Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Ethics
A relatively recent interdisciplinary body of scholarship has highlighted the Christian-and more specifically Protestant-roots of the reworking of human bodies, minds, practices, and institutions that we typically gloss as secularization. This work, more than the political science literature on “secularisms” that teases out differing institutional arrangements for Church-state relations, has fired up the anthropological imagination. Anthropologists have begun to explore the secular, as Asad has argued “through its shadows,” demonstrating its hegemony by exploring the semiotic ideologies, normativities, and state practices that shape being and belonging in the contemporary world. To date, much of this work has focused on the effects of this hegemony as it is enacted through the disciplining of minority religions, particularly Islam.
In response, to these dominant trends, this panel attempts to address the supposed singularity of this hegemony. While acknowledging that the secular can produce some similar effects for religious minorities in different contexts, the papers in this panel try to complicate the reduction of “secularity” to putatively post-Protestant arguments, assumptions, affects, and values. We accordingly focus on non-Protestant Christians in order to broaden our understanding of the fraught intersection between “religion,” “culture,” and “the secular” in a range of national contexts. This shift in anthropological objects-away from Muslim religious minorities and toward non-Protestant Christians-has a number of ethnographic and theoretical consequences. It allows us to ask whether and in what ways different kinds of Christianities might affect the kinds of images, practices, arguments, and forms of reasoning that count as normative in various national contexts. In other words, are there non-Protestant secularities whose meaningful contours and content are not simply reducible to variable Church-State relations? Or even, at what point do the terms “secular” or “secularity” conceal more than they reveal about the normativities of a particular context? In addition, shifting objects allows us to explore whether normativities around affect and reasoning change across social-and not just national-terrains. In any given national context, might there be one kind of “secular” reasoning in the face of minority religious practices and others that emerge around, supposedly non-religious terrains, such as the production of bioethics, legal systems, national heritage, art, or the practice of writing and reading world history? And finally, perhaps a focus on non-Protestant Christians will help us see where, when, and how Protestant-infused versions of secularity might be “short-circuited.” In what social, political or economic domains is this possible? And why might Christians of various stripes manage to do this in ways foreclosed to non-Christian minorities?
We offer partial and comparative answers to these questions through an exploration of a range of different contexts with important non-Protestant traditions and histories of close entanglements between nation-building projects and Christianity.