What is happening within Christianity today? This is a question that is exciting to study, but which has received little attention among anthropologists, says Norwegian anthropologist Edle Lerang Nes.
For hundreds of years, Christianity has been the most important religion in Europe and some other places on this planet. But while everybody is studying Islam, Christianity seems to be ignored.
As Edle Lerang Nes tells in an interview with me, parts of Christian culture actually is “endangered culture” and therefore a field for “urgent anthropology".
Nes studied “chapel culture” - part of Revival Christianity - which broke out in Norway at the end of the 18th century. It was a layman’s movement in opposition to church authorities. A personal relationship to God was important, combined with a sober and hardworking lifestyle without dance, merriment, music, or card-playing ( >> overview Christianity in Norway). How is Christian life developping on this island? Nes conducted fieldwork on the small island if Finnøy, in Southwestern Norway where there are no pubs or restaurants, but the approximately 1,700 inhabitants can choose between five different chapels and a church.
Her research also reminds us of how important religion is for many people in rural areas that are often ignored by researchers and the mainstream press.
>> read the interview (website of the research project Culcom, University of Oslo)
There is not much material on anthropology and christianity online, but Ingie Hovland (from Anthropology Matters) has a large section of posts on her blog about the anthropology of christianity - part of her two book projects - where she also reviews several books and papers.
I found an interesting blog post about being Christian and anthropologist. Being a Christian anthropologist raises difficult questions, Katherine Cooper writes, among others because of the tenet of cultural relativism:
All practices and beliefs, whether shocking to a Westerner or not, are said to ‘make sense’ within the society that they are located. Such views cause problems for Christians. Christianity is an ultimate truth claim with an absolute framework for morality located in the character and commands of a personal God. How do we square our belief in such a claim with studying a subject that inherently denies the validity of such claims?
She also links to the paper by Dean E. Arnold Why Are There So Few Christian Anthropologists? Reflections on the Tensions between Christianity and Anthropology
Last year, anthropologist Gabriele Marranci wrote an interesting blog post called Terrorism in the name of Jesus? Everybody ignore. The Italian Christian anti-Islamic terrorist movement called Fronte Combattente Cristiano or ‘Fighting Christian Front’ has been responsible for several bomb attacks against Islamic centres and mosques:
I thought that news about the first Christian anti-Muslim terrorist group would have attracted international attention and fostered new debates. (…) But the news about a self-defined Christian terrorist and a Christian (mainly Catholic) terrorist organization has attracted virtually no attention.
For anyone truly interested in an some groundbreaking work in Anthropology regarding religion in general and christianity in particular, I recommend works by Rene Girard.
Thanks for your comment. I’ve never heard of him, but found some interviews, he seems to be very Christian and lack distance to his research field (I’ve scanned the interview very quickly, though):
There is a lively debate going on in African studies on whether religion can be defined at all and whether religion is an appropriate analytical category for an anthropological approach to imagination in African contexts. This debate points out that an overlooked aspect in studies of religion is the nexus between religion and politics studied within historically specific contexts. The reference is the latest issue of the journal Africa. I would also like to add that the distinction between Christianity and Islam belongs to a Western European narrative of a Western European identity as “civilised". Also, can someone explain why is Girard “too” Christian? In relation to what kind of atheism?
Thanks for your comment, Madalina. Regarding Girard, this was only my impression after quickly scanning the interviews. His relation to Christianity (or rather Catholicism) is discussed in Wikipedia ("The accurate relationship of Girard’s thought with both Christian faith and science is hard to explain.") Also check the book excerpt below the interview. The “We” he uses seems to mean “We Christians” and I wonder what he thinks about Islam in this excerpt?
I also think that with the focus on Islamic traditions and movements, the wide and also very dynamic field of Christian movements and currents is neglected. I think because of the media and political public focused on Islamic movements, other religious movements arise and exists are hidden. In many fields the influence of religious factors can be observed. Whether this relates to creationism, the debates about abortion or other similar topics. These themes can be hardly open up, for example, without the involvement of evangelicals and / or Pentecostal movements, with their concepts and practices. The scientific analysis of the broad field of religion is far too exciting and a restriction of the field sad. I hope it will be more research about Christian movements, without displacing on the other side other research fields.
Sorry for my English but I’m out of practice. Regards, Marcus.