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Critical Christianity

Critical Christianity: Translation and Denominational Conflict in Papua New Guinea

Courtney Handman
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Critical Christianity
    Book Description:

    InCritical Christianity,Courtney Handman analyzes the complex and conflicting forms of sociality that Guhu-Samane Christians of rural Papua New Guinea privilege and celebrate as "the body of Christ." Within Guhu-Samane churches, processes of denominational schism-long relegated to the secular study of politics or identity-are moments of critique through which Christians constitute themselves and their social worlds. Far from being a practice of individualism, Protestantism offers local people ways to make social groups sacred units of critique. Bible translation, produced by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, is a crucial resource for these critical projects of religious formation. From early interaction with German Lutheran missionaries to engagements with the Summer Institute of Linguistics to the contemporary moment of conflict, Handman presents some of the many models of Christian sociality that are debated among Guhu-Samane Christians. Central to the study are Handman's rich analyses of the media through which this critical Christian sociality is practiced, including language, sound, bodily movement, and everyday objects. This original and thought-provoking book is essential reading for students and scholars of anthropology and religious studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95951-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-38)

    Like many communities across the world, Guhu-Samane Christians in the Waria River valley were excited to celebrate the start of a new millennium on New Year’s Eve, 2000. As usual for local celebrations, Christians gathered in separate denominational groups, ringing in the new year with church services, prayer sessions, and as much noise as they could muster at midnight. New Year’s Day brought more church services, especially for the large group of Reformed Gospel Church members celebrating at Garasa, the site of the local airstrip and an abandoned mission station.

    That morning, people had just started to congregate in the...


    • CHAPTER 1 Sacred Speakers or Sacred Groups: The Colonial Lutheran Mission in New Guinea
      (pp. 41-63)

      According to the secularization hypothesis developed by Max Weber (1957) and others, under conditions of modernity, religion was gradually supposed to become a private affair, moving further off the public stage and further into the minds of private individuals. Of course, predictions of the public death of religion have been proven wrong in recent years, as fundamentalisms of all stripes—or even just publically religious people—have emerged as major forces in contemporary life.

      This much is almost a social-science truism at this point. But the terms of the secularization hypothesis still hold subtle sway in much current anthropological thinking...

    • CHAPTER 2 Linguistic Locality and the Anti-Institutionalism of Evangelical Christianity: The Summer Institute of Linguistics
      (pp. 64-89)

      In the contemporary memorialization of the 1977 Guhu-Samane Holy Spirit revival, people emphasize the power of the SIL New Testament translation to bring on the revival. Just as important, people also speak about the effectiveness of the translation-inspired revival to bring about “real change” as contrasted with the utter ineffectiveness of either the colonial administration or the Lutheran Mission to do the same. I leave it to later chapters to focus on what speakers mean when they are talking about “real change.” In this chapter, I want to approach the methods and theologies of SIL through the comparison set up...

    • CHAPTER 3 Translating Locality: The Ethno-Linguistics of Christian Critique
      (pp. 90-120)

      The popular model of translation is that a preexistent text is reproduced in another code in order to be or mean “the same thing.” Various theories or critiques of translation argue that this kind of reproduction is impossible. As the French formulation would have it, translations are, like women,les belles infideles—either beautiful or faithful, but never both. The question then turns to the kinds of transformations that translations generate.

      In the last chapter, I used Venuti’s dichotomy of foreignizing versus domesticating translations to characterize Nida’s dynamic equivalence theory of translation as initially domesticating; that is, as trying to...


    • CHAPTER 4 Revival Villages: Experiments in Christian Social and Spatial Groups
      (pp. 123-158)

      In 1975 Ernest and Marjorie Richert distributed copies of the final, published version of their Guhu-Samane translation of the New Testament. Ernest Richert used the occasion to tell the assembled people to maintain the metaphorical, spiritual “fireplace” that he had built with them. According to contemporary accounts of the event, Richert said that he would soon send a match or a spark to ignite the fireplace, but it would only light if Guhu-Samane people kept the fireplace ready. This comment is now largely understood as a prophesy of the Holy Spirit revival (or, more directly, a promise to send the...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Surprise of Speech: Disorder, Violence, and Christian Language after the Men’s House
      (pp. 159-188)

      Henry, the head man of Titio village, was in the middle of a long discussion with me about the loss of men’s houses for Guhu-Samane people. Extrapolating from his disappointment, Henry made up a story of walking along the main road and seeing a banana tree. “I walked up to the banana tree. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘My name is Market.’ ” The banana tree named Market was a surprise to him. In Henry’s story the bananas on the tree had been designated by the tree’s owner to be harvested and sold at the semiweekly market held at Garasa station, the...


    • CHAPTER 6 Events of Translation: Intertextuality and Denominationalist Change
      (pp. 191-214)

      In the decades since the revival’s ecstatic anticipation of a Christian heaven on earth, the Guhu-Samane have had a hard time keeping hold of the sense of transformation that they experienced in 1977. The acrimonious schisms within the Christian community and broken promises from the national government about “development” contribute to the deep skepticism about change that Guhu-Samane Christians now grapple with. It is in light of this skepticism that the attention to Guhu-Samane engagements with the text that, for them, constituted change in the first place—the translated New Testament—deserves particular attention. With New Life and Reformed Gospel,...

    • CHAPTER 7 Mediating Denominational Disputes: Land Claims and the Sound of Christian Critique
      (pp. 215-243)

      InThe Social Sources of Denominationalism(1929) H. Richard Niebuhr describes the endless, cyclic movements between sects and churches that mark the history of American Protestantism. His model of denominationalism has been particularly influential for people working in the sociology of religion (see Johnson 1963; Swatos 1998 and references there). In this model, a group of Christians becomes dissatisfied with a church’s organizational form because of the ways the church has come to exclude certain social categories of people or because of the ways it has come to be simply a bureaucratic organization that has lost its “spirit.” This group...

    • CHAPTER 8 Kinship, Christianity, and Culture Critique: Learning to Be a Lost Tribe of Israel in Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 244-274)

      In the colonial world, Protestantism has had, at best, an ambivalent position with respect to European discourses of modernity and progress. Within Europe, religion was the premier antiprogressive force maintaining the status quo. Political liberalism defined the practice of critique as central to progress and defined religion as anti-critical, as keeping people from asking questions and using their rational faculties. J. S. Mill reserved pride of place for religion in discussing the “despotism of Custom” that kept geniuses (like himself) from flourishing (Mill [1859] 1978, 67). But at the same time that this secularist discourse was gaining ground in Europe,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 275-284)
  10. References
    (pp. 285-300)
  11. Index
    (pp. 301-308)