Volume 92, #4

Fall 2019

SPECIAL COLLECTION:

Institutions, Infrastructures, and Religious Sociality

phone: 202-994-3215  e-mail: ifer@gwu.edu

 

Volume 92, #4 • Fall 2019

 

SPECIAL COLLECTION:

Institutions, Infrastructures, and Religious Sociality

 

INTRODUCTION

by Courtney Handman, , The University of Texas at Austin

and Minna Opas, , University of Turku

 

A Few Grass Huts: Denominational Ambivalence and Infrastructural Form in Colonial New Guinea

Courtney Handman, University of Texas at Austin

In this article, I analyze the dynamics of Protestants’ ambivalence about their own institutional existence in the context of inter-denominational fighting between Lutheran and Catholic missions in colonial New Guinea. I argue that denominational conflict became a crucial part of the Lutheran missiological method. In particular, it gave them the chance to embrace their Lutheran infrastructure by comparing what they thought of as its life-giving capacities to the dead or false forms of Catholic missionization. Ethnographically, I focus on a moment in the 1930s when two Catholic priests were killed by local people, as well as the ensuing Lutheran response. The priests were killed, according to the Lutherans, because they did not have a spirit-filled infrastructure. The institutional life of the denomination is recognized and yet mitigated through a process of animation, a way of making the most mundane infrastructure the stuff of life-giving force. [Keywords: Anthropology of Christianity, denominationalism, infrastructure, Papua New Guinea, colonialism, missionaries]

 

Of Congregations and Corporations: Schism, Transcendence, and the Religious Incorporate in the Philippines

Scott MacLochlainn, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

ABSTRACT—This article describes how, amidst Christian schism in the Philippines, the corporate form emerges as a central facet through which religious communities come to be understood. Centered on the legal fallout of a schism in the United Methodist Church in the Philippines that began in 2011, the article discusses how the schism foregrounded the necessary legal identities of religious groups in the Philippines as corporations. Having inherited the corporate model of religious organization from the United States’ colonial administration in the early 20th century, the legal configuration of the religious corporation is often at odds with how Christian actors themselves understand the divinely informed nature of the congregation. While such legal processes are undertaken to resolve matters of property ownership and church finances, they also reveal how legal bureaucratic regimes are involved in conceptualizing, abstracting, and circulating particular communal forms of subjectivity. [Keywords: Corporations, congregations, religious subjectivity, Christian bureaucracy, religious communities, Philippines]

 

Keeping Boundaries in Motion: Christian Denominationalism and Sociality in Amazonia

Minna Opas, University of Turku

For the Amazonian Yine people, Christian denominationalism provides an important means for organizing social life. Denominations in this context are not, however, to be understood as clearly bounded entities. Simultaneously with forming and renewing denominational boundaries, the Yine continuously cross, dissolve, and redefine them. This article attempts to understand the denominational dynamics among the Yine people, and in particular their back and forth movement between Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Pentecostalism, without viewing their denominational allegiances as subordinate to other forms of social organization or as something religiously insincere. Seeking inspiration from the ethnography of personhood and humanity in Amazonia, it suggests that denominations among the Yine can be understood to exist as unstable forms of belonging, as “thickenings” of different kinds of Christian moral relations to sociality, that take place on a continuum pictured not as a line but rather as a space. At the more general level the article shows how Christian vernacular denominationalism is likely to not be based on dogmatic differences but to be rather something that comes to be in practice. Furthermore, the article makes explicit how denominational boundaries are not always of the one and the same kind everywhere but vary between denominations. [Keywords: Christianity, denominationalism, boundary-work, Indigenous Amazonia, Peru, Yine]

 

“It’s Almost Like Paying for Praying”: Giving Critiques and the Discursive Management of Denominational Difference

Jessica Hardin, Rochester Institute of Technology

This article explores how in Samoa, Christians from diverse denominational backgrounds regularly talk about and critique church giving practices ranging from weekly announcements of offerings to tithing. By comparing Pentecostal and mainstream Christian giving practices, Pentecostals discursively created denominational difference through valuation: the comparative process of differentiating between ways of giving. Pentecostals created a socially embedded subject position through giving critiques, demonstrating how denominational comparison is religious practice. By looking at the metapragmatics of giving—that is, how accounts of giving are used in everyday life—discussions of giving become a primary means to navigate the institutional mediation of individualism evident in giving practices. This article thus shows how critiques of giving collapse the distinction between “religious” and “economic” spheres showing that they are often co-constitutive. [Keywords: Christianity, denomination, value, Samoa, tithing, giving, faith, morality]

 

Denominations as (Theological) Institutions: An Afterword

Joseph Webster, University of Cambridge