Cover page

Table of Contents

Blackwell Companions to Anthropology

Title page

Copyright page

List of Figures

Notes on Contributors

Preface and Acknowledgments

What Is “Religion” for Anthropology? And What Has Anthropology Brought to “Religion”?

PART I: Worlds and Intersections

CHAPTER 1: Presence, Attachment, Origin: Ontologies of “Incarnates”

Ontological Pluralism




CHAPTER 2: The Dynamic Reproduction of Hunter-Gatherers' Ontologies and Values

Why the Category of Hunter-Gatherers?

Relational Ontologies


Positional Truths and Knowledge

Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers' Forms of Religiosity: A Brief Overview

CHAPTER 3: Cohabiting an Interreligious Milieu: Reflections on Religious Diversity

Theological Puzzles

Statecraft and Religious Diversity

Forms of the Local

Desiring Subjects, Intimate Relations, Self-Formation

Concluding Comments

CHAPTER 4: Religious and Legal Particularism and Universality

No. 10 Krochmalna Street

“Out of My Father's Mouth Spoke the Torah”

Secularization and Sacralization

Conclusion: The “Middle Kingdom”

PART II: Epistemologies

CHAPTER 5: Are Ancestors Dead?

Our Starting Point

Experimental and Ethnographic Insights

Deference in Ritual and Beyond

Back to the Vezo


CHAPTER 6: Coping with Religious Diversity: Incommensurability and Other Perspectives

Coping with Religious Diversity: The Academic Models

Dualism and Conflict



Famadihana – Perspectives on the “Turning of the Dead” Ritual

Encountering Diversity – Perspectives

Official Positions of the Christian Churches

Views of the Participants of Famadihana

Incommensurable Traditions and Incommensurable Models?

CHAPTER 7: Varieties of Semiotic Ideology in the Interpretation of Religion

A Tripartite Framework

First Semiotic Ideology: Words as Vehicles of Thought

Second Semiotic Ideology: Words as Vehicles of Creation

Third Semiotic Ideology: Words as Vehicles of Action


CHAPTER 8: Religion and the Truth of Being

PART III: Time and Ethics

CHAPTER 9: Ethics

CHAPTER 10: The Social and Political Theory of the Soul

Durkheim's Ghosts

Non-Ancestral Spirits


CHAPTER 11: Ghosts and Ancestors in the Modern West

Genealogical Ancestors, Telepathic Ghosts?

Ancestral Pieties

Ghosts of Ancestors

Ancestors into Ghosts: The Interdiction of Kinship as Religion

Contemporary Ancestors

CHAPTER 12: The Work of Memory: Ritual Laments of the Dead and Korea's Cheju Massacre

Introduction: The Work of Memory as Moral Practice

Spirit Possession as Embodied Knowledge of the Past

The Painful Memories and Laments of the Dead

Contestations of Public and Family Memories: A Testimony

New Kinship Practices: Ancestor Worship and Posthumous Adoption

Stranger Spirit-Ancestor and the Iconic Power of the Initiation Dream

Conclusion: Durational Memory

CHAPTER 13: The Globalization of Pentecostalism and the Limits of Globalization

The Anthropology of Christianity

CoP and the Globalization of Pentecostalism

The Maussian Gift and the Christian Gift

The Problem of “Postmodernity”

The “Postmodern” Generation: Pentecost International Worship Centre

The “New Gospel”: Between Character and Charisma


PART IV: Practices and Mediations

CHAPTER 14: Food, Life, and Material Religion in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity

Material Religion

The Sociology of the Meal

Eating (with) God

Christian Consumption: Fasting and Holy Water

CHAPTER 15: Trading with God: Islam, Calculation, Excess

Two Economic Theologies

The Anthropology of Islam

Economies of Thawāb

Economies of Baraka


CHAPTER 16: Ritual Remains: Studying Contemporary Pilgrimage

Anthropological Approaches to Ritual and Pilgrimage


Concluding Remarks: From the Liminal to the Lateral?

CHAPTER 17: Mediation and Immediacy: Sensational Forms, Semiotic Ideologies, and the Question of the Medium

From “Religion and Media” to “Mediation”

Sensational Forms and Semiotic Ideologies

Modalities of Media and the Transformation of Religion

Conclusion: “What Is a Medium?”

PART V: Languages and Conversions

CHAPTER 18: Translating God's Words

The Fluidity of Spoken Language in the Nile Valley

Spoken Language as “Performance” in the Context of Religion

Introducing “Religions of the Book” into the Nile Valley: Keeping the Scriptures Special

Antique Texts in General: Live Performances and Audiences

Translating the Scriptures: New Language Shapes, Social Hierarchies

Modern Christian Missionary Translation in the Nile Valley


CHAPTER 19: Christianity as a Polemical Concept

The Anthropology of Christianity

The Missionary's Account

The Anthropologist's View

Facing Both Ways

CHAPTER 20: Reconfiguring Humanity in Amazonia: Christianity and Change

Melanesia and Amazonia

The Encounter with Christianity

Humanity and “Participation”

An Amazonian Genesis

Stopping “Participation” or The Christian Genesis

The Narrowing of Humanity


Final Remarks

CHAPTER 21: Language in Christian Conversion

What Motivates Conversion?

Language in Conversion


Commensuration and Conversion

PART VI: Persons and Histories

CHAPTER 22: Canonizing Soviet Pasts in Contemporary Russia: The Case of Saint Matrona of Moscow

Soviet Past, Post-Soviet Present: Ruptures and Continuities

Soviet Past, Orthodox Variants

Reconciliation with the Past: Matrona

A Soviet Saint

A Folk Saint


CHAPTER 23: Reflections on Death, Religion, Identity, and the Anthropology of Religion

CHAPTER 24: Spirits and Selves Revisited: Zār and Islam in Northern Sudan

Two Rituals



Mobile Phones

… and Education

Weddings and Marriage

New Media and Gender


Female Circumcision

Memory, Pluralism, and Eating Chicken

PART VII: Powers

CHAPTER 25: The Political Landscape of Early State Religions

“Supernaturalizing” Authority in Preindustrial States

A Critique of Religion as Ideology in Early Complex Polities

Emplacing State Religion: Angkor

Emplacing State Religion: Inka


CHAPTER 26: A Syariah Judiciary as a Global Assemblage: Islamization and Beyond in a Southeast Asian Context

Islamization and Transformation in Malaysia's Syariah Judiciary


CHAPTER 27: The Catholicization of Neoliberalism


Sacred Modern

The Moral and the Market Subject

Post–Washington Consensus Neoliberalism

Moral Style

CHAPTER 28: The Sacred and the City: Modernity, Religion, and the Urban Form in Central Africa

The Polis as Urban and Political Community

The Sacred

Polis–Sacred: Beyond the “Precarious Balance”

The Uncertainties of the “Mystique”

Of Funeral Rites, Civic Wrongs, and a Possible Right to the Future

Lines of Flight and the (Im)possibility of Futurity


The Blackwell Companions to Anthropology offers a series of comprehensive syntheses of the traditional subdisciplines, primary subjects, and geographic areas of inquiry for the field. Taken together, the series represents both a contemporary survey of anthropology and a cutting-edge guide to the emerging research and intellectual trends in the field as a whole.

1. A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology, edited by Alessandro Duranti
2. A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics, edited by David Nugent and Joan Vincent
3. A Companion to the Anthropology of American Indians, edited by Thomas Biolsi
4. A Companion to Psychological Anthropology, edited by Conerly Casey and Robert B. Edgerton
5. A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan, edited by Jennifer Robertson
6. A Companion to Latin American Anthropology, edited by Deborah Poole
7. A Companion to Biological Anthropology, edited by Clark Larsen (hardback only)
8. A Companion to the Anthropology of India, edited by Isabelle Clark-Decès
9. A Companion to Medical Anthropology edited by Merrill Singer and Pamela I. Erickson
10. A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology edited by David B. Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor de Munck, and Michael D. Fischer
11. A Companion to Cultural Resource Management, edited by Thomas King
12. A Companion to the Anthropology of Education, edited by Bradley A.U. Levinson and Mica Pollack
13. A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees
14. A Companion to Paleopathology, edited by Anne L. Grauer
15. A Companion to Folklore, edited by Regina F. Bendix and Galit Hasan-Rokem
16. A Companion to Forensic Anthropology, edited by Dennis Dirkmaat
17. A Companion to the Anthropology of Europe, edited by Ullrich Kockel, Máiréad Nic Craith, and Jonas Frykman
18. A Companion to Border Studies, edited by Thomas M. Wilson and Hastings Donnan
19. A Companion to Rock Art, edited by Jo McDonald and Peter Veth
20. A Companion to Moral Anthropology, edited by Didier Fassin
21. A Companion to Gender Prehistory, edited by Diane Bolger
22. A Companion to Organizational Anthropology, edited by D. Douglas Caulkins and Ann T. Jordan
23. A Companion to Paleoanthropology, edited by David R. Begun
24. A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, edited by Anne P. Underhill
25. A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion, edited by Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek


A Companion to Urban Anthropology, edited by Donald M. Nonini
A Companion to Oral History, edited by Mark Tebeau
Title page

List of Figures

Figure 17.1 Jericho Hour, Christian Action Faith Chapel, Accra

Figure 17.2 Mass celebrated by Padre Marcello Rossi, São Paulo

Figure 17.3 Poster advertising a movie about sakawa

Figure 17.4 “Experience immediate connection”: Vodaphone advert, Accra

Figure 17.5 “Rule your world”: Glo advert, Accra

Figure 21.1 Map of the guardianías of Yucatan, 1582

Figure 21.2 The radial structure of the guardianía

Figure 22.1 The icon The New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia Known and Unknown

Figure 22.2 Cover of the first published Life of Matrona, Story of the Life of the Elder Matrona, written and edited by Zinaida Zhdanova

Figure 22.3 Icon Saint Matrona Blesses Joseph Stalin for Victory in the Great Patriotic War

Figure 22.4 Icon of Saint Matrona

Figure 23.1 Lea, Frada, Maurice, and Etha Berman, Paris, circa 1900

Figure 23.2 Carlo Badone as a young man

Figure 23.3 Carlo Badone's couturier business

Figure 23.4 Frada in London

Figure 23.5 Ma Vieille

Figure 23.6 The Avro Arrow rollout

Figure 23.7 Louis Badone, 1924–2012

Figure 28.1 The statue of Patrice Emery Lumumba on the Échangeur de Limete

Figure 28.2 “The revolution of modernity”: advertisement for the construction of a new “modern cité” on the outskirts of Kinshasa

Figure 28.3 Advertisement for the rehabilitation of the Échangeur de Limete: “Yesterday's dreams, today's realities, tomorrow's better future”

Figure 28.4 Promotional image for La Cité du Fleuve

Figure 28.5 “Autopsie V3,” Masina, Kinshasa, March 23, 2012

Figure 28.6 The cemetery of Kintambo, Kinshasa, 2008

Notes on Contributors

Rita Astuti is Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. She has undertaken fieldwork among the Vezo of Madagascar. In her most recent work, she has investigated how Vezo children and adults categorize the social world into distinct kinds of people, and how they conceptualize death and the afterlife.

Ellen Badone is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University. She works in Brittany and at Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in southern France. Her publications include The Appointed Hour: Death, Worldview and Social Change in Brittany (1989), Religious Orthodoxy and Popular Faith in European Society (1990) and Intersecting Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage and Tourism (2004, co-edited with Sharon R. Roseman).

Maurice Bloch is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. His research has concerned Madagascar and a variety of theoretical issues in anthropology and cognitive science. His two most recent books are: Anthropology and the Cognitive Challenge (2012) and Going in and Out of Each other's Bodies (2012).

Janice Boddy is Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto. Her books include Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men and the Zar Cult in Northern Sudan (1989), Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl (1994), and Civilizing Women: British Crusades in Colonial Sudan (2007). She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and was Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto from 2006 to 2012.

Tom Boylston is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has conducted fieldwork on Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity in rural northern Ethiopia and in Addis Ababa.

Fenella Cannell is a Reader in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics. Her current interests include Mormonism and popular genealogy; in 2013 she began new research in England as a grantee of the SSRC programme, New Directions in the Study of Prayer. Her books include Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines (1999), The Anthropology of Christianity (edited, 2006), and Vital Relations: Modernity and the Persistent Life of Kinship (edited with Susan McKinnon, 2013).

Simon Coleman is Chancellor Jackman Chair at the Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto. Among his publications are Pilgrimage Past and Present: Sacred Travel and Sacred Space in the World Religions (with J. Elsner, 1995), Pilgrim Voices: Narrative and Authorship in Christian Pilgrimage (edited with J. Elsner, 2002), and Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion (edited with J. Eade, 2004). He is coeditor and cofounder of the journal Religion and Society and cofounder of the Ashgate Studies in Pilgrimage book series.

Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology and Professor of Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University, Her most recent books are Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary (2007) and a coedited book, Philosophy and Anthropology: Affinities and Antagonisms (forthcoming). Das is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Academy of Scientists from the Developing World and is a recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Chicago.

Girish Daswani is an Assistant Professor in Anthropology at the University of Toronto, with a special interest in the anthropologies of religion, Christianity, and ethics, as well as diaspora and transnationalism. His work focuses on religious change in Ghana, and he has conducted research with members of a Pentecostal church in southern Ghana and London.

Filip De Boeck is a Professor of Anthropology at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa, at the University of Leuven. Since 1987 he has conducted extensive field research in both rural and urban communities in D.R. Congo (ex-Zaire). His current theoretical interests include the transformation of private and public space in the urban context in Africa. In 2010 De Boeck released Cemetery State, a 70-minute long documentary film about a graveyard in Congo's capital.

Philippe Descola is a social anthropologist specializing in the ethnology of Amazonia, focusing on the relations of native societies with their environment. He holds the Chair of “Anthropology of Nature” at the Collège de France, Paris, where he heads the Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Sociale. He is the author of Les idées de l'anthropologie (1988), In the Society of Nature (1994), The Spears of Twilight (1996), Par-delà nature et culture (2005, forthcoming in English), La fabrique des images (2010), L'écologie des autres (2011, forthcoming in English), and coeditor of Dictionnaire de l'ethnologie et de l'anthropologie (1991), Nature and Society (1996), and La production du social (1999). He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

William F. Hanks is Professor of Anthropology and Berkeley Distinguished Chair in Linguistic Anthropology at University of California Berkeley. He is also Director of the Institute for Integrative Social Science at Berkeley. He is a specialist in the language, culture, and history of the Maya of Yucatan and works on ritual practice, colonial histories, and the grammar and pragmatics of Maya. He is the author of Converting Words, Maya in the Age of the Cross (2010).

Wendy James is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Oxford, and has also taught in the universities of Khartoum, Aarhus, and Bergen. She has a special interest in the place of religion within anthropology. Her key book in this area is The Ceremonial Animal (2003). Her ethnographic research has been focused on the borderlands between Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. Her most recent book on this region is War and Survival in Sudan’s Frontierlands: Voice from the Blue Nile (2009).

Seong-nae Kim is Professor of Religious Studies at Sogang University in Korea, and also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Korean Religions, published by the Institute for the Study of Religion. Her research and writing focuses on popular memory and religion, ritual studies, and gender studies.

Pamela E. Klassen is Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her book Spirits of Protestantism won a 2012 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion. Her current project focuses on storytelling, confession, and mediation in encounters between Christian missionaries and First Nations in Canada.

Jeanne Kormina is Professor of Anthropology and Religious Studies at the Department of Sociology, Higher School of Economics (St Petersburg, Russia). Her books in Russian include Rituals of Departure to the Military Service in Late Imperial Russia (2005) and Dreams of the Mother of God co-edited with S. Shtyrkov and A. Panchenko (2006).

Heonik Kwon is Professorial Senior Research Fellow in Social Science at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and previously taught anthropology at the London School of Economics. His recent research focuses on the role of religious morality in postconflict social development. Currently he is preparing a history of ecological ideas in comparative sociology.

James Laidlaw teaches anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He has conducted research in India, Bhutan, Inner Mongolia, and Taiwan, and his publications include The Archetypal Actions of Ritual (with Caroline Humphrey), The Essential Edmund Leach (with Stephen Hugh-Jones), and Religion, Anthropology, and Cognitive Science (with Harvey Whitehouse).

Michael Lambek holds a Canada Research Chair in the Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto Scarborough. He is the author of Human Spirits; Knowledge and Practice in Mayotte; and The Weight of the Past; and editor of several books, including Ordinary Ethics and A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion.

Birgit Meyer is Professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University. She has conducted anthropological and historical research on religion in Ghana. Her main research foci are the rise and popularity of global Pentecostalism; religion, popular culture and heritage; religion and media; religion and the public sphere; religious visual culture, the senses, and aesthetics.

Amira Mittermaier is Associate Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion and the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilization at the University of Toronto. She is the author of the award-winning book Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination. Her current project revolves around Islamic charity practices in (post)revolutionary Egypt.

Andrea Muehlebach is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. She is the author of The Moral Neoliberal: Welfare and Citizenship in Italy.

Michael G. Peletz is Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. His books include Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia since Early Modern Times (2009), Islamic Modern: Religious Courts and Cultural Politics in Malaysia (2002), and Reason and Passion: Representations of Gender in a Malay Society (1996).

Sylvie Poirier is Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Université Laval (Quebec, Canada). She has done research among Aboriginal people in the Western Desert of western Australia since 1980 and among the Atikamekw, a First Nation in north-central Quebec, since 1990. She is the author of A World of Relationships: Itineraries, Dreams, and Events in the Australian Western Desert (2005) and coeditor (with John Clammer and Eric Schwimmer) of Figured Worlds: Ontological Obstacles in Intercultural Relations (2004).

Eva Spies is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. Her research interests include Christianity in Africa, religious diversity, public religion, as well as development cooperation. She has done ethnographic research in Niger and Madagascar. Her current project focuses on the encounters and mutual perceptions of religious groups in Madagascar.

Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University, Pennsylvania. He has been conducting anthropological research on religion for more than thirty years. His latest book is The Power of the Between: An Anthropological Odyssey (2008). In 2013 The Swedish Society of Anthropology and Geography named him the recipient of the Anders Retzius Gold Medal in Anthropology.

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan is Professor and Chair in the Department of Religious Studies and Affiliate Professor of Law at Indiana University Bloomington. She is the author of The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (2005) and Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (2009), and editor, with Robert Yelle and Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, of After Secular Law (2011).

Edward Swenson is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He is currently conducting archaeological fieldwork at the Moche centre of Huaca Colorada in northern Peru. Swenson's theoretical interests include the preindustrial city, violence and subject formation, the archaeology of ritual, and the politics of landscape and social memory.

Aparecida Vilaça is Associate Professor in the Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology, Museu Nacional/UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, and a researcher for the National Science Research Council (CNPq). She is the author of Strange Enemies: Indigenous Agency and Scenes of Encounters in Amazonia (2010) and coeditor of Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas (with Robin Wright, 2009).

Preface and Acknowledgments

The anthropology of religion is a complex field and its practitioners a somewhat independent lot. The subject does not break down easily into a series of neatly alphabetized titles or bounded bibliographic entries, nor do the practitioners readily distribute themselves as “experts” on a variety of distinct but commensurable topics or subfields. In fact, we generally rebel against the sort of encyclopaedism that is sometimes expected of us, complicating or subverting any straight recounting of “the facts” with models, theories, hypotheses, arguments, and debates, and pausing skeptically before straightforward description or comparison to rehearse matters of epistemology, ontology, and semiotic ideology. Simultaneously, we complicate and subvert these models, types, or theories, confronting them with particularities and immediacies of place and practice, never letting consistency get in the way of the singularity of the ethnography or history, nor permitting the individuality or specificity of topics to unduly disfigure the holism of social life. Writing about religion as anthropologists it could not be otherwise.

We presented a fairly open-ended invitation to our contributors to this volume. We asked them to engage in vigorous appraisal and renewal of the field. We requested non exhaustive review articles but essays that advanced original arguments and addressed the field in a serious and critical way. We suggested and briefly described the following ten broad topics: The nature of our subject or object of inquiry. The origins and history of the field. Religion and thought. Religion, politics, and law. Religion, creativity, imagination, and aesthetics. Religion, time, and history. Religion, person, self, and gender. Religion, the transcendent, and the ordinary. Religion, the environment, and the future. Religion and disciplinarity. We added specific suggestions to many of the contributors. In most cases we received something somewhat different from what we had expected. The result is not a series of consistent chapters, each written to the same model on a set of clearly demarcated and evenly distributed topics, and it is certainly not comprehensive of what is, in fact, a very extensive and rapidly moving field. But we think it is all the better for that, truer to thought, practice, experience, and the complex and heterogeneous articulations of religion with politics, law, economy, language, history, art, kinship, ethics, and memory.

All the chapters are original to the volume with the following exceptions. Michael Lambek, “Varieties of semiotic ideology” is appearing simultaneously in a slightly extended form in Words, edited by Ernst van den Hemel and Asja Szafraniec (Fordham University Press); Birgit Meyer, “Mediation and immediacy” has appeared in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale 19 (1) (2011): 23–39, copyright European Association of Social Anthropologists; and Andrea Muehlebach, “The Catholicization of neoliberalism” has appeared in American Anthropologist, 115 (Sept. 2013).

Because this is a Companion, not a thematic volume, nor the last word, we have not urged the contributors to refer to each other's chapters, nor do we attempt a synthesis here, or even a review of the contents. Lambek's first essay serves as an introduction more to the subject than the volume. We have grouped the chapters into sections but these are somewhat arbitrary. The essays themselves relate to each other topically and thematically in multiple ways and can be read in any order.

The various chapters draw their insights from ethnographic fieldwork carried out across a wide range of places, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, D.R. Congo, Egypt, England, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Italy, Korea, Madagascar, Malaysia, Niger, Peru, Poland, Russia, Sudan, and Vietnam. There are many more places unrepresented. In line with current trends in the field, Christianity is probably overrepresented, albeit in diverse ways. China and Japan are sadly missing, as are accounts of the once relatively autonomous societies in the Pacific and elsewhere that for a long period formed the core of the discipline and the basis for so many wonderful ethnographies. The Reader in the Anthropology of Religion (Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edn, 2008) provides a window into this work as well as a selection of some of the major theoretical interventions in the field.

What we have here is the sort of Companion who is a steady but idiosyncratic friend, someone who can be counted on for their knowledge and wisdom but also for their leaps of imagination and spontaneity, their capacity to surprise, provoke, and increase the enjoyment of shared interests. Like a good human companion, this book does not merely accompany or proffer a helping hand but offers original insights and points in new directions. It serves less as an authority than as a genial provocateur.

In planning the volume we set for ourselves the condition that we would bring our contributors together to present first drafts of their chapters. Accordingly, we sought funds and, with the assistance of a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, we were able to hold two very successful workshops, one at the European Academy in Berlin and the other at the Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto. We could not have done this without the help of our good friend and colleague Heonik Kwon. Not only did he come up with the wonderful venue in Berlin, but he also very generously supplied a significant portion of the funding through the Academy of Korean Studies' international research program, Beyond the Cold War, that he directs. Throughout the process, Heonik has matched his inspirational scholarship with enthusiasm and support. We have also received extensive support from our respective home institutions, from the Centre for Ethnography and the Canada Research Chair fund at the University of Toronto Scarborough (Lambek), from the Chair's fund, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto (Boddy), and from Trinity College of the University of Cambridge (Kwon).

In addition to the various contributors assigned to discuss one another's essays, we had the benefit of the following discussants: Kai Kresse in Berlin, and Ashley Lebner, Ruth Marshall, Todd Sanders, and Donna Young in Toronto. We owe a special acknowledgement to Bruce Kapferer, an activeparticipant at Berlin and, as always, an inspiring, constructive, andimaginative interlocutor.

We have been ably assisted by Letha Victor, who participated in the Berlin workshop and the proofing of the final manuscript; Seth Palmer, who helped arrange the Toronto workshop; and Matthew Pettit, who attended to editorial matters and composed the index. All three have stellar careers ahead in anthropology. We thank also Rosalie Robertson, Julia Kirk, Jennifer Bray, Allison Kostka, Ann Bone, and Sue Leigh for editorial guidance and patience. Jackie Solway, as always, has offered much good advice and companionship.

Last but not least we thank our contributors, each of whom has produced a learned, forthright, and provocative intervention in the conversation that is the anthropology of religion.

Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek

What Is “Religion” for Anthropology? And What Has Anthropology Brought to “Religion”?

Michael Lambek

The study of comparative religion has flourished only when men were secure enough in their own convictions to be unusually generous. They might be Jesuits or Arab savants or unbelievers, but they could not be zealots.

Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

The anthropology of religion is a field of great intellectual challenge and adventure. In this essay I try show some of the reasons why.

The Challenge of Religion

As Winnifred Sullivan (2012) justifiably notes,

It is a commonplace in the academic study of religion to observe that the word religion is manifestly conditioned by the history of its use and that it is deeply problematic, epistemologically and politically, to generalize across the very wide range of human cultural goings-on that are now included in this capacious term. To speak of religion is to elide and conceal much that is critical to understanding the deeply embedded ways of being often denoted by the short-hand term “religion(s).”

Rather than begin by asking what religion is as an autonomous object in the world or as a distinctive human phenomenon, and therefore how best to define it or know it when we see it – the better to explain it and its relations with other objects – it is more cautious to start with the question: What has religion been for anthropology? I take anthropology to be a particular tradition of inquiry, a long conversation that is not homogeneous or fully consistent. From this starting point one could then compare what religion has been for neighboring disciplines (like religious studies); for various theoretical traditions (like Marxism); for the state (or various states, like France or Indonesia) via law, administration, and local history; for people who call themselves Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. One could add people who do not necessarily identify their ideas and practices (with respect to ontology, reproduction, ethics, theodicy, eschatology, etc.) as “religion” or as “a” specific “religion” (as adherence to a specific token of a generally recognized type). Such a journey would return us to the starting point, and is in fact the path along which the understanding of the subject for anthropology changes or grows in a slow hermeneutic spiral of part and whole, insider and outsider perspective, ethnography, analysis, comparison, reflection, and more ethnography.

All the challenges of translation and the tensions between interpretation and explanation, structure and experience, rationalism and relativism, and universalism and particularism that mark anthropological understanding in general find their sharpest expression in the subject matter that has fallen under the umbrella of religion. Such challenges indicate the importance of and recurring interest in religion as a subject for anthropology. If at one level “religion” seems to cover expressions of a universal human or societal need, inclination, function, product, capacity, or reality, at another level there appear to be no sharper divisions among human beings than those indicated by “religions” – whether in quarrels over orthodoxy or orthopraxy evident in the European wars between Catholics and Protestants, the conflicts between Sunni and Shi'a, the disdain that has often characterized both Christian and Muslim views of those outside the Abrahamic purview, or, most saliently for the anthropological project, in the tension between religion and science (Lambek 2006).1 That is because “religion” invokes or connotes the deepest but most particular truths, irreducible realities, and most urgent and uncompromising values according to which people (including anthropologists) live or want to live, such that people who see the world or live differently can appear wrong, stupid, unenlightened, immoral, misguided (or conversely, purveyors of higher truths and values that escape us), thereby as challenging, threatening, or simply interesting – and ripe for anthropological understanding. Anthropology struggles with simultaneously recognizing, clarifying, contextualizing, accounting for, interpreting, deconstructing, and transcending such differences, divisions, and prejudices. It is certainly not free of particular conceptions and misconceptions of its own, yet is mindful of the need to remain standing on its own two feet.

The anthropological standpoint is only one of many but that is no reason to be unduly anxious or insecure about its value. It is based on a balance of observation, understanding, analysis, auto-critique, and cumulative comparison. It is not part of the anthropological standpoint either to “go native,” to embrace all mysteries, or to reduce them to neuroscience or anything else. Anthropologists cannot go native precisely because we deal with so many natives who differ from each other. Moreover, the very idea of “going native” is likely to be a naively nonnative (romantic or new-age) inclination in the first place and hence something of an oxymoron.2 Hence our standpoint can only be at some remove, what one might call benevolent skepticism (a perspective that overlaps with much philosophy). The study of religion, like ethnography more generally, allows for the pleasure of discovery, including the tasting of other human worlds, but it also entails the sort of ascetic discipline that Weber foresaw. We observe the passions of others without fully committing ourselves to them; our own unselfconscious ceremonies take place not in churches or temples or on mountaintops, but at conferences and seminars; our discipline exists in acts of refereeing and being reviewed. Participation in our family and community rituals is tinged with the irony that comes from holding a double perspective.

“Religion” then for anthropology has sometimes been the compartment or cover term for all that is most difficult to understand or appreciate about other people (and perhaps oneself) yet, at the same time, possibly the most obvious; hence it stands as the greatest challenge for both rationalists and romantics, calling forth both intellectual and imaginative generosity, in Benedict's sense, and a certain ascetic rigor. Religion as a subject of anthropology serves as a theater in which the strongest or most dramatic scenes of anthropological interpretation are played out. Hence it should be of interest even for those anthropologists not concerned with the substance of religion per se. But of course this argument risks exaggerating the importance of anthropology over its subject matter; it is religion, not anthropology that exercises the imagination of most of the world's population. And it is the whys and wherefores of that exercising that in turn exercise anthropologists.

For anthropology, religion implicitly informs and underpins the worlds in which people live, enabling the habitus (everyday practice) to run its course, to go “without saying.” It also becomes the explicit subject and object of people's passion in marked rituals and other forms of enactment, creation, contemplation, and devotion. It is “culture” in its purest or most rarified form, both deep and relatively invisible and also frequently refracted in constructions that explicitly distinguish it from the everyday or the commonsensical. It is for the sake of what we now call religion that ancient Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, Gothic cathedrals, Hindu temples, and Buddhist monasteries were constructed, and elaborate masquerades and beautiful music composed and performed. In the name of religion people receive, recite, and cherish scripture, perform daily ablutions, prayers and acts of penance, make sacrifices, donate alms, scarify their children, renounce sex, limit food or other creature comforts, seek visions, and set forth on arduous pilgrimages. Many of the great dramas of human life have been generated or carried out through what we call religion – and it remains an open question whether or to what degree the professional “callings” of modern life, in science, the arts, business, sport, or politics, might be seen in overlapping terms. Religion is also inherently complex; for participants it can be at once ordinary and extraordinary, practical and beautiful, necessary and ideal, comforting and frightening, absolutely clear and deeply mysterious, the site of the deepest certainties and of the most disturbing doubts.

The (history of the) anthropology of religion can be conceived in terms of how it has addressed the challenges of understanding. In the first instance, this is a matter of how anthropologists have positioned themselves vis-à-vis the object of study. That is to say, how they have conceptualized “religion,” and how they have conceptualized their own position in relation to it. There is also the question of how scholars have distinguished difference – the salience, boundedness, coherence, and specificity of such categories as the “world religions,” the “axial age,” the Abrahamic religions, Christianity (or Islam), Protestantism (or Sunni Islam), Pentecostalism (or Sufism), etc. – and what lies outside each and all of them. Terms such as “primitive religion,” “totemism,” “the savage mind,” “polytheism,” “magic,” “shamanism,” “paganism,” “fetishism,” “indigenous spirituality,” and TAR (“traditional African religion,” a term I heard recently in Mali), each have problematic connotations as, for other reasons, do formulations like “Malagasy religion” or “Sakalava religion.” A particular challenge has been how to address those constellations of thought and practice that do not self-consciously describe themselves as “religions,” as commensurable tokens of a common type, and yet seem to share certain features with those that do. Is “religion” a category whose criteria of membership include self-conscious recognition as “a” religion? Are the criteria to demarcate “religion” from what is “not-religion” or one religion from another objectively discernible? In what sense is religion a natural phenomenon or “kind”?3 Or ought we to see “religion” as a polythetic class in the sense that there is no single criterion universal to all members? Do such criteria hold equivalent weight (are there weaker or stronger tokens of the type, those closer to or further from a prototype)? Where, for example, would we place astrology?4

In place of substantive definitions, is religion better seen as an ongoing function of society or mind, rather than a distinct object within the former or discrete product of the latter?5 Is it society's means or moment of recognizing (or misrecognizing) itself, as Durkheim argued, or perhaps of motivating its members, as Weber proposed? Is it culture's means or mode of establishing truth and anchoring reality, as suggested variously by Berger and Luckmann, Geertz, or Rappaport? Is religion social hierarchy's means of asserting its legitimacy and mystifying the workings of power and exploitation, as conveyed in the Marxist tradition? (During the Cold War, the famous Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös impishly referred to God as The Supreme Fascist.) Is it the inevitable product or by-product of the workings of the mind, whether of fantasy and projection, as in Freud, or as elaborations of the rational impulse to distinguish, classify, compare, mediate, order, and unify things in the world, as in Lévi-Strauss, Douglas, or theorists of rhetoric or cognition? Is it the places where the mind acknowledges the limits of its own understanding, or is it the recognition of authentically transcendental experiences, the acknowledgment of manifestly extrahuman sources of well-being (and misfortune), beauty (and horror), power (and abjection), goodness (and evil), truth (and perplexity)? Is it only when some set of these diverse functions conjoin in perduring symbols and practices or manifest in ritual performances, or when the mental products and experiences coalesce and are rationalized and stabilized in scriptural traditions, material artifacts, or formal institutions that we speak, or should speak, of “religion”?