- freely available
Religions 2017, 8(7), 114; doi:10.3390/rel8070114
2. Anthropology and Christianity
Coming to terms with how Christianity must be addressed, he concludes:Umbu Neka, along with the members of my own Sumbanese household, and several other friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in Sumba, forced me to take their religion seriously and to grapple with the fact that they assumed this was also the religion of tau jiawa kaka (white foreigners) like me.
While Keane was confronted with Christianity in his fieldsite, only with time did he begin to engage with it. This move to study Christianity anthropologically is the final turn toward an Anthropology of Christianity.As a first principle, in this book I treat Christianity as what Marcel Mauss [in The Gift] would have called ‘social fact.’ By social fact, I mean simply this: Christianity, its ideas, institutions, social formations, political identities, hopes, desires, fears, norms, and practices, both everyday and extraordinary, exist for an (sic) remarkably large and varied number of people. Christianity may be part of a taken-for-granted background or a fervent frontline concern, the tone of people’s engagement may be indifferent or passionate, but for them it is there.
The relationship between Anthropology as a discipline and Christianity as an enterprise of missionary and theological exploration is startlingly close (Sahlins 1996; Davies 2002; Cannell 2005, 2006; Robbins 2006; and from a different angle, Milbank 1990). Christianity is, perchance, the most recursive subject (apart from Anthropology) for Anthropology to study. Asad’s (1993) genealogy of Anthropology’s use of the term ‘religion’ draws out the specifically Christian notion behind its usage. Whereas many draw on Asad’s (1993) Genealogies of Religion (e.g., Cannell 2006) to illustrate the correlation between Anthropology and Christianity, it is important to stress that Asad sees not only an influence from Christianity, but ‘a specific Christian history’ to the view which ‘appears to anthropologists today to be self-evident’ (Asad 1993, p. 42). This specific history is one which came through the Reformation and, consequently, to make explicit something implicit in Asad’s genealogy: The anthropological view of religion is a largely Protestant one, which would not be recognised by the ‘early Christian Fathers or medieval churchmen’ (Asad 1993, p. 45; see also (Hann 2011)). Because of this situated relationship through the course of colonial expansion and missionary exploration, the anthropological view of religion, at least in Anglophonic Anthropology, it is also startlingly Anglican10. Confronting the subject from which much of Anthropology’s own tool box was borrowed, anthropologists are met with the curious problem that in a more intense way than normal, Anthropology simultaneously accepts ideas central to Christianity yet rejects the system as a whole.I find that the topic [of Sumbanese Christianity] has allowed me to address a wide range of theoretical problems that have long provoked me. Moreover, it has allowed me to do so in conversation with religious believers who are hardly likely to grant me special authority, and who speak from within a tradition that has helped shape the vocabulary of social thought in which I work.
3. Theology and Ethnography
each type [of dialogue] has numerous varieties which we have not touched upon at all. But the principle of construction is everywhere the same. Everywhere there is an intersection, consonance, or interruption of rejoinders in the open dialogue by rejoinders in the hero’s internal dialogue. Everywhere a specific sum total of ideas, thoughts, and words is passed through several unmerged voices, sounding differently in each. … the object is precisely the passing of a theme through many and various voices, its rigorous and, so to speak, irrevocable multi-voicedness and vari-voicedness.
4. On Rupture, Discontinuity, and Suddenly
For Robbins, Christianity’s soteriological narrative needs rupture. To be saved, one must first be saved from something and secondarily that saving is drastic, a ‘radical discontinuity’ (Robbins 2007, p. 11). This is true, Robbins claims, both for the institution as a whole as it broke from first century Judaism and became a predominantly Gentile movement under Paul’s leadership; and on an individual level, most notably in Paul’s own personal narrative on the road to Damascus. There is also an awaited rupture, in the millenarian anticipation for the establishment of a new order in the second coming of Christ.Christianity represents time as a dimension in which radical change is possible. It provides for the possibility, indeed the salvational necessity, of the creation of ruptures between the past, the present, and the future. The nature of such change is modeled first of all in Christianity’s relation to its own past, for it represents itself as having made a decisive break with the Judaism from which it sprang and as having inaugurated a wholly new epoch of divine-human interaction.
I will return to the notion of apophatic and kataphatic (ἀπόφασις and κατάφασις) shortly; but, first, consider the Orthodox fusion of transcendence and immanence. The Christian relation to the divine is, from the Eastern Orthodox perspective, immediate and intimate even though it is also distant and otherworldly. This paradox is resolved, Dionysius asserts, by ‘Jesus’ love for humanity’, something that is ultimately exemplified within the Christian narrative in the incarnation and crucifixion. Christ’s kenosis (‘emptying’) can then be described as ‘the philanthropy of Christ’—an act wherein ‘the super-essential has proceeded out of its hiddenness to become manifest to us’ (from Epistle III of Dionysius as seen in (Golitzin 2001, p. 486). In other words, it is the act of Christ breaking forth onto the scene of human history which is understood to resolve the incommensurability, making the transcendent immanent. This is the rupture of Orthodox Christianity, and it is a discontinuity that reorders the cosmos, making a new continuity.God truly gives Himself, the Areopagite states in Epistle II, and truly deifies, but while He is Himself the deifying gift, θεοποιὀν δῶρον, He yet transcends all the relations He enters into. He gives of His actions, ἐωέργειαι or powers, δυνάμεις, but not of His essence, οὐσία. Epistle IV makes clear the source of this gift of divine energy or power. It is Christ. In Jesus, Dionysius tells us, transcendence and immanence (here ἀπόφασις and κατάφασις, respectively) have met and been joined. Those things, he goes on, ‘which are affirmed of Jesus’ love for humanity preserve the force of transcendent negation’.
4.1. Interruption and Temporality
By the end of the prayer, he is standing before the table of prothesis. At the centre is the bread, the prosfora (προσφορά, offering or gift) wrapped in a cotton bag made specifically for this purpose. To the left are a set of veils stacked under the service books for the morning liturgy and the proskomedia (προσκομιδή, ‘an offering’—this term and prosthesis are, in this context, interchangeable). The diskos (δίσκος, patens) rests in front of the chalice (ποτήριον) under a napkin. Behind this, against the wall, is an ikon of the nativity. To one side is a cup and saucer, a candle, a thermos of hot water, a vial of fortified sweet wine, a vial of water, a stack of loose slips of paper with the names of loved ones brought by the people, and a plain knife. Above the prosfora, between it and the chalice, rest the asterisk (a ‘star’, metal frame to protect the bread) and the utensils of the sacrifice: a spoon and a spear.Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden hath been opened for all. Prepare O Ephratha, for the tree of life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin; for her womb did appear as a spiritual paradise in which is planted the divine Plant, whereof eating we shall live and not die as Adam. Christ shall be born, raising the image that fell of old. Thou has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, by thy precious Blood; nailed to the cross and pierced by the spear, thou has poured forth immortality upon mankind. O our Saviour, glorify thee.
After venerating the implements of his next task, the priest lifts the prosfora, which is a white, leavened wheat loaf. The prosfora is marked on the top crust with a Greek cross of five equally proportioned squares, the centre three each have the letters IΣ XΣ NIKA (Jesus Christ Conquers)16. To the left is one large triangle, to the right are nine small triangles. Each section is used for a specific aspect of the commemorations. The centre, once removed, is spoken of as ‘the lamb’ (ο ἀμνόσ). The large triangle represents the Theotokos, who bore Christ. Some traditions speak of the whole loaf as an image of the Theotokos, for it is from her that Christ took his flesh. The nine small triangles on the right come to represent the nine orders of saints. These are the angels, the apostles, the holy fathers, the martyrs, the ascetics, the unmercinary healers, the ancestors of Christ and the festal saints, and the saint whose liturgy is about to be celebrated (either John Chrysostomos or Basil the Great). The lower portion is used to commemorate the living and the dead, and the top portion, along with the entire left over bread, is cut and used as antideron (‘instead of the gifts’), given to the faithful after the liturgy.Fr Theophani greets the table with three half metanias15, with each, he reaching to below his knee, rises and crosses himself. He then removes the napkin which covers the chalice, folds it, and along with the first of the two spoons, gives it to the subdeacon who takes it and places it on the right (south) side of the altar. He then kisses the asterisk (or ‘star cover’), the diskos and the chalice. These are the metal implements that will house the bread, wine, and water: what will eventually be made into the Eucharistic body and blood. These are objects that only the clergy may touch.
Then,‘O God, our God, who didst send forth the heavenly Bread, the Food of the whole world, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer and Benefactor, blessing and sanctifying us: Do thou thyself bless this oblation, and receive it upon thy most heavenly altar. Remember, as thou art good and lovest mankind, those who brought this offering and those for whom they brought it; preserve us blameless in the celebration of thy divine mysteries, for sanctified and glorified is thine all-honorable and majestic name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
This final form is a signature end to all services; they begin with an exclamation of blessing, and end with a commemoration of the saints. These commemorations always begin with Christ, and name him according to the service or the festal season. This epithet, ‘who was born in a cave and laid in a manger for our salvation’ is used here in Prothesis as well as at Christmas, making the link between the service of proskomedia and the Christmas feast explicit. This action of being born, spoken from the first to last prayer of Prothesis is salvific in itself, and clothes the entire process of preparation as a metaphor of Christ’s years of preparation for his eventual role of public ministry.Glory be to Thee, Christ our God and hope, glory to Thee. May Christ, our true God, who was born in a cave and laid in a manger for our salvation, through the prayers of his most holy Mother; of the glorious Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist; of those Saints whose memory we celebrate today; of our father among the saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, and of all thy saints, have mercy upon us and save us, for he is good and loves mankind.
Conflicts of Interest
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- 2It is important to note that this is a rapidly advancing field currently. A helpful resource, including an extensive bibliography, exists at http://research.franklin.uga.edu/tea/ as part of the John Templeton funded project, ‘Theologically Engaged Anthropology’, led by Derrick Lemons (University of Georgia).
- 5That is, following the writings of Augustine of Hippo (354–430 AD).
- 6Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.3, released 4 December 1963.
- 7Decree Ad Gentes: On the Mission Activity of the Church, released 7 December 1965.
- 10Boylston (2013) critiques Hann’s (2007, 2011) complaint against the particularly Protestant bias in Anthropology of Christianity, saying that this view ‘fails to account for the vast and growing influence of charismatic and evangelical religious practice across the globe’. I agree with Boylston in recognising the growing role of global charismatic and evangelical influences, but think it worth pointing out that the recognition of the international Local Churches in the Anglican Communion (from Lambeth 1968 and 1978) was a major influence in the growth of, what in the Anglican Communion is called, the Global South.
- 11On the whole, capitalisation is used to speak of the discipline, and the lower-case form is given to denote the more informal, and often quotidian practice. This follows roughly the distinction between great and little traditions (Redfield 1952), however neither in the London community nor in the Athonite monastery were the people in anyway ‘unlettered’ (Redfield 1952, p. 42). As such, there are often greater or lesser degrees of Theology within theology. Anthony F. C. Wallace also outlines how ‘a codified and official mythology (Bible, Koran, and so on)’ and ‘less elaborated auxiliary texts (theology, metaphysics, history, ethics, and so on)’ are integrated through ‘extremely elaborate processes of symbolic interpretation’ and become what he terms ‘substantive beliefs’, ‘which are expressed not only in myths but also in the very lexicon of the people’ (Wallace 1966, p. 74). The orthographic form ‘T/theology’ is used when both the disciplinary and the folk forms are being spoken of explicitly.
- 12Asad (1993, pp. 27ff), in his use of Louis Dumont, establishes a similar understanding of religion as a social ‘all-embracing consideration’ wherein medieval religion is seen to be ‘pervading or encompassing other categories’ (Asad 1993, p. 28). Robbins (2004, p. 2) also recognizes the quotidian impact of theological teaching in the self-construction of Urapmin Christians as sinners. Bruno Latour’s work on religion (Latour 2013) also addresses this in Catholicism.
- 13Antohin (2014) makes a similar, though less theologically detailed, claim regarding the success of NGOs in Orthodox Ethiopia.
- 14See Acts 9.3 or 22.6 for the Scriptural source for this account, and the word ‘suddenly’.
- 15I spell it ‘metania’ for simplicity sake. It should be spelled μετάνοια (metanoia), and pronounced/meh-TA- nee- ah/. It is the same word that is transliterated into English as metanoia, meaning the changing of one’s mind or ‘repentance’. This connection is often lost on the lay religious observer, but is a usual item of instruction. The act of bowing in a metania should be an act of metanoia.
- 16Often the Greek is spelled with a lunate sigma (thus: IC XC NIKA), the form given here reflects what was used on the prosfora in question. See du Boulay (2009, p. 150) for a similar discussion of bread, though one which highlights some of the subtle differences between local practices, particularly in terms of which section of the bread is used for the remembrances of the living and the dead.
- 17It is important to note here that most priests would be serving with a deacon, and most service books assume both roles will be filled. While the parish had had a deacon, by the time I was granted access to witness what occurred in the Altar for research purposes, he had been ordained priest and moved to a different parish. As such, Fr Theophani sometimes says things marked for a deacon, depending on need. It is also his practice to modernise the English, favouring ‘has’ for ‘hath’, and so on.
- 18For a fuller discussion of the Orthodox Theology of time, see (Gallaher 2013).
- 19On this subject, two notes: (1) When the Ottomans took ‘Agia Sophia in Constantinople, it was mid liturgy. The liturgy was stopped, but Greeks understand this to be simply a pause. When ‘Agia Sophia is restored to the Church, the liturgy will be completed. This is a subject of pious hope and apocalyptic prophecy. (2) There is a book (Mironko 2008) a priest had just acquired at the Deanery Conference in June 2011 that addressed what should be done in case of various accidents and disasters during the Liturgy. In the event that the building be found to be on fire, the priest is to calmly remove the elements and necessary utensils to a safe location and continue the service as if there had been no interruption. On one hand, this is absurd (and caused much amusement amongst clergy and laity alike). On the other, heaven cannot be stopped it can only be delayed.
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