Robbins, “Dumont’s hierarchical dynamism: Christianity and individualism revisited”

Robbins, Joel. Dumont’s hierarchical dynamism: Christianity and individualism revisited. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(1), 2015

In this article I offer a dynamic account of the relations between values in Dumont’s theory. I then suggest that we can use this account to reframe the recent debate surrounding the extent to which Christianity sometimes introduces the value of individualism into the social formations created by recent converts from religions in which it was not important. Scholars who are skeptical of the importance of individualism among converts assert either that Christianity is not individualist or that it fosters various kinds of relationships as much as or more than it fosters a focus on the individual. I suggest that on my dynamic reading of Dumont we can draw on his theory to develop an understanding of individualism as a value that allows us recognize the role of relationships in some Christian traditions without having to underplay their individualist components. I develop my argument through a discussion of ethnographic materials from Papua New Guinea and, comparatively, from Africa and Amazonia.