Beyond religion?

Further reflections on Beyond the ethnic lens: Locality, globality and born again incorporation by Nina Glick-Schiller, Ayse Caglar and Thaddeus C. Guldbrandsen, American Ethnologist, volume 33, number 4, November 2006.

While I approve of the call being made by Glick-Schiller et al. to question our assumptions about ethnicity, I’m disappointed in their treatment of religious belief. For example, here’s how they talk about the life story of one of the Christian migrants followed through this article (p619):

Although Heaven’s Gift had a brother in Chicago and family and Nigerian friends elsewhere in North America, he and Elizabeth settled in Manchester. His ties to a fundamentalist Christian network seem to have been part of the equation that led him to Manchester, although he attributes his presence there to God’s will. As Susan Harding (1987) has pointed out, narratives are read backward as part of an ongoing witnessing of the presence of Jesus in the life of the believer so that personal accounts serve as testimony and methods of evangelizing. Heaven’s Gift’s settlement, made possible by the transnational social fields within which he traveled, provided him with the social capital that allowed his project to grow dramatically.

The authors seem to dismiss the possibility that Heaven’s Gift’s time and opportunities could actually be God’s will. Instead, the authors get to interpret the ‘real’ driving forces – economics, social networks, chance – on his behalf to the academic audience who might read this article. Not only do they dismiss Heaven’s Gift’s interpretation, but they do so off-handedly as though it’s self evidently unreasonable – “although he attributes his presence there to God’s will”.

I wonder whether Heaven’s Gift was invited to read this paper before it went to print and, if so, what he said about it.

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