Mission Station Christianity
In Mission Station Christianity (2013) I use the lens of the anthropology of Christianity to suggest that the spatial practice of Christianity that crystallized on the mission stations in colonial Southern Africa contributed decisively to the missionaries' becoming cheerleaders of Empire.
My case study is a group of Norwegian Lutheran missionaries on the colonial frontier. They settled in the Colony of Natal and neighboring Zululand around 1850, with an abstract idea of the basic equality of all Christians, regardless of race. Mission Station Christianity presents an anthropological history of the practices that evolved among this group, including understandings of gender and race, as they sought to "make God present" in a new situation. I examine how the missionaries' daily Christianity influenced how they set up the mission stations, and how, in return, these spaces came to influence the missionaries' daily patterns of Christianity. Words and objects, female and male missionary bodies, "problematic" converts, and the utopian imagination are discussed, as well as how the surrounding Zulus made use of (and ignored) the stations. Methodologically, I trace this process based on "ethnography in the archives": drawing on an ethnographic perspective while reading closely and interpreting old missionary sources, such as letters and reports.
By the 1880s the majority of the Norwegian missionaries had shifted to become practical and theological supporters of British colonialism, viewing it as best for the Zulus to be subject to white, male rule in politics and in the church. I argue that this situation was prepared and made thinkable by the places the missionaries had set up and become familiar with from the 1850s: "their way of working out how to live Christianity in the world and to create an inhabitable Christian space" (p. 233).
Two further articles that came
out of this research project:
"Beyond Mediation: An Anthropological Understanding of the Relationship between Humans, Materiality, and Transcendence in Protestant Christianity,"
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2018.
This article is about the concept of "mediation" - a term that is used in religious studies and the anthropology of religion to talk about how religious practitioners make supernatural beings present. In the article I discuss why I think this concept unnecessarily limits our inquiries, and I use the missionaries in colonial Southern Africa as an example. I suggest that instead of asking "How do Christians make God present?" it might be more useful for scholars of religion to ask "How do Christians relate to God?". OUPblog asked me to write a summary of the article in the form of a blog post, which turned into a fun assignment, as I started sketching pictures on index cards (one of them above) to sum up my argument. You can read the blog post here: "How do Christians make God present? A stack of index cards."
"Christianity, Place/Space, and Anthropology:
Thinking Across Recent Research on Evangelical Place-Making," Religion, 2016.
This article discusses the missionaries' place-making in comparison with nine other cases of evangelical Christian place-making from the nineteenth century until today. I argue that we can discern seven concerns that recur in this material: linguistic, material, temporal, personhood, translocal, transcendent, and worldly concerns. Some of these concerns draw evangelicals’ attention toward concrete “places,” while others pull them toward more abstracted “spaces.” This two-way tugging at evangelicals’ attention leads them, in practice, to a type of place-making that I don’t think ought to be labeled either “dis-placement” or, reversely, thorough “emplacement.” Instead I argue that evangelical place-making can best be understood as a simultaneous taking apart and bringing together of faith and place. A different way of saying this is that evangelicals seek to both fuse and “unfuse” situation and setting.