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The Anthropology of Christianity per se

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2008

Chris Hann
Affiliation:
Max-Planck-Institut für ethnologische Forschung [hann@eth.mpg.de].
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Abstract

Several anthropologists have recently linked diagnoses of the diffuse impact of the Christian religion on the history of their discipline to programmatic calls for a consolidation of the “anthropology of Christianity”. This review article suggests that complaints of long-term neglect of Christianity in the anthropological literature are exaggerated. The contributions of recent decades have reflected general epistemological trends and continued the Anglophone discipline's traditional bias towards the study of missionary encounters and syncretism in the colonies. Mainstream Christianity in its Eurasian homelands remains understudied, especially the many eastern variants, and this distortion vitiates some of the new theoretical agendas. Finally the article questions the utility of delimiting Christianity as a distinct subfield and suggests instead combining a problemfocused approach with a wider comparative range.

Divers anthropologues ont récemment mis en lumière l'effet diffus de la religion chrétienne sur l'histoire de leur discipline tout en lançant des appels programmatiques à consolider «l'anthropologie du christianisme». Néanmoins, le christianisme n'est pas un thème aussi négligé que certains le prétendent. De fait, les recherches anthropologiques de ces dernières décennies ont reflété les tendances épistémologiques générales et reproduit le penchant traditionnel des anglophones de la discipline pour l'étude des rencontres avec les missionnaires et du syncrétisme dans les colonies. Quant au christianisme dominant, et en particulier ses nombreuses versions orientales, il demeure peu étudié sur ses terres eurasiennes d'origine. Cette disparité fausse certains des nouveaux projets théoriques ainsi que nous le démontrerons dans cet article qui s'interroge sur l'utilité de délimiter le christianisme en tant que sous-domaine distinct et propose d'associer une approche centrée sur des questions précises avec une perspective comparative plus vaste.

Verschiedene Ethnologen haben jüngst die Diagnosen des diffusen Einflusses des Christentums auf ihre Disziplin mit einem Ruf nach der Konsolidierung einer “Anthropologie des Christentums” verbunden. Dieser Artikel weist darauf hin, dass Beanstandungen einer längerfristigen Vernachlässigung des Christentums in der ethnologischen Literatur übertrieben sind. Die Beiträge der letzten Jahrzehnte haben die allgemeinen erkenntnistheoretischen Trends und die Fortsetzung der traditionellen Ausrichtung der anglophonen Disziplin bezäglich missionarischer Begegnungen und dem Synkretismus in den Kolonien reflektiert. Die Hauptströmungen des Christentums in seinen eurasischen Heimatländern sind hingegen untersucht, insbesondere die vielen östlichen Varianten, und diese Verzerrung shadet den neuen theoretischen Programmen. Schließlich stellt der Artikel die Zweckmäßigkeit des abgegrenzten Christentums als Teilfeld in Frage und empfiehlt stattdessen einen problemorientierten Ansatz mit einem breiteren komparativen Raum.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Archives Européenes de Sociology 2007

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References

* I am grateful to Mathijs Pelkmans for helpful comments on an earlier draft and for allowing me to quote from his forthcoming volume on conversion in the former Soviet Union.

(I) In this respect there has been some convergence with the nation-centred disciplines which have remained the more common variant of anthropology in many parts of Europe; however, for reasons too complex to pursue here, in some countries the differences between the Völkerkunde and Volkskunde traditions remain significant.

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