John Barker: Ethnographic Study of Christianity in Melanesia

Séminaire du programme « Religions et Sociétés en Asie » Vendredi 16 mai 2014, 10h-12h30, salle 159 (GSRL)

John Barker (University of British Columbia)

Local, Transcendent and All Points In Between: Some Reflections on the Ethnographic Study of Christianity in Melanesia

Taking Christianity seriously as an ethnographic subject has entailed different strategies in different places. In much of Asia -indeed, the world in general- anthropological studies of local Christianity are informed by deep and often multilayered histories of encounters and accommodations between church institutions and the wider society. In contrast, anthropologists working in Melanesia have generally paid less attention to the institutional aspects of Christianity in favour of intensively localized studies of Christian lives in the here and now. The implications of this strategy have been somewhat paradoxical. As one would expect, studies of Melanesian Christian have been heavily oriented to questions of how local people have made the religion their own, usually with reference to pre-existing cultural orientations, colonial experience and accommodations to "modernity" in its various forms. More surprisingly perhaps, a number of anthropologists draw from intensely local ethnographic accounts to advance arguments about the transcendent -or more precisely, metacultural- essence of Christianity. In short, the anthropology of Melanesian Christianity appears suspended between earthly bound and metacultural appraisals with little consideration of the space in between. In this presentation, I suggest some reasons for this development and weigh its advantages and disadvantages to the larger project of an anthropology of Christianity. John Barker is Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. He has published extensively on missionaries and Christianity in Oceania and First Nations communities in British Columbia. His edited books include Christianity in Oceania (1990), At Home with the Bella Coola Indians (2003), and The Anthropology of Morality in Melanesia and Beyond (2007). His recent research has focused upon the local impact of the international environmental movement on Indigenous societies, the subject of Ancestral Lines: The Maisin of Papua New Guinea and the Fate of the Rainforest (2008). Contact : Yannick Fer
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