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Review of Fenella Cannell (ed) (2006) 'The Anthropology of Christianity' (Durham & London; Duke University Press)

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Review of Fenella Cannell (ed) (2006) 'The Anthropology of Christianity' (Durham & London; Duke University Press)
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  The Anthropology of Christianity  F ENELLA  C ANNELL  (ed.)Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2006373 pp., bibliography, index, ISBN-13: 978-0-8223-3608-2, US$84.95 (Hardback);ISBN-13: 978-0-8223-3646-4, US$23.95 (paper). The Anthropology of Christianity   is a remarkable collection of consistently insightfuldiscussions and analyses, and merits shelf space alongside classics in the anthropology of religion. However, it would be something of an intellectual tragedy if the book were consigned solely to anthropologists who specialise in religion. This volumedemands attention not just for what it says about Christianity, but also for what itilluminates about the nature of anthropology itself. As such, it deserves to be readwidely within the discipline, as well as debated and discussed in graduate classes,department lunch rooms, seminars and journals.Contributions to  The Anthropology of Christianity   are rooted in workshops held atManchester University and the London School of Economics in 1996 and 1998,which explains the dominance of authors based in the UK. Although one may beconcerned at the length of time between the initial presentation of papers and thispublication, readers will nonetheless find the articles topical, relevant and updated toinclude more recent developments.One of the key strengths of the book is its heterogeneity and, in this sense, therather ambitious title is by no means entirely unwarranted, although the collectioncannot be said to represent a comprehensive treatment of Christianity. Diverse formsof Christianity   *  including Roman Catholicism, various strands of Protestantism andthe New Churches  *  are analysed within a range of societies throughout the globe.Analysis takes place on various scales and with a wide range of anthropologicalparadigms and frameworks, some in direct conflict with others in the same volume.Recurring themes include discussion of global interconnectivity, the nature of modernity and colonialism and processes of cultural change, with particularattention to tensions between paradigms of appropriation  *  and therefore betweenperspectives of fragmentation/plurality versus those of monolithic imposition.Cannell provides a masterly introduction, reflecting and extending her 2004Malinowski Memorial Lecture (later published in the  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute  , Cannell 2005); in itself, this makes the publicationnoteworthy. Her contribution is less a comment on the chapters that follow, whichare all notable for their consistently high standard of reflection, but rather lays out afoundational groundwork for further deliberation and debate concerning therelationship between anthropology and Christianity. For Cannell, Christianity constitutes  ‘ the repressed ’  of anthropology (p. 4). The foundations of the disciplineare built on an explicit rejection of (Christian) theology and this continues to colour,and to haunt, the discipline up to the present (p. 45). It is for this reason thatanthropological explorations of Christianity were very slow to develop in comparison The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology   269  D o w n  l o a  d e  d  B y :   [ A u s t r a  l  i a n  N a t  i o n a  l  U n  i v e r s  i t y  L  i  b r a r y  ]  A t :   0  6 :  3  3   3  N o v e m  b e r   2  0  0  8  with those of other religions, only recently beginning to assume a more central placein the disciplinary agenda.Despite this newfound interest, Cannell suggests Christianity remains foranthropologists an  ‘ occluded object ’  (p. 11). The  ‘ disciplinary nervousness ’  thatsurrounds engagement with Christianity by anthropologists reflects the commonly held belief that it is  ‘ the most tediously familiar and the most threatening of thereligious traditions ’  (p. 3). In contrast, Cannell argues persuasively against  a priori  assumptions concerning Christian experience (p. 29). Christianity, rather, is seen as a ‘ complex historical object ’  and a  ‘ fundamentally paradoxical tradition ’  (p. 43). Itassumes diverse and multiple forms (pp. 22    5), although this does not entirely erasethe value of the term  ‘ Christianity  ’  itself (p. 7). The Christianity     modernity nexus isgiven fresh life in Cannell ’ s close and careful analysis (pp. 30    9).Cannell ’ s arguments are provocative, stimulating a range of potentially productivelines for further research and convincingly situating the study of Christianity as acentral and critical site of anthropological exploration. If the collection as a whole canbe seen as representative of the state of the discipline ’ s engagement with Christianity,the good news is that it has come a long way in the past few years in terms of sophistication of argument and depth of analysis. However, it seems that theanthropology of Christianity remains very much about others, and not aboutourselves, in at least two major senses.First, the Christians analysed across the diverse contributions in this volume arealmost entirely non-Western, in contrast with the contexts from which contributorswrite. That is, the Christianity discussed is  ‘ their ’  Christianity, rather than theChristianity found in  ‘ our ’  locales. Simon Coleman ’ s inspired chapter on charismaticProtestant identity in Sweden is the clear exception here. Although authors note, andat times discuss, the interrelationship between Western Christian practices and thoseat the centre of their research, such reflections often serve to highlight the paucity of anthropological research in Western contexts. Contributors, of necessity, findthemselves drawing on other disciplines in order to make analytical comparisons.Although Western Christianities should certainly not be privileged as more deservingof anthropological interest, nevertheless they demand greater attention than they havereceived historically. This is especially so given strong and ongoing globaldenominational interconnections and the noted ability of Christianity to  ‘ travel ’ across cultural and geographical distances.Second, in this volume, Christianity is rarely implicated in Western subjectivity; itappears as a subjectivity claimed only by Others. Cannell notes the  ‘ widespreadalthough not total disciplinary bias within anthropology in favor of the claim to beexercising a completely secular analytical approach ’  (p. 3). There is nothing in thecollection to threaten that assumption. The only author who considers it worthwhileto explicitly note her own religious position is Cannell herself, who, in an endnote,professes to be a  ‘ sympathetic agnostic ’  (p. 46). Were all the volume ’ s authorssimilarly positioned in relation to their subject? If an author identified as a Christian,could that have been professed or performed within the discursive space of  270  Book Reviews   D o w n  l o a  d e  d  B y :   [ A u s t r a  l  i a n  N a t  i o n a  l  U n  i v e r s  i t y  L  i  b r a r y  ]  A t :   0  6 :  3  3   3  N o v e m  b e r   2  0  0  8  anthropology? Clearly such a subjectivity, or the performance of a specific(ally)Christian identity, may be very relevant to both fieldwork and analysis, yet it remainsextremely rare for anthropologists to publicly   ‘ out ’  themselves as Christians, orengage in potentially fruitful considerations of what such a subject position may produce, constrain and entail.In many respects, authors are addressing profoundly theological issues throughoutthis thought-provoking collection. As Cannell points out, explorations into thenature of Christianity and how it can be discerned have long preoccupied theattention of theologians (p. 13). Various contributors seek to engage directly withtheological research and, indeed, The Anthropology of Christianity would likely be of value within that discipline also. It is possible that this book will help stimulate amore substantial, open and productive discussion between anthropology andtheology. It certainly illustrates that there is much to be discussed, although it alsosuggests this may be a rather awkward experience for a discipline that has historically worked quite hard to avoid this very project. Reference Cannell, F. (2005)  ‘ The Christianity of anthropology  ’ ,  Journal of the Royal Anthropology of  Anthropology  , vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 335    56. P HILIP  M. F OUNTAIN School of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Faculties  , The Australian National University  # 2008 Philip M. Fountain Feminist Anthropology: A Reader (Blackwell Anthologies in Social and CulturalAnthropology: 8) E LLEN  L EWIN  (ed.)Wiley-Blackwell, Maldon, MA, and Oxford, UK, 2006i-viii  544 pp., index, ISBN-10: 1405101962, US$52.95 (paper)The twenty-two articles contained in this reader demonstrate the growth andintellectual maturity of feminist anthropology. Despite a preponderance of con-tributors from the US, there is a good deal of variation in method and theoreticalapproach among the articles, which all situate women, gender, inequality and socialinjustice at the centre of their concerns. Delicately walking a tightrope betweenfeminism and anthropology, the critical perspectives on offer are always dual:drawing attention to inequalities in social life and to bias in anthropology. Genderedsocial experience is simultaneously instrument, weapon and target of their critique.All reiterate the need to do justice to women ’ s perspectives and to eradicate persistentforms of gendered inequality and injustice.The volume is usefully organised into five separate parts, each featuring a brief introduction that highlights its focus and main points. Part 1 lays the foundation for The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology   271  D o w n  l o a  d e  d  B y :   [ A u s t r a  l  i a n  N a t  i o n a  l  U n  i v e r s  i t y  L  i  b r a r y  ]  A t :   0  6 :  3  3   3  N o v e m  b e r   2  0  0  8
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