being relatively common, one wonders to what degree the fatwas had an impact on the sex lives of average Egyptians. Moreover, Gadelrab’s examination of traditional Sunni scholars marginalizes numerous sects within Islam. Specifically, Sufism had a significant influence on the lives of Egypt’s popular classes and, undoubtedly, on their sexual education and conceptualization of morality. As such, to omit Sufi scholarship from this monograph not only ignores an important debate within sexual health and activity in the daily lives of Muslims, but also mutes a large population of Egyptian society. Surprisingly, another missing element in this monograph is the Islamic stance on female circumcision. Within the Islamo-Arab world, female circumcision is a uniquely Egyptian phenomenon. Underscoring Islamic scholarship on this cultural practice is imperative to the study of morality and sexual education in Egypt.
While this book lacks an important discussion on Sufism’s take on sex and sexual education, Modernity and Morality in Egypt is an important examination of the interconnections between medical, legal, religious, and moral discourses on sexual behavior. Its portrait of Egyptian society’s sexual education and morality will be of interest to scholars of Islam and the modern Middle East in general.
LINDHARDT, Martin, ed., New Ways of Being Pentecostal in Latin America, 284 pp., afterword, index. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016. Hardback, $90. ISBN 9780739196557.
After a little more than a century of existence, Pentecostalism has established itself as a main source of religious identity in a landscape that is increasingly pluralistic and whose complexity makes it difficult grasp. In this context, the book New Ways of Being Pentecostal in Latin America, edited by Martin Lindhardt, constitutes a valuable and useful resource that accounts for the main transformations that the Pentecostal field has experienced in recent times.
The text maintains a dialogue between the factors that have given shape to the classic Pentecostal paradigm—the explosive growth in the grassroots response to the conditions of anomie and uprooting; the movement between traditional and modern frames, establishing a church-world dualism (Bastian 1997; Lalive d’Epinay 2009; Martin 1990; Willems 1967); and the elements that are configuring these new identities. The research constructs an account covering various dimensions of the Pentecostal world and Latin American societies, including theological renewals, pluralism, and religious competition; conflicts and strained conditions; and changes in political and social commitments. The result is a coherent whole that successfully portrays aspects of both continuity and rupture.
One of the most interesting features of this book is the convergence among different disciplines of social sciences for the purpose of analyzing these transformations. In this way, the first chapter, by Andrew Chesnut, analyzes the emergence and success of Pentecostalism and Charismatics based on the religious market theory and how these movements have been founded mainly on faith healing as symbolic of salvation. For its part, the second chapter, by Stephen Hunt, takes a more economic perspective and investigates the competition between Brazilian Pentecostalism and Catholicism in the popular world and in politics, finding answers from Catholicism that emphasize attempts at an ecumenical approach while dealing with the pentecostalization process. Furthermore, in chapter 3, Jakob Thorsen describes the strains inside the Catholic Church because of groups belonging to the Charismatic Renewal movement in Guatemala, who claim to be a transformative force within the Church while wandering in an intermediate position, underestimating both Catholic and Pentecostal sectors.
In chapter 4, Martin Lindhardt discusses the shifting processes and religious competition that is taking place in Chile between believers who follow the classic Pentecostalism and newer generations of less strict believers, many of whom have shifted between several congregations throughout their ‘conversion careers’. In chapter 5, Toomas Gross analyzes the social costs of joining Pentecostal churches in rural sectors of Mexico, where in some cases there has been a return to Catholicism. The article looks to understand how Pentecostalism as an identity can be discontinuous. In chapter 6, George St. Clair captures new Brazilian understandings of the process of conversion that break the classic Pauline paradigm, understood as a progressive diachrony that is not linked to material poverty. Afterward, in chapter 7, Lindhart’s main theme is intergenerational conflict, where Pentecostal and secular cultures are being confronted by several Pentecostal denominations in Chile. In this case, the youth groups are carriers of innovation and creativity but also the subject of controversy among the most long-lived generations.
Following the same topic, in chapter 8, Evguenia Fediakova describes how the Chilean Evangelical youth has shaped new forms of social and civic participation. These young people have a more critical attitude toward traditional religiosity and have established supra-confessional Evangelical groups—spaces for theological discussion and for working with groups of university students beyond the temple. Then, in chapter 9, Henri Gooren explores the transformations in the political stances through a comparative study of two countries: Chile and Paraguay. Overall, Gooren observes that new generations of Pentecostals are more interested in political participation than the generations that preceded them. Following this logic, Virginia Garrard-Burnett, in chapter 10, questions a Pentecostal hermeneutic initiative aimed at raising social engagement in Guatemala and El Salvador through NGOs. This rapprochement is understood as an extra-ecclessial form of religiosity and also a resourceful proselytization space that is redefining the boundaries of church-world dualism. Finally, in chapter 11, María das Dores Campos Machado explores the Evangelical involvement in the Brazilian public debate in response to the advance of progressivism, elaborating on a discourse that appeals to secular logic with the purpose of gaining visibility in the political field.
Although the transformations documented in this volume do not constitute a majority trend in the Pentecostal world, where the classic paradigm still prevails, they establish a valuable precedent for evaluating the history of this important movement and set out varied questions about its future and its identity (or identities). In this context—and despite the absence of academics from Latin America, which itself is remarkable—the book represents a huge contribution to the scholarly discussion.
Fabián Bravo Vega
Chilean Society for the Sciences of Religions
PATON, Diana, The Cultural Politics of Obeah: Religion, Colonialism and Modernity in the Caribbean World, 375 pp., figures, tables, bibliography, index. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Hardback, $70. ISBN 9781107025653.
The Cultural Politics of Obeah is a reference book that chronicles obeah and the state policy toward this practice in the Anglo-Creole Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Grenada). More precisely, it tells the history, in a diachronic perspective, of “the swirling layers of representation that surround it” (p. 314). By understanding the elaboration of the Caribbean difference, following Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s work, for instance, Paton demonstrates that the rejection of obeah throughout colonial and post-colonial history also worked effectively to maintain class and racial relationships in the contemporary Caribbean. Constructed as a ‘legal category’, obeah was condemned on the basis of an alleged racial inferiority and because of a liberal vision that obeah was a practice that should disappear. These two perspectives have much in common, where obeah is considered as a singular object yet at the same time as an illustration of the lack of modernity. In this view, there is no space for “alternative understandings of obeah” (p. 11).
One of the relevant questions of this book is “how did the myriad phenomena described by the term come to be considered part of the singular category ‘obeah’?” (p. 12). If “obeah is a catch-all term that encompasses a wide variety and range of beliefs and practices related to the control or channeling of supernatural/spiritual forces by particular individuals or groups for their own needs, or on behalf of clients who come for help” (Bilby and Handler 2004: 154), how did it become so? Paton answers this long-time question by analyzing the ways that obeah was legally defined and the application of the law against it. She shows who was prosecuted under it, why, and what those who were prosecuted were doing.
Through the study of historical sources such as newspapers, court cases, prosecutorial evidence, and the performing arts, Paton gives us access to many important facts and concepts, focusing firstly on European representations of African spiritual power (chap. 1). Obeah was constructed as a source of anxiety, as “an argument about racial hierarchy” (p. 43) as well as a “powerful marker of racial otherness” (p. 75). Thus, it was a central point in discussions of slavery and slave society. The anti-obeah laws were created later in the eastern Caribbean, following the criminalization of obeah in Jamaica (chap. 2). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was a shift in the meaning of ‘obeah’: its definition became more diverse and at the same time more unified (chap. 3). How did this remaking of obeah work? How did the category ‘obeah’ and this specific spelling expand in the Caribbean? Who was prosecuted for obeah? During this period, most of the people who were prosecuted were men, contrary to the “European stereotype of the witch as archetypally female” (p. 80). Prosecutions also affected poor and working-class communities and those of African descent, as I noticed in my own research regarding the stigmatization of people based on ‘obeah attributions’ in St. Lucia in 2006–2007 (Meudec 2013).
Paton’s research shows that prosecutions for obeah took place when it involved “some kind of perceived harm to the system of slavery” (p. 13), specifically when it involved rebellion or the harming of an enslaved person (chap. 4). However, after slavery, it became a central means of marginalization, especially “to stigmatize African-oriented ritual healing practices and to brand them criminal” (p. 118). This remaking of obeah laws was developed in response to debates about Caribbean modernity and its relationship to race and Africanness. Chapter 5 is dedicated to an analysis of knowledge about and representations of obeah in Jamaican and Trinidadian newspapers between 1890 and 1939, which showed a tendency to reproduce the stereotype of the ‘obeahman’.
The everyday and formal politics of obeah after the 1930s (chap. 7) shows a movement where obeah became a preoccupation for ordinary people, for religious adherents, and for doctors and public health campaigners. And, finally, chapter 8 analyzes the post-colonial politics of obeah—as a subject of political debate—after World War II. In it, Paton examines representations of obeah as a cultural form and as performance on the Caribbean stage in Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad (pp. 298–313). Caribbean popular comedy shows frequently represented obeah, yet it appears to have been rarely discussed in scholarly literature. Theater was a way to play out post-colonial debates about obeah, and it became, for instance, “the central site for the representation of the Caribbean’s link to Africa” (p. 313). This section, albeit short, helps readers understand popular representations of obeah. One important discussion throughout the book describes the symbolic manifestations and representations of the Africanness of the Caribbean, or rather its blackness, which is illustrated by the distancing of obeah.
Given my field of study, I found chapter 6 most compelling. From the point of view of state activity (as examined through previous chapters), obeah is conceived as “bounded by specialist-client interactions involving financial exchange” (p. 208), but what exactly was the nature of the rituals? How were these practices interpreted and understood from the point of view of those engaged in them? Paton shows that healing and spiritual work is fluid and that the range of activities is multiple. As she writes, “we need to avoid using the court cases in the same way as did the colonial state, as a means of homogenizing the range of healing practice that existed in the Caribbean and of condensing a wide range of everyday activity into a singular object, ‘obeah’” (p. 209). Because Paton did not directly access obeah practitioners, she analyzed “the evidence of prosecutions in the light of the stereotype of the obeah practitioner” (p. 210). One example is the representation of obeahmen as old “solitary individuals of African descent who lived in isolated rural cabins or caves” and were sometimes associated with a “grotesque” physical appearance (p. 210). However, Caribbean spiritual practices, as Putnam (2012) has shown, can be characterized by transnational mobility and long-distance connections, contrary to the stereotype of the isolated practitioner. Paton’s point of entry in this chapter is based on “the fragmentary stories of the people who found themselves subject to prosecution for obeah” (p. 14).
As an anthropologist, I would have loved to read more on self-representation. Indeed, given the methodology used in this research, is it possible to develop a perspective on self-identification? Moreover, can we have access to everyday practices through newspapers and written archives? My point here is to say that everyday practices and discourses of self-identification might be reachable with specific methodological tools such as ethnography and particularly through direct observation and in-depth interviews with obeah practitioners (Meudec 2017). If obeah was “a telling category over a long period” (p. 2), how do we get to the stories told by the subjects of this study? I wonder if an approach combining written history (archives, newspapers, court cases) and oral history or ethnography could have been considered in this research. In this way, testimonies of the elderly in the Caribbean could have been added to the study of ‘obeah prosecutions from the inside’, as the title of chapter 6 reads.
Even if there has been “substantial change in the public status of obeah in the Caribbean in the recent past” (p. 5), it remains illegal in much of the Anglo-Creole Caribbean. Obeah is in part a product of criminal justice systems; however, it was a “mutual construction, made in the spaces between the powerful’s imposition and the colonized’s resistance; but also, and more importantly, moving beyond assumptions about the permanent division between the always-imposing colonizer and the always-resisting colonized” (p. 8). In her book, Paton actually avoids some of the risks in writing about obeah by not reiterating the “exoticization of Caribbean life” (p. 7) or reducing obeah to a “construction of the colonizer” (p. 8). This research focuses on British colonial policies, but I would like to see a historical analysis of the Caribbean that is not divided according to existing linguistic boundaries. There is a great deal of work to be done in this area, and it is, I admit, very complicated. Historical research would enrich the development of a trans-linguistic perspective, combining works written in colonial languages (English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese) and in local languages such as Creole (Haitian, Martiniquais, St. Lucian). As Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1992: 22) has stated, “the Caribbean is nothing but contact,” and we might try to develop research that crosses linguistic or colonial borders or to conduct comparative research “across linguistic boundaries” (ibid.: 36).
This book is an outstanding work on the construction and reconstruction of obeah as a discursive category and legal artifact. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Afro-Caribbean religions and spiritualities and in Afro-American religions more broadly.
University of Toronto
BilbyKenneth M. and Jerome S. Handler. 2004. “Obeah: Healing and Protection in West Indian Slave Life.” Journal of Caribbean History 38: 153–183.
MeudecMarie. 2017. “Ordinary Ethics of Spiritual Work and Healing in St. Lucia, or Why Not to Use the Term Obeah.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 21 (52): 17–32.
MeudecMarie. 2013. “La sorcellerie comme pratique morale et éthique, une économie morale de l’Obeah à Ste-Lucie: Processus de moralisation, de légitimation et usages des évaluations morales entourant les pratiques et les praticiens de/associés à l’Obeah.” PhD diss. Québec City: Université Laval.
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)| false . Meudec, Marie 2013. “ La sorcellerie comme pratique morale et éthique, une économie morale de l’Obeah à Ste-Lucie: Processus de moralisation, de légitimation et usages des évaluations morales entourant les pratiques et les praticiens de/associés à l’Obeah.” Québec City: Université Laval.
PutnamLara. 2012. “Rites of Power and Rumors of Race: The Circulation of Supernatural Knowledge in the Greater Caribbean, 1890–1940.” In Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing ed. Diana Paton and Maarit Forde243–267. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
PÉREZ, Elizabeth, Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions, 320 pp., notes, glossary, bibliography, index. New York: New York University Press, 2016. Paperback, $28.98. ISBN 9781479839551.
Of the various arguments presented in Religion in the Kitchen, two seem to stand out. Elizabeth Pérez, a renowned expert in Afro-Atlantic religious formations, uses her ethnography of Lucumi—a form of Caribbean and Latin American religion of West and Central African origin (popularly called Santería)—in the southern communities of the city of Chicago to interpret its historical meaning, detail its practices and rituals, and describe the processes of incorporation of a religious form that has a dimension of political resistance. Pérez explains the foundations of this complex practice, which is often considered a subaltern cult because it is somewhat obscure, illogical, and grounded in a form of bodily education rather than in a major intellectual and literary tradition. In other words, the author, like other researchers, tries to demonstrate how the religious market is based on deep internal differences and produces notions of distinction based on ingrained ideas of civilizational superiority. Lucumi is not only the stronghold of a long-standing historical experience that has a fundamental dimension in slavery, the memory of which is manifest in innumerable rituals and worldviews. It also asserts itself today as a specific public space, where problems experienced individually gain a collective dimension that is shared and integrated into a small society of rights and duties.
The way in which this society is reproduced on a daily basis is the second major axis of this work, although in fact it is the fundamental theme that structures the book. The author argues that, contrary to what institutional and accepted views on the reproduction of religious institutions and activities suggest, there is a set of practices that are disparaged because of their apparent banality yet are fundamental for the construction of a religious daily life. These practices acquire an even more salient influence in these cults of African origin. Throughout the book, Pérez interprets the importance of what she calls ‘micropractices’, namely, those practices that develop in the kitchens of Ilé Laroye, the religious community in which she conducted her fieldwork. When attempting to interpret how official functions and prescriptions are dependent on these daily micropractices, Pérez offers us a necessarily different look at Lucumi—not only the religious practice itself, but also the social world that surrounds and ultimately sustains it.
This research agenda allows the author to emphasize the role of individuals who are marginalized by the official history of the cult as well, due to their involvement in activities considered to be minor. These are the people working in spaces such as the communities’ kitchens, where Pérez spent a substantial amount of time. From this perspective, the ethnographic account puts women in a prominent place in the reproduction of this cult, while highlighting the importance of sexual minorities in Lucumi dynamics. In conversations in kitchens, usually in the context of ceremonial preparations, the beliefs, religious precepts, and master narratives that underpin this religious practice are instilled in believers. The centrality of these micropractices defies a ritualistic and educated notion of religious ritual, largely legitimized by religious leaders themselves. Based on her detailed investigation, the author describes how these micropractices around the preparation and consumption of food create a religious community. Thus, from the kitchen and from the table, a distinct representation of the religious community emerges.
Pérez’s ethnography contributes to the debate about how hierarchies are defined within a religious community and how daily practice is built. By deciphering in detail the inner logics of these Afro-Atlantic religious formations in a situated religious field and giving them meaning, this book reinforces their status. At the same time, it gives visibility and power to the individuals who occupy subordinate places within it. While Pérez’s work enlightens us about this little-known religious world and challenges the external representation of its power relations, it delves less into the relation of these individuals to the world beyond the religious community. The book describes the historical role of churches in the integration of the African populations in Chicago—especially the formation of the ‘Black Belt’ of the South Side—as the result of waves of migration from the country’s Southern states. The churches offered spiritual and material support and provided social capital to individuals in a situation of discrimination and segregation. They thus created a public, civic, and political space in the middle of the modern ghetto and worked to maintain the historical memory of this population.
Considering this social background, some questions could be raised about the role these communities have in a large public and political arena. If Pérez’s book makes hidden practices and individuals visible, if they are justly ennobled through her ethnographic account, it is not clear how this nobleness reverberates outside the religious community. The hierarchies that prevail both within and between religious communities are widely reproduced outside the religious arena. Kitchen practices might have the power to solidify social bonds and even to create a practical and symbolic space that is politically and historically significant—a singular idiom of gestures and meanings. But this specific power, this singular social capital, must exist within the streets of Chicago, where an omnipresent penal state (Wacquant 2008) works as a powerful social regulator.
The ennoblement of the domestic space is an extraordinary political gesture, but this does not eliminate the structural subordination of the domestic arena in a wider social and political space, especially because the power obtained in the domestic realm is historically linked with insufficient participation in public affairs. What is the voice of these people? How do they relate to political power in the face of a public space necessarily characterized by the presence of institutions other than religious ones, especially those that involve the foundations of democracy and the rule of law? Can they have a voice beyond that which refers them to the political and public discourse of their religious leaders? How do religious communities today politicize the problems that afflict their believers—maladies that are described in this book (p. 100) as the result of unhappiness, illness, or misfortune?
These questions, which probably go beyond the author’s main objectives, do not detract from the enormous achievements of this work. In examining the apparently banal micropractices that take place in subaltern spaces of daily life such as the kitchen, Pérez provides a valuable analysis of the invisible modes of reproduction of a religious cult.
Universidade de Lisboa
SCHMIDT, Jalane D., Cachita’s Streets: The Virgin of Charity, Race, and Revolution in Cuba, 376 pp., notes, references, index. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. Paperback, $26.95. ISBN 9780822359371.
In post-revolutionary Cuba, religion has attracted considerable research. While earlier scholarly attention centered on the island’s institutionalized churches (Crahan 1985; Kirk 1989), more recently the focus has shifted to popular spirituality. Not only Afro-Cuban religions (Holbraad 2012; Ochoa 2010; Wirtz 2007), but also spiritism (Espírito Santo 2015) have been the objects of a vibrant scholarship. In her book, Cachita’s Streets: The Virgin of Charity, Race, and Revolution in Cuba, Jalane D. Schmidt, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, combines these diverse strands of Cuban religiosity by focusing on the Virgin of Charity from an ethno-historical perspective. The Virgin of Charity—Cachita—has previously been examined as a symbol of Cuban national identity from a local historical perspective (Portuondo Zúñiga 1995), as well as among exiled Miami Cubans (Tweed 1997). However, a comprehensive account that explores the Virgin’s multiple meanings in Cuba, both now and in the past, had been missing until Schmidt’s study.
Schmidt’s main argument is that the Virgin of Charity is a potent, multi-vocal symbol through which Cubans have created notions of nationalism, race, and politics that have helped to make sense of their lives in the midst of historical turmoil. The book describes how such diverse actors as eighteenth-century slaves, Catholic clergy, ordinary Cubans, and even socialist political authorities have used the Virgin of Charity to create contested and competing notions of Cubanness. Paying detailed attention to a broad range of historical records, Schmidt shows how Cubans have debated the Virgin’s race and political implications from the seventeenth century up to the present. She also provides an account of the changing political meanings that both ordinary people and colonial, republican, and revolutionary state authorities have given to streets and street processions as sites of Cuban popular culture throughout the island’s history. While the book geographically crosses over the entire country, its emphasis is on the eastern Cuban village of El Cobre, the birthplace of the Virgin’s cult.
Through her focus on the Virgin of Charity as the central figure of popular Catholicity that both draws elements from and contributes elements to Afro-Cuban religions and spiritism, Schmidt builds a historical account of the changing landscape of Cuban spirituality, avoiding artificial categorizations when describing the island’s various religious influences. She also situates the Virgin in a wider national, social, and political context, showing the changing relationship between the state and the Catholic Church. The book reveals their at times tension-laden and at other times more amicable relationship throughout the colonial, republican, and revolutionary periods.
Through the careful analysis of varied historical records, the author creates a detailed description of Cubans’ devotion to the Virgin and of the political debates surrounding the Virgin throughout Cuban history. However, as an anthropologist, I would like to have seen more ethnographic material, which I am sure Schmidt has in abundance. I found the occasional ethnographic accounts the most interesting part of the book, as they livened up the historical records. I would also have appreciated hearing more reflections on the Virgin as a gendered symbol. Schmidt occasionally discusses the gendered meanings attributed to the Virgin, such as the fascinating account of the street as a male space and the dangers of the Virgin (as a respectable female figure) entering such a space (pp. 105–107), but often the attention to race bypasses gender in Schmidt’s analysis of the Virgin’s cultural and social meanings. For example, I would like to have learned more about how Schmidt’s interlocutors related to the Virgin as a mother and whether there were contested understandings in this regard.
These remarks aside, Schmidt has made an important contribution to our understanding of the multiplicity of meanings that the Virgin of Charity has as the key symbol of Cuba’s national identity. The book will certainly be of interest to scholars of religion beyond Cuba and to researchers concerned with questions of race, politics, and popular culture.
University of Helsinki
STOLLER, Paul, The Sorcerer’s Burden: The Ethnographic Saga of a Global Family, 209 pp., references. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Hardback, $35. ISBN 9783319318042.
The Sorcerer’s Burden is the third novel by the American anthropologist Paul Stoller. Unlike his two previous works of fiction, Jaguar (1999) and Gallery Bundu (2005), which deal respectively with the problem of African migrants in the United States and the personal issues of memory, a long-ago past, and regret, this new novel by Stoller takes us to the heart of the world of Songhay sorcery. It tells the story of Omar Dia, the son of one of the most famous sorcerers in Niger, Issaka Dia. Omar lives in Paris, is married, and has two children. He is an example of the successful migrant who has managed to build a prolific academic career, holding a university chair in comparative literature at the Sorbonne. He spends his time teaching, giving lectures, and writing about French philosophy, African art, and literature. His life seems enviable until his African past begins to haunt him. He gets a phone call from his brother in Niger telling him that their father is very sick and may die soon. Omar, who had been trying to run away from his roots for a long time, is summoned to visit his dad in Tillaberi, as the great sorcerer needs to see his first-born child to reveal to him the secrets of sorcery before it is too late.
Omar reluctantly travels to Niger to meet his father. During his stay in Tillaberi, Omar realizes how different this world is from his peaceful life in Paris. In his traditional family compound, he acknowledges that this is also part of his world, and he regrets having left it to pursue other interests. He knows, after several weeks, that he cannot run away anymore from his past and his blood obligations. He accepts the sorcerer’s burden and becomes the inheritor of his father. Before dying, Issaka Dia shares his knowledge with his son and introduces him to the world of Songhay sorcery. In receiving this knowledge, Omar becomes the follower of a sorcerous tradition that goes back to Sonni Ali Ber, the founder of the Songhay empire in the fifteenth century. Now the problem for Omar is how to reconcile the world of sorcery with his academic and family life in Paris.
The novel is divided into three parts: the first takes place in Paris, the second in Tillaberi, and the third fluctuates between Niger and Paris. Each of the parts deals with a very real social problem: how to live a life divided between worlds. This divide is a recurrent topic not only in Stoller’s fiction but also in his academic books. One of his main interests has been the existential confrontation of apparently incommensurable worlds. This incommensurability is an issue that is the result of his personal engagement in the world of sorcery for more than 15 years, both as an apprentice and as a scholar.
For many years Paul Stoller has told us that if living in between worlds is complicated, it is even harder to write about it. How can one describe what is impossible to describe logically? How can one narrate a supernatural feat without been mocked by academia? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Stoller has turned to literature. In fiction, one can be more adventurous, more licensed to experiment with language and creativity in ways that would be unthinkable in academic writing, which is marked by constraint and rigidity.
Although The Sorcerer’s Burden sometimes appears to be overly optimistic in its development, it does not do so in a way that could end up being romanticized or sentimental. On the contrary, the novel introduces us to the real world of sorcery in a way that is evocative of Stoller’s earlier works. It is fiction but not completely fiction: one has to remember that it is the life experience of the author as an apprentice of Songhay sorcery that constitutes the inspiration for this book. It is therefore possible to read this novel not only as pure fiction but also as a semi-biographical narrative. When immersing themselves in Stoller’s agile and fluid narrative, readers will decide how to interpret the amazing and incomprehensible stories of Songhay sorcery that fill the pages of this book. In the end, The Sorcerer’s Burden brings us back to the beginning of Stoller’s inquiries about sorcery, the inexplicable, and the problem of radical fieldwork experience—topics that made him famous in the 1980s and that have forced him to live permanently in between worlds.
Sergio González Varela
Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí
THORNTON, Brendan Jamal, Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic, 288 pp., notes, works cited, index. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016. Hardback, $69.95. ISBN 9780813061689.
Brendan Jamal Thornton’s Negotiating Respect is a rich and innovative ethnographic investigation into the impact of Pentecostal conversions within Villa Altagracia, an urban Dominican barrio. It is original both in its content—Thornton brings seemingly incommensurate fields of identity into conversation—and in its analytical prowess. The reader is left convinced that Pentecostal conversion exerts a considerable amount of meaning-making and social currency in this particular community.
Thornton’s thorough text is diffuse. Its ethnographic reach extends over a wide variety of lived realities in Villa Altagracia. The title itself does the book a disservice as it promises less than the book delivers. This is not a book solely about Pentecostalism and masculinity in the way that, say, Adriaan van Klinken’s (2013) Transforming Masculinities in African Christianity is. This is a deep reading of a particular barrio and is attendant to all the rhythms, quirks, and realities that are part of its day-to-day life. As such, the book examines masculinity as one among a host of topics that include religious pluralism, moral precepts, and gang life. The richness of this diversity cannot be overstated.
With minimal attention to beliefs and rituals, Thornton hones in on the public nature of Pentecostal conversion, which is a regular feature of barrio life. He seeks observable elements that answer the question, how does conversion to Pentecostalism in this particular barrio result in public displays of identity? The text highlights the consequences of conversion, as opposed to the reasons behind it. The author uses three examples to “provide new insight into the social dynamics of Pentecostal culture” (p. 1): religious pluralism, public morality, and street gangs.
Thornton offers an argument that situates Pentecostal cosmology within the wider religious landscape. Instead of setting Pentecostalism as strictly oppositional to other religions, he sees it as continuous with the local religious precepts. He delves deep into the story of one particular woman who fell ill and tried a variety of spiritual resources for succor. In doing so, Thornton illustrates that all religions of the barrio have shared beliefs about the mystical and misfortune (p. 61). The woman, Mariela Consuelo, eventually converted to Pentecostalism, but her conversion did not result in shifting beliefs because the religions she encountered had a “shared grammar of belief” (p. 74).
What is unique about Pentecostal conversion is not believing differently but being different. This conclusion can be reached when analyzing the wider community rather than simply focusing on Pentecostalism, and it is this wider lens that serves Thornton well. The centrality of being different, rather than believing differently, leaves Pentecostals within Villa Altagracia concerned about compliance with a set of ascetic prohibitions and rules. How these regulations are publically perceived “is the message” (p. 102).
The most captivating chapters are those where Thornton extends his ethnographic observations into a striking comparison between two prominent groups in the barrio: street gangs and Pentecostal churches. Both are highly organized, are filled with rites and rituals, and follow strict rules—the gangs even call their set of rules la biblia (p. 139). Both also provide a sense of belonging that resists the modes of political and economic exclusion experienced by residents of the barrio. The relationship between these two groups is not merely one of comparative analysis; it is also a relationship of respect. Entry into the gang corresponds with a lifelong commitment. There are no acceptable reasons for leaving the gang, save one: conversion to Pentecostalism. Conversion, true conversion accompanied by all the ascetic trappings, not only extricates one from gang life but cancels all debts that may be owed to enemy gangs.
Not only is this novel ethnographic material rich and surprising, but it occasions some of Thornton’s most insightful analytical work. He wrestles with the topic of masculinity, trying to answer how converts transpose their masculinity between a register of violent (gang) and macho (barrio) masculinity into an ascetic rejection of those identities. He concludes that it occurs through testimony. The articulation of past maleness (regardless of depravity) travels with the men into Pentecostal conversion and plays a vital role in their claims to masculinity.
The strength of Thornton’s analysis lies in his circumspection. He never overextends or transposes his local observations into extravagant universal claims. Nonetheless, his approach should be universally applied to Pentecostalism. Thornton truly engages Pentecostalism as a public religion. Most ethnographies of Pentecostalism fail to stray outside the church walls, content to imagine how events and discourse within those walls impact lives outside them. Thornton confronts the religion’s public nature by actually encountering it in the public domain, deep in the pores of the barrio. It is an effort and approach that is worth emulating.
For all of its strengths, the book is sorely lacking any semblance of critique. Thornton speaks mostly or exclusively to the positive identity-forming aspects of Pentecostalism. This is natural as his sources largely remain entrenched in the Pentecostal life. But there are many others, obliquely referred to on occasion, who leave Pentecostal churches because of their intense strictures. What occasions such reversals? What about the public identity of Pentecostalism that is not salutary? And for those who remain, what are the negative consequences of this new identity? Answering such questions would have provided a critical perspective.
Nonetheless, Thornton’s Negotiating Respect is highly recommended for a wide range of readers, including those interested in Pentecostalism, masculinity, pluralism, lived religion, and the Dominican Republic. The broad ethnographic material, the novel approach, and the deep analytical work that Thornton provides certainly enrich our understanding of Pentecostal conversion.