ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

In search of common language: toward a dialogue between the anthropology of Islam, Christianity and Judaism
Location Science Site/Engineering E102
Date and Start Time 07 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3


  • Ammara Maqsood (University of Oxford) email
  • Leslie Fesenmyer (University of Oxford) email
  • Giulia Liberatore (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Yulia Egorova (Durham University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Giulia Liberatore
Discussant Yulia Egorova, Ammara Maqsood

Short Abstract

This panel stems from an interest to create a bridge between the anthropology of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Its aim is not only to draw these disciplinary strands into a conversation, but also to consider whether this engagement on shared concerns can be grounded in a common language.

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to create a bridge across the anthropological study of monotheistic faiths. Despite theological and historical commonalities and overlaps in the contemporary study of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, there appears to be little conversation between these disciplinary strands. For instance, debates on ethical self-cultivation and moral ambivalence in Islam rarely consider parallel tensions in Pentecostalism between "born again" Christian life and attachment to past relations and ways of being. There are also important overlaps in discussions about citizenship among diasporic Christian, Muslim or Jewish populations, which are rarely explored in much depth. The aim of this panel is not only to draw these disciplinary strands into a conversation, but also to consider whether this engagement on shared concerns can be grounded in a common language. Can the recent discourse on ethics serve as a meeting space? Is there any value in returning to the older and broader category of "religion"? Does the anthropology of humanism offer another alternative for situating discussions around the tensions in leading moral lives within Muslim, Christian and Jewish worlds? Can existential anthropology, with its focus on the complexities and ambiguities of lived experiences, offer potential points of connection? We welcome proposals from scholars working within the anthropology of Islam, Judaism and Christianity interested in initiating a cross-cutting dialogue, as well as those concerned with debating the broader value of approaches such as, but not limited to, the anthropology of ethics, existential anthropology, humanism, citizenship, selfhood and subjectivity.


Abrahamic dreaming

Author: Iain Edgar (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper charts the varying trajectories and contexts of the true dream tradition within the Abrahamic faiths with a view to analysing and explaining historical and contemporary continuities and discontinuities in dream interpretive practices.

Long Abstract

One of the fascinating areas of convergence and difference in the Abrahamic faiths is their historical and contemporary discourses on night dreaming and the imagination; each Abrahamic faith has seen dreaming at some time as a potential portal to divine revelation from the story of Joseph and his dream interpretations in both the Hebrew Bible and the Koran, to the mystical kabbalah and Islamic Sufi dream traditions, and to the many dream accounts recorded at the time of the birth of Jesus and continued to this day, particularly amongst African Christian churches. This paper will chart the varying trajectories and contexts of the true dream tradition amongst these faiths with a view to analysing and explaining historical and contemporary continuities and discontinuities.

'Muslims' as example and threat: how Kenyan Pentecostals in London navigate the present

Author: Leslie Fesenmyer (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Adopting an existential anthropological lens, this paper explores how Kenyan Pentecostals attempt to live 'good' Christian lives in multi-religious, multi-ethnic East London by drawing inspiration in part from an unlikely source, their Muslim contemporaries.

Long Abstract

Many Kenyan Pentecostals live, work, and worship in East London, an area well-known for its tremendous racial, ethnic, and religious diversity and as a (contested) site of urban regeneration. As they attempt to 'live as Londoners do' without compromising their devotion to God, Muslims, or rather their imaginings of 'Muslims', shape how they navigate life in the city. 'Muslims' simultaneously - and for many of the same reasons - offer an example to emulate and pose a threat to the United Kingdom as a historically Christian nation. While dynamics between Christians and Muslims in pluralistic societies are often approached in terms of struggles for recognition, I approach them here in terms of a 'spiritual battle' because it is in these terms that Kenyan Pentecostals struggle to live lives as 'good' Christians. I begin by exploring their awareness of and interactions with Muslims, both in Kenya and London, as a way to understand what they believe needs to be done to re-claim London as a city of God. I then consider how the 'prosperity gospel' offers these born-again Christians a productive mode of being that allows them to navigate this multi-religious, multi-ethnic setting. In doing so, I am interested in how this seemingly unlikely source of inspiration for Kenyan Pentecostals might give us new purchase on what it means to arrive in the present. The paper thus suggests that existential anthropology has much to offer the study of religious lives in pluralistic societies.

Social interactions as a field of ethical practice in Islam and beyond

Author: Emanuel Schaeublin (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

The Islamic tradition frames interactions as a field of ethical practice closely connected to acts of worship. I discuss the implications of this link in view of ethnographic participation, the anthropological analysis of Islamic practices, and the study of Judaism and Christianity.

Long Abstract

This paper reviews Anderson's (2011) proposition of taking into consideration social interactions as a field of self-constitution in the anthropology of Islam. The Islamic discursive tradition conceives interactions (mu'āmalāt) as a field of ethical practice distinct from and closely connected to worship ('ibāda) (Hallaq 2009, 2014). This paper first discusses mu'āmalāt on the level of ethnographic participation based on my own fieldwork in Nablus, Palestine. Second, I show how mu'āmalāt in Nablus (such as greetings, simple gifts between neighbours, and market transactions) are indeed central to the care for virtuous Muslim selves. They constitute a field where one's ethical behaviour is observed and read by others. While no one can know what goes on in the heart of somebody else (the locus of his or her intentions), reading signs in the behaviour of others is extremely widespread and occasionally people interfere into the practice of others (for a historical discussion of which, see Cook 2001). In interactions, it is important to be attentive to both the other's inner self and his or her public appearance. The care for others can take various forms: observation, visits of homes, asking about emotional states, catering for others, and disciplining others. Eventually, I raise the question whether interactions as a central concern of ethical practice similarly emerges in the the anthropology of Judaism and the anthropology of Christianity.

'Christ at the checkpoint': a post-secular approach to evangelical Palestinian Christians

Author: Lena Rose (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper shows that a post-secular approach can render visible religious communities hitherto unnoticed by ethnographic research, such as evangelical Palestinian Christians, and contribute to a fuller understanding of these and thus the anthropologies of the three monotheistic religions.

Long Abstract

This paper challenges the employment of religious identities merely as social and cultural markers in the context of the Middle East. By framing research on evangelical Palestinian Christians in a post-secular approach (e.g. Fountain 2013), this paper argues that taking seriously the ontological projects of the monotheistic religions in their own right provides a richer explorations of these, and opens a fruitful discourse between the anthropology of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The case study of a biennial conference organised by Palestinian evangelicals challenges the understanding of Palestinian Christianity to date: 'Christ at the Checkpoint', dubbed an "evangelical intifada" (Awad 2014), is a call to both Western and Palestinian evangelicals to engage critically with their biblical understanding of Israel/Palestine and their resulting ethical and political commitment. The conference positions evangelical Palestinians firmly as part of the larger Palestinian struggle, but also as part of global, mostly pro-Israel, Christian Zionist evangelicalism, which views the very existence of Palestinian evangelicals as an anomaly in their exegesis of the Old Testament. By highlighting the ontological fault lines within evangelicalism in Israel/Palestine and abroad, Palestinian evangelical Christians seek to create a discourse around appropriate political and ethical commitments on the basis of their faith.

Holy nations: towards an anthropology through Abrahamic communities

Author: Mark Calder (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Jews, Christians and Muslims locate themselves within communities of faith, the imagined identity of which can decisively influence experiences of self. How might anthropologists approach selfhood differently through attentiveness to the discourses which produce and describe these communities?

Long Abstract

Recent ethnographic accounts of Christian contexts, especially those of Eastern and "Oriental" traditions, call into question Dumont's famous claim that Christian selfhood is "the individual in relation to God". On the contrary, Christians frequently experience themselves firstly as belonging within the ecclesia, or "church", described in the New Testament as "the Body of Christ" and, drawing on a Hebrew Biblical image, "the Holy Nation". This paper argues, following theologian John Milbank, that this self-location of Christian lives within the church has been occluded by social anthropologists' assumption of a secular social within which all lives are imagined to reside. This naturalized social, as a context within which the church can be located alongside other (social) phenomena such as the nation or clan, would therefore make it harder to discern alternative ecclesiological narrations and experiences of self. But if the sociological is irrevocably secular, then the ecclesiological is surely inescapably Christian. This reframing of Christian selfhood, however, seems to draw the study of Christian selfhood closer to the study of Muslim and Jewish selfhood, in which the individual in relation to God is less likely to be assumed. How can post-secular anthropology be enhanced by attending to Christian, Muslim and Jewish selfhood within a called, redeemed or chosen people, and how might an ecclesiological anthropology differ from or harmonise with anthropologies which begin with the 'ummah or Jewish conceptions of the Holy Nation?

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