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Christian Politics in Oceania

Christian Politics in Oceania

Matt Tomlinson
Debra McDougall
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    Christian Politics in Oceania
    Book Description:

    The phrase "Christian politics" evokes two meanings: political relations between denominations in one direction, and the contributions of Christian churches to debates about the governing of society. The contributors to this volume address Christian politics in both senses and argue that Christianity is always and inevitably political in the Pacific Islands. Drawing on ethnographic and historical research in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji, the authors argue that Christianity and politics have redefined each other in much of Oceania in ways that make the two categories inseparable at any level of analysis. The individual chapters vividly illuminate the ways in which Christian politics operate across a wide scale, from interpersonal relations to national and global interconnections.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-745-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    MT and DM
  6. Introduction. Christian Politics in Oceania
    (pp. 1-21)

    “What difference does Christianity make?” Fenella Cannell begins her landmark edited volumeThe Anthropology of Christianity(2006) with this provocative question, and to the book’s credit, the contributors arrive at different—but always ethnographically vivid—answers. For example, Seventh-day Adventists in Madagascar use the Bible as a basis for “normal science,” continually attempting to harmonize mainstream scientific knowledge with scriptural standards. In contrast, Swedish Pentecostals believe that physical reality can be shaped linguistically, and they expect healthy bodies and worldly success to come from repeatedly speaking the right words. For the Biaks of Papua the difference Christianity makes is comparatively...

  7. 1 Mediating Denominational Disputes: Land Claims and the Sound of Christian Critique in the Waria Valley, Papua New Guinea
    (pp. 22-48)

    InThe Social Sources of Denominationalism(1929), H. Richard Niebuhr describes the cyclic movements between sects and churches that mark the history of American Protestantism. His model of denominationalism has been influential in a number of different cases beyond American Protestantism, particularly for people working in the sociology of religion (see Johnson 1963; Swatos 1998 and references therein). In this model, a group of Christians becomes dissatisfied with a church’s organizational form, either because of the ways in which the church has come to exclude certain social categories of people or because of the ways in which the church has...

  8. 2 “Heaven on Earth” or Satan’s “Base” in the Pacific?: Internal Christian Politics in the Dialogic Construction of the Makiran Underground Army
    (pp. 49-77)

    In 2006, I spent eight months in Solomon Islands, primarily in the Arosi region at the northwest end of the island of Makira, investigating talk that Makira is the site of a secret subterranean army. As I followed receding leads from one interlocutor to another, I discovered the truth of one Arosi speaker’s insight that “these stories have noahui”—no “growing core” or “base” to which they can be traced. Although virtually all Arosi (and many other Solomon Islanders) are familiar with stories about what they callbahai nai ano(under the ground), orgao nai ano(below the...

  9. 3 The Generation of the Now: Denominational Politics in Fijian Christianity
    (pp. 78-102)

    Fiji’s Christian landscape is steeply contoured, with eruptions and erosion at the fault lines between churches. The nation’s four coups since 1987 have pulsed with the religious motivations and justifications of many participants, and to speak of Fijian politics is necessarily to speak, at least in part, of Christian denominationalism. In this chapter, I analyze a sermon delivered by the senior pastor of the New Methodist Christian Fellowship at an evangelical rally held in Suva in June 2009. The preacher, Atunaisa Vulaono, declared that all styles of worship are acceptable, but his views on the nature of people’s relationship with...

  10. 4 Christian Politics in Vanuatu: Lay Priests and New State Forms
    (pp. 103-121)

    Policy literature and development agendas have increasingly focused on “governance” in attempts to solve the problem of perceived “failing” or “weak” states in Melanesia (Dinnen 1998; May 1998). As Eves (2008: 1) points out, in the past decade AusAID has dramatically expanded funding for “governance strategies.” As the term “governance” signals, these strategies of reforming the state also look toward institutions outside of the state, including churches, which are widely regarded as the most successful form of what is defined as “civil society” in Melanesia (see McDougall 2008). This chapter focuses on Vanuatu, where AusAID has recently launched its new...

  11. 5 Evangelical Public Culture: Making Stranger-Citizens in Solomon Islands
    (pp. 122-145)

    Since the beginning of missionary evangelism, the ideals of Christian unity have been undermined by sectarian division. In his classic study, H. Richard Niebuhr called denominationalism a “compromise, made far too lightly” between the radical ideal of Christian fellowship and the “caste-system of human society”:

    The division of the churches closely follows the division of men into the castes of national, racial, and economic groups. It draws the color line in the church of God; it fosters the misunderstandings, the self-exaltations, the hatreds of jingoistic nationalism by continuing in the body of Christ the spurious differences of provincial loyalties; it...

  12. 6 Anthropology and the Politics of Christianity in Papua New Guinea
    (pp. 146-170)

    Why has so little been written about contemporary religion and politics in Papua New Guinea?

    The question is meant to provoke. My main purpose in this chapter is to offer an overview and critique of what is actually a quite extensive literature that deals, directly and indirectly, with political aspects of Christianity in Papua New Guinea (PNG)—a literature penned primarily by anthropologists. Yet the treatment of the topic in PNG differs significantly from how it is treated in other parts of the world, particularly in the neglect of relationships between church and state. In contrast to sub-Saharan Africa, one...

  13. 7 Chiefs, Church, and State in Santa Isabel, Solomon Islands
    (pp. 171-197)

    In April 2004, I accompanied Dudley Tuti, paramount chief and retired bishop of Santa Isabel, on a trip to the village of Gnulahaghe to bless four chiefs being appointed to the district “House of Chiefs.” Just a short canoe trip from the island center where Tuti lived prior to his death in 2006, the event was, like so many similar events, an occasion for a church service, feasting, entertainment, and speeches. With four new members of the House of Chiefs and the paramount chief as the focus of attention, the ceremony, conducted in the course of a church service, was...

  14. 8 Why is There No Political Theology among the Urapmin?: On Diarchy, Sects as Big as Society, and the Diversity of Pentecostal Politics
    (pp. 198-210)

    Christian Politics in Oceania.It is interesting to note that this volume’s title, despite its apparent simplicity, is in fact ambiguous. The rub is in the phrase “Christian politics.” This could refer to the political relations that hold between different Christian groups— the politics of theological debate, schism, and drawing denominational boundaries. Or “Christian politics” might refer to the way Christianity shapes broader political debates about the best way to govern society. This ambiguity is productive for this volume, as many of the contributors take up topics that address Christian politics in both senses— looking at how intra-Christian politics intersect...

  15. Afterword. Reflections on Political Theology in the Pacific
    (pp. 211-223)

    Matt Tomlinson and Debra McDougall open this volume by invoking Fenella Cannell’s question, “what difference does Christianity make?” Depending on how we take the question, it opens up several possible lines of inquiry. First, to ask what difference Christianity makes can turn on a larger framing question: what difference does “religion” make?—for instance, “as opposed to culture” or “when we think about politics.” Or the question may direct us to the distinctiveness ofthisreligion, to ask what difference Christianity makes, as opposed to the old gods and spirits, or Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and so forth. Of more immediate...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 224-226)
  17. Index
    (pp. 227-235)