Global Christianties: Perspectives, Methods, and Challenges Conference: Session 3, Part 1

Global Christianties: Perspectives, Methods, and Challenges Conference: Session 3, Part 1


ANGIE HEO: We’re going to get
started on the third session. So if you could please
be seated and I will start with the introductions. This third session’s title
is Dynamics of Mission. And today, we’ve got
with us Eliza Kent, who is chair and professor of
Religious Studies at Skidmore College Eliza Kent is a graduate of
the Divinity School here. She got her PhD in
History of Religions. And from there, she worked it
in the Department of Religion at Colgate and– for 10 years, from 2003 to 2013. And then she moved
to Skidmore College, where she played a formative
role in building the Religious Studies department. Her publications are formidable. She’s published a monograph
called Sacred Groves and Local Gods, Religion and
Environmentalism in South India, which
was published in 2013. She also published a text– a monograph, Converting
Women, Gender and Christianity in Colonial South India,
which was published from Oxford University
Press in 2004, and received an
award for the Best Book in Hindu-Christian
studies from the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies. And finally she’s co-edited
volume with Tazim Kassam, entitled Lines In Water,
Religious Boundaries in South Asia. Her talk today is
entitled “Gender and Power in the Charismatic Space.” Please join me in
welcoming Eliza Kent. [APPLAUSE] ELIZA KENT: Oh,
thank you so much. I just want to reiterate
what other people have said, that it is such a
pleasure to be here. And I really want to thank the
organizers and all the people that have helped to put
this conference together, including the folks
that come and are the audience, that makes the a
conference like this possible. I’m going to begin with a
little bit of autobiography about my experiences at
the University of Chicago. And what’s been so amazing to
me about the presentation so far is just putting that
autobiographical material in a sense into this
incredible historical context. So in 1995, or
thereabouts, when I first announced to my graduate
school advisor Wendy Doniger that I wanted to do field
research for my dissertation on Protestant women
missionaries in India, it created something of
a fracas in Swift Hall. And I don’t want to
exaggerate the extent or scope of the
fracas that it made, but it made a big
impression on me as a somewhat insecure
graduate student. And what sparked it was
that it was not only I, but actually several others
in my cohort who had also expressed an interest in
pursuing study of Christianity within the history
of religions track. Of course, then as now, the Div
School has many academic tracks which focus on Christianity–
theology, church history, and Bible, among them– but history of religions,
which had long allied itself intellectually
with anthropology, saw itself primarily
as the study of other people’s religions. And of course, the presumed
self in that configuration was generally
Christian or Jewish. A cluster of students
proposing dissertations on Christianity in this
track set off alarm bells. Why? Many different arguments
were advanced to discourage myself and others. There were political arguments. Christian missionaries were
essentially the shock troops of colonialism. So why should I spend my
time telling their stories? I protested that the only way to
tell the long-neglected stories of Indian women
evangelists was to learn the stories of the
women they worked for and alongside, in a move
that has become standard in this shift from mission
history to church history, and church history and
world Christianity. There was also an
argument about lineage. Anthropologists could
undertake properly critical studies of
missionaries and the localized forms of Christianity created
out of missionary encounter, as the charismatic power couple
then in Haskell Hall, Jean and John Comaroff were doing
in such an exemplary fashion. But I was told too many
historians of religions were ex-missionaries or the
children of missionaries to undertake these
investigations in an appropriately
neutral, objective fashion. The threat that one’s
own research project was entangled with
the goal of advancing global Christian
evangelization aroused an intensely worried
defensiveness about Crypto-Christianity. And again, it’s been
fascinating to kind of hear resonances of that earlier. Another objection
was more aesthetic, at least on the surface. If you were going all the
way to India, or Mozambique, or to Brazil, et
cetera, why study Christianity, which was
boring in comparison to these other traditions? In retrospect, I think that this
was a blunt expression of what Joel Robbins has termed the
continuity bias in anthropology and the history of
religions, which value the putatively authentic
indigenous as a legacy of a moral commitment to rescue
or at least preserve knowledge of cultures endangered
by modernity. Nowadays, the swarm of
hybrids spawned by modernity are much beloved by
anthropologists and historians of religions, but this was 1995. The final and most worrying
objection was practical. You will never get a
job with a dissertation on Indian Christianity. Schools looking to hire
specialists in Christianity want people trained in theology,
church history, and Bible. Schools looking to hire someone
to teach Indian religions want someone to teach
Hinduism, or Buddhism, Jainism, and so on. The truth was, they were
right on that score. It took me many years on the
adjunct and the BAP track before I got a tenure-track
job at Colgate– a good one. And unfortunately, my
sense is that the largely tradition-centered hiring
practices of religion departments are still
very much intact today, as anyone training
graduate students and trying to find them jobs in
the job market I think knows. Of course, I stuck to
my research project, whether out of a
lack of imagination or just plain stubbornness. And nowadays, I get to
be on the other side of this teacher-student
dynamic as a guide of undergraduate
thesis writers who continually ignore my advice. I’m reminded of a New Yorker
cartoon that Wendy Doniger had on her door that showed a
stoop shouldered, bespectacled, balding Icarus, complete
with drooping wings, standing before his
mother, who was seated and knitting an afghan. The caption read, “Go ahead,
Icarus, fly to the sun. Your wings will melt, and
you will crash and die. But what do I know? I’m just your mother.” [LAUGHTER] When an academic
subfield is emerging, whether feminists for media
studies, material religion, or world Christianity,
you need a few Icaruses determined to launch themselves,
deaf to all warnings. But no matter how
hard they flap, they will fall,
unless they can catch some wind under their wings. I feel very
privileged today to be among so many
distinguished contributors to the field of
world Christianity who have been the wind for me
and so many countless others. Thank you. About the time when
I was anxiously arguing with my advisors in
Swift Hall in the mid-1990s, one of the pioneering
anthropologists– feminist anthropologists of
Christianity, Elizabeth Brusco, identified a distinctive
pattern in the gender dynamics among urban poor Colombians. Coined the Pentecostal
gender bargain by fellow feminist
anthropologist Bernice Martin, it entailed the adoption of
complementary gender roles within the family, according
to which, women formally submit to the authority
of husbands in exchange for increased material and
social security, while men relinquish the freedom to
participate in machismo cultures of swearing,
smoking, fighting, drinking, and adultery in exchange for a
new role as family patriarch. According to Brusco and
Martin, Pentecostal men submit to their
own domestication because adherence to
strict Pentecostal rules provides a dignified way out
of self-destructive machismo culture. More than just keeping them
out of hospital or out of jail, however, involvement
in Pentecostal churches gives men a new
authoritative role in the center of the family. Brusco argues that
the main motivator for arriving at this bargain
is political economy. The rapidly changing
economic conditions of Latin America in
the late 20th century included the proletarianization
of the workforce and the diminishing
significance of production within the household. As a result, women kept
out of the wage labor force by discrimination
or responsibility for child-rearing became even
more economically dependent on men. Today, the economic
factors pushing people toward patriarchal
nuclear family forms continue with the consolidation
of neoliberalism everywhere, and its shredding of public
safety nets and the elevation– and its elevation
of individualism. Brusco and Martin’s observations
are more relevant than ever. Although it shocked many
feminists at the time, Brusco’s declaration that
Pentecostal Christianity constitutes a strategic
women’s movement provided a better
answer to the question of why women in such large
numbers around the world would be drawn to a religion
that seems to denigrate them and limit their freedom. In some ways, Brusco
and Martin anticipated the influential work of Saba
Mahmood on the Islamic revival of the 1990s, another
global religious movement, roughly contemporaneous with
the surge in Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity. Mahmood saw in
women’s participation in the late piety movements in
Cairo, a mode of empowerment very different from
that envisioned by the liberal and Marxist
political thought that undergirds much
Western feminism. What Mahmood, Brusco and
Martin have in common is a view of women’s
empowerment that regards respect and
security within a network of relationships as
more desirable, more capable of creating the
conditions for flourishing, than the capacity for autonomous
self-expression long valued by both leftists
progressives and liberal political philosophy. Scholars seeking to attend
to the place of gender in such global
religious movements still have a lot to learn from
this research, I would argue. But even if we grant
that Pentecostalism has helped empower
women, we need to understand in a
more fine-grained way how norms governing
gender are actually changed in what
Annelin Eriksen has termed the charismatic space. How are subjectivities
retrained, norms revalued, within the context
of Pentecostal ritual and everyday life? While Eriksen defines the
charismatic space in which– as where the spirit reveals
itself for believers, I argue that it is not just
in the context of emotionally intense rituals that these
kinds of spirit-guided transformations happen. One of my arguments today is
that research on Pentecostalism needs to pay more attention
to the personal networks established by these
churches, which I contend are the most important lines
along which missionization happens. Though much attention
has been paid to the global networks
that have effectively spread Pentecostal
varieties around the world, not as much attention has been
paid to the local networks, along which the powerful
emotions catalyzed in congregational
worship are reactivated in the intimate
context of the home and are translated into
action at the level of everyday emotional
and material support. What recent research
in India suggests is that for women Pentecostals,
as important or perhaps more important than the strengthening
of the marital bond that Brusco and Martin
attended to is a strengthening and broadening of a network of
female friends and associates. Almost every aspect
of the history of the spread and development
of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity defies
clear definition. According to a widely cited
survey by the Pew Research Center in 2011, as
many as a quarter of Christians around
the world can today be identified as
Pentecostal or charismatic. These statistics must
be tempered, however, with a recognition that, as
Allan Anderson has argued, they capture a dizzying
range of different churches and communities under the
umbrella term of Pentecostal or charismatic. Anderson identifies three
broad types of Pentecostalism in the global context,
and many of you may be familiar with this, but
get us all on the same page. First, classical Pentecostals,
associated with denominations that originated in the
US, like the Church of God in Christ and
the Assemblies of God. Second, the Charismatic
Renewal movement that swept through mainline
Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic
Church starting in the 1970s. And the myriad an
incredibly variegated independent Pentecostal or
Pentecostal-like churches in Africa, Asia, Oceania,
and Latin America. The ritual practices and
theologies of these churches vary dramatically. For a long time,
many people regarded speaking in tongues as the
sine qua non of Pentecostalism. However, many scholars
have come to see this as an unwarranted
universalization of the doctrinal position
of classical Pentecostals, for whom glossolalia
is required as evidence of a second baptism,
and therefore, of genuine conversion. A more inclusive definition
begins with the recognition that the manifestation
of the experience of the gifts of the Holy
Spirit takes different forms, prophecy, exorcism, healing,
and glossolalia, along– I would argue– with
forms of ecstasy shaped by local cultures, such as
possession by the Virgin Mary or they experience the sensation
of being bathed in fire. These are variously
emphasized depending on social historical context. And as is well-known,
these charismata are typically accompanied by
an emotionally expressive, somatically intense
ritual style that both invites the presence
of the Holy Spirit and provides an
implicitly agreed upon form for its sensation. Swaying, singing, and
swooning, dancing, and raising one’s
hands in the air, the proliferation
of these gestures throughout the congregation
during a service provides a measure for the
participants of that highly sought-after presence. As anthropologist of
religion, Birget Meyer writes, “These churches do not
only generate, but also heat up and intensify
religious feelings.” “Pentecostal
services,” she writes, “are powerful,
sensational forms that seek to involve believers
in such a way that they sense the presence of God in
a seemingly immediate manner, and are amazed by
His power,” unquote. The Pentecostal emphasis
on the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit
and its sensation yields a syncretic
style and a robust– both a syncretic style
and a robust instantiation of the Protestant
ideal that the church is a priesthood of
all believers, where each and every
Christian is empowered to manifest the gifts of
God and spread the gospel. This is what gives
Pentecostal Christianity its biciferous,
polycentric character as well as it endorses
improvisation and creativity within a rough shared framework. In a very simplistic sense,
then, the rapid global spread of the movement can be
explained by the fact that Pentecostals do not wait
for official missionaries to take up the work
of evangelization. They go forth and
witness themselves. The growth of Pentecostal
and charismatic churches is often characterized as
explosive, a metaphor that conjures up not just the
rapid spread of the tradition, but also its destruction
of what laid in its path, long indigenized and
politically entrenched forms of Roman Catholicism
in Central and South America, indigenous religions in
Africa and Melanesia, and culturally embedded forms of
Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism in all the
above places, and in India. The rhetoric and rituals of
rupture that Birgit Meyer has illuminated. So brilliantly play a
large role in creating this image of Pentecostalism
as a destructive force, especially when combined
with a linear narrative of its history, from William
Seymour’s Azusa Street Church in Los Angeles,
date stamped April 1906, to its seemingly unstoppable
global dispersion. One of the contributions of
global Christianity– of world Christianity– has
been to counter this with a history of polycentric
multiple origins that makes visible indigenous
agency in the localization of Christianity,
even at the height of 19th and early 20th
century European colonialism. Historian Michael
Burgunder argues that we can reconcile
these two competing historical narratives. The sort of linear– with Azusa Street
as the epicenter and the polycentric
by putting Pentecostal history into a global context. Thus, we can see
that Pentecostalism is quote, “Neither a
creed, an institution, nor a place, but a vast and
vague international network,” unquote, made up of people,
conferences, and media. From a historical
perspective, quote, “Everything we count as
Pentecostal must be connected within a vast
diachronic network that goes back to the beginning
of Pentecostalism,” unquote. And that beginning has no
single point of origin. Seen in this sense,
Azusa Street was the prelude to Pentecostalism– in fact, one of many preludes. Pentecostalism itself
only really came into being when a global
Pentecostal network was established, which
Burgunder points to– or locates as early as 1908. One such prelude
to Pentecostalism was the Mukti Mission
in Western India led by a truly remarkable
individual, Pandita Ramabai. Her history and
contribution deserve more in-depth investigation than
the scattered references one finds in histories of global
Pentecostalism and much more than I can share today. Briefly, after achieving fame
as a social reformer working to uplift Brahmin widows,
she converted to Anglicanism and opened a mission
institute in the foothills of Kedgaon, 100 kilometers
from the cosmopolitan center of Pune. When famine struck the
region, as it did regularly across India in
the 19th century, hundreds of
traumatized survivors took refuge in her mission. By 1900, the Mukti Mission
housed 2,000 residents, mostly impoverished,
low-caste women, whom the mission hoped
to quote, “uplift–” it was the rhetoric of the day– through education and
vocational training. But what hagiographers
of Pentecostalism zero in on are a series of outbreaks
of charismatic phenomena that occurred in 1906– 1905 to 1906 in the
midst of heightened millennial expectation among
missionaries around the world. The first outbreak
reported by Minnie Abrams, an a American associate
of Pandita Ramabai, was in June 1905, 10 months
before the Azusa Street Revival, when a matron came
upon a dormitory of girls weeping, praying, and
confessing their sins, while one girl in
their midst testified that she had been
woken from her sleep by powerful sensation
of being bathed in fire. At this time, when so
many different aspects of the conversion
of Indian Christians was met with skepticism by
both white Christian and Indian non-Christian observers,
it is not surprising that Abrams and Ramabai
absorbed the message that there was a
clear form which such extraordinary sensations
had to take in order to distinguish the genuine
action of the Holy Spirit from superstitious hedonism. Many felt that what
happened in 1905 fell short of the Pentecost
described in the Book of Acts. When Abrams and Ramabai read
news about the Azusa Street Revival in the pages
of The Apostolic Faith, a newsletter originating out
of the Azusa Street Church, whose circulation just exploded
in the course of like 10 months to a year. When they read the news
in The Apostolic Faith, they humbly
acknowledged that quote, “The deeper fullness
of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost accompanied
by the gift of tongues had not yet been
received at Mukti.” And they encouraged
congregants to tarry, which I interpret as
code for our charismata are not just not good enough. And predictably, before long,
the gift of gift of tongues descended on the
Mukti Mission as well. Thanks to Pandita Ramabai’s
international network of donors and supporters, and
Abrams’ tireless publicity, the Mukti Mission thus emerged
as a new center of Pentecostal fervor, receiving
visits from missionaries from all over the world,
who traveled onwards, carrying the form of Pentecostal
ecstatic worship to new places. This one Indian example
illustrates the usefulness of Burgunder’s definition of
Pentecostalism as a network. But it additionally reveals
that influence did not, and does not, flow equally along it. Specifically, the
girl’s experience of the Holy Spirit as a bath
of fire, though, to my eyes, a perfectly adequate
interpretation of the descent of fire
described in Acts 2, was not ever widely confirmed
as a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Rather, it was only
acknowledged when it took the form as recognized
by white Pentecostals. Following Burgunder,
I view Pentecostalism as a global network composed of
innumerable nodes of influence, in which the process of– which the process of
missionization extends, alternately
producing local forms and bringing those into
alignment with normative forms. Doing so helps reveal the
striking polycentricity of Pentecostal and
charismatic Christianity. Wherever authority figures
seek to erect some singular structure, church, media
network, or theology, the irrepressible dynamics
of what Christians theorize is the Holy Spirit
bubbles up and leads to the creation of new centers. What I’d like to do and
what follows is two-fold. One is to look at this
incredibly dynamic polycentric process
of missionization while holding another lens that
examines how, at a local level, it authorizes new forms
of expression of gender. For example, in
his extraordinary– his extraordinary
ethnography, To Be Cared For, Nate Roberts describes the dozen
or more Pentecostal churches in a northern Chennai slum
he calls Kashtappattinam, which means– it’s a pseudonym that
means, like, trouble town. And each of these Pentecostal
churches had two names. The formal, official
name painted on a sideboard
outside the church was something like Apostolic
Liberation Divine Assembly, or Loving Prayer House. But residents of the slum
rarely use those names. Rather, they referred
to Samuel’s Church, or Yesudasan’s church,
or sometimes, just Samuel, Yesudasan. This close identification of
the church with its male pastor was fitting because,
as he writes, “A slum church was not only
the pastor’s personal property, but his life’s work, the
worldly manifestation of his God-given spirit
powers, and in many ways, an extension of
himself,” unquote. These independent
Pentecostal pastors worked tirelessly to attract
his parishioners, often from one another’s
flocks, or from those of the Church of South India
or Roman Catholic churches. And he also sought to resource
the simple thatch and pole structures that constitute the
physical church with ceiling fans and cordless microphones. An influential narrative
in contemporary India portrays Pentecostal churches
as lavishly supported by American Christian donors,
thus reinforcing the sense that present day Indian
Christians are somehow alien within or traitors
to the Indian nation, which is increasingly
identified as Hindu. And Hindu, moreover, in a
kind of Modi-era conservative, modern Brahminical Hinduism. This narrative fuels
a steady stream of daily acts of violence
against Indian Pentecostals, as Chad Bauman has documented. But what his and
Roberts’ research reveals is that the vast majority of
these independent Pentecostal churches are self-funded. Indeed, they operate
on a barebones level that really doesn’t require
much in the way of material investment– because what really
powers the church, what the real engine of church
growth is, is not money, let alone foreign
money, nor even the charisma of the
male pastor, but quasi-autonomous organized
networks of church women bound to one another
through prayer. In a pattern that many other
scholars of Pentecostalism has noted, but not
deeply investigated, these networks of
women, who move through the slum from Monday
to Friday, praying for women, compliment the work
of charismatic– of the charismatic male pastor,
although that is not openly acknowledged by pastor-centric
public rhetoric that focuses on the powers of the
preacher to prophesy and heal. Because of their reliance
on written sources and formal interviews,
scholars of Pentecostalism too often reproduce
that public rhetoric. I think what really
distinguishes Roberts’s ethnography
is his method. He spend about 15 months
just living in the slum, talking to people,
and observing people in both ritual and
everyday contexts, not reading newsletters or
having important– interviews with important big shots, but
just living along simple people and seeing them inside
and outside of church. The result is a
fine-grained analysis that gets us closer
to understanding how personal
networks among women suddenly alter the
discourse and relationship dynamics surrounding
wives in the slum. According to Roberts,
women in Kashtappattinam are a particularly tight bind. Because of the geographical
isolation of the slum, most women do not
work outside the home, and are utterly dependent
on their husbands’ wages. And yet, the Tamil
Hindu discourse of wifely auspiciousness
considers household well-being, whether measured in terms
of health, cleanliness, or absence of discord
as a function of women’s spiritual and domestic labor. So they’re incredibly
responsible for the well-being of the household,
and yet utterly dependent on their
husbands very small wages. Another important
element of women’s lives are the usurious
money-lending circles that almost all women
engage in to make ends meet, which monetize personal
relationships in a way that can cause a lot of strife. And these circles are
lauded in a lot of places as kind of microfinance schemes,
but Roberts, among others, has identified the
kind of strife and harm they can also cause. When it comes to the
success or failure of any individual
church in the slum, charismatic gifts of the male
pastor are not negligible. But women play a
crucial role, even in the high-voltage
daylong Sunday performances of
preaching, prophesying, and healing that are the
signature of Pentecostal ritual the world over. For during services, it is
women’s enthusiastic responses that raise the energy
level of the room. Their shouts of hallelujah,
their ecstatic swaying, and swooning, their coming
forward to be healed are, in fact, the
implicitly agreed upon index of the
preacher’s power as a conduit for God’s presence. But where Eriksen, in her
excellent study of gender and Pentecostalism in Vanuatu,
restricts her understanding of the charismatic space,
where gender is both performed and negotiated to
such public rituals, I propose that the
charismatic space includes the network of
relationships crafted by women’s prayer bands. These are cadres of
dedicated church women who support each male pastor. And during the week, these
prayer teams systematically visit all the houses
of the congregation, and others, Hindu or Christian,
inviting them to pray. The publicly acknowledged
purpose of these house visits constitutes one more
formal acknowledgment of male pastoral
authority, insofar as this is how the personal
prayer appeals that constitutes part of the
pastor’s Sunday performances are collected. And yet, in the process
of regularly talking to women about their lives, and
praying over their problems, and asking them to pray for
women who might be suffering even more than they
are, women assuage the silent, isolated
suffering of those who may be alienated
from each other because of those usurious practices
of the lending circles described earlier. In the process, they create
a new moral community whose core ethos is that
Christians should actively take on the sufferings
of others as Christ took on the woe of the world. Roberts argues that they come to
see that as wives they are not solely responsible for
household well-being, as the competing discourse
of wifely auspiciousness maintains, but rather that they
belong in a circle of care. Through their ceaseless
house-to-house visitings, they gradually bring
newcomers into the fold. And this kind of intensely
local network-driven conversion is a far cry from the mass
open air rallies, the prayer crusades, led by
famous preachers that many associate with
worldwide Pentecostal expansion and what Hindu nationalists
think conversion entails. Do I have a minute more? ANGIE HEO: Yes. ELIZA KENT: Am I over my time? OK. When we consider the
place of missions in global Christianity, a
lot of issues come to mind. And again, I wrote this before
I heard Professor Robert’s excellent presentation– so many there was today. But the ethics of
proselytization, the entwined of missionary
endeavors with empire, from the Spanish conquest
of the New World, to the settlement of
the American West, and the pacification
of Indians who forced assimilation on
Indian reservations, the intertwining of empire
and Christianity in India– the echoes of that
history still reverberate in the present moment. Particularly, in the
resentment against Christians and Christian
evangelization in places that were subject to this
kind of imperial Christianity. The echoes of this
history are also felt within the hallowed
halls of academia as well. For example, in the
resistance to the anthropology of Christianity as
a subdiscipline, or to historians of
religion taking up the topic of Christianity
around the world, where it took a long time for people
to recognize that there might be more gained from
looking at the people who embraced Christianity, even
under these violent conditions, as agents rather than
entirely as passive victims. The need to train our attention
on the agency of converts remains, I would argue,
not in a naive sense that they are masters of their
own destiny, because none of us are free from the
constraints of the culturally produced discourses and
social structures that we find ourselves embedded in. But because within those
structuring structures, one does see a
capacity to act freely, to world worlds worth living in. [APPLAUSE] ANGIE HEO: Thanks, Eliza,
for that insightful paper, and also for giving
me some insights into this institution as well.

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