Bialecki, Jon (UCSD) – Ethnography of Global Christianities: Lecture/Quarter Version

Jon Bialecki (
Spring Quarter 2010
Tuesday and Thursday 5:00-6:20, SOLIS 110
Office Hours: SSB 275, Tuesday and Thursday, noon – one

While, since the very beginning of anthropology as a discipline, there have been ethnographies of self-described Christian populations and anthropological works that have addressed themes often associated with Christianity, it is only very recently that the anthropology of Christianity has developed into a sub-field; one of the hallmarks of this newly emerging subfield has been the richness and sophistication of many of the ethnographies associated with it. This course serves as an introduction to this new body of literature, and includes such topics as: as what is the anthropology of Christianity and why has it taken so long to develop; what are the world-historical conditions that have given rise to the sub-fieldʼs object of study; how are we to theorize conversion, both of individuals and of social units; what is the role that representation and language ideology plays in Christian religious practice; and what forms of subjectivity does Christianity engender?

Grades will be assessed based upon three sets of material, all of which will be given equal weight:

  • Research Paper: The first set will be an eight to ten page mid-term research paper, due in class on May 18th; this paper, while based on independent reading, should incorporate applicable course readings and address course themes.
  • Take-home Final: The second set will be a take-home, open-book exam, which will address the course readings; unlike the research paper, this should not include independent research.
  • Response Papers: The third will be short response papers, which will consist of a) a one paragraph synthesis of the arguments and evidence present the dayʼs reading, and b) a question that you feel arises from this material. While they have no particular ʻdue date,ʼ you will be expected to turn in six of them over the course of the class, the top five of which will be graded; all responses are due at the beginning of the class whoʼs assigned readings they are addressing, and no late papers will be accepted. No more than one response paper may be turned in per week.
  • Extra Credit: There will be opportunities for substantial extra credit, including the possibility of making a class presentation based upon oneʼs research paper.

This class has four required texts, all of which should be available both at the bookstore and at Geisel Library reserves; they are:

  • Joel Robbins (2004) Becoming Sinners: Christianity and moral torment in a Papua New Guinea society. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Matthew Engelke (2007) A Problem of Presence: beyond Scripture in an African church. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Kevin Lewis OʼNeill (2010) City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • James S. Bielo (2009) Words Upon the Word: An Ethnography of Evangelical Group Bible Study. New York: New York University Press.

The course readings will also include various articles and book chapters, all of which will be made available as PDF files via the courseʼs UCSD WebCT portal (

March 30th

RECOMMEND READING: Jon Bialecki et. al., (2008) ʻThe Anthropology of Christianityʼ Religion Compass 2(6):1139-1158 [AVAILABLE ON WEBCT].

April 1st
Phillip Jenkins (2002) “The Next Christianity” The Atlantic Monthly, 290(3): 53-68 [AVAILABLE ON WEBCT]

April 6th
Joel Robbins (2003). “What is a Christian? Notes toward an anthropology of Christianity.” Religion 33(3): 191-199; Susan Harding (1991). “Representing Fundamentalism: The Problem of the Repugnant Cultural Other.” Social Research 58(2): 373-393 [AVAILABLE ON WEBCT]. RECOMMENDED READINGS: Marshall Sahlins (1996) “The Sadness of Sweetness: Native Anthropology of Western Cosmology” Current Anthropology 37(3):395-428; Talal Asad (2002 [1993]) “The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category” in Michael Lambek, editor, A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion (New York: Blackwell Press). [AVAILABLE ON WEBCT].

April 8th
Joel Robbins, Becoming Sinners, Prologue, Introduction, Chapter 2

April 13th
Joel Robbins, Becoming Sinners, Chapter 3, Chapter 4

April 15th
Joel Robbins, Becoming Sinners, Chapter 5, Chapter 6

April 20th
Joel Robbins, Becoming Sinners, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Conclusion

April 22nd
Webb Keane (1997) “From Fetishism to Sincerity: On Agency, The Speaking Subject, and Their Historicity in the Context of Religious Conversion” Comparative Studies in Society and History 39(4):674-693 [AVAILABLE ON WEBCT].

April 27th
Matthew Engelke, A Problem of Presence, Introduction, Chapter 1

April 29th
Matthew Engelke, A Problem of Presence, Chapter 2, Chapter 3

May 4th
Matthew Engelke, A Problem of Presence, Chapter 4, Chapter 5

May 6th
Matthew Engelke, A Problem of Presence, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Conclusion

May 11th
Kevin Lewis OʼNeill, City of God, Preface, Introduction, Chapter 1

May 13th
Kevin Lewis OʼNeill, City of God, Chapter 2, Chapter 3

May 18th
Kevin Lewis OʼNeill, City of God, Chapter 4, Chapter 5

May 20th
Kevin Lewis OʼNeill, City of God, Chapter 6, Conclusion

May 25th
Tanya Luhrmann (2007) “How Do You Learn To Know That It Is God Who Speaks?” in David Berliner and Ramon Sarró, eds., Learning Religion: Anthropological Approaches New York NY: Berghan Books. [AVAILABLE ON WEBCT].

May 27th
James Bielo, Words Upon the Word, Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2

June 1st
James Bielo, Words Upon the Word, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5

June 3rd
James Bielo, Words Upon the Word, Chapter 6, Conclusion