“This article critiques the way in which the discipline of anthropology has construed Christianity, arguing that too narrow and ascetic a model of Christianity has become standard…” (p335)
So begins Cannell’s article (based on her Malinowski Memorial Lecture) in which she seeks to explore how Mormonism presents an alternative model of Christianity in which the physical and the spiritual are closely related and interdependent, and in which kinship plays an important role in eternity.
I’m totally on board with the project she proposes in the quote above and find her reflections on Mormonism really fascinating. This is really stimulating research. However, I reckon there’s a lot more to be done than simply broadening the scope of reflection to more marginal denominations.
You see, the way she describes how mainstream anthropology understands Christianity is totally at odds with what I thought was my very orthodox, mainstream Christian upbringing. For example, according to Cannell, anthropologists represent Christianity and Christian theology in some of the following ways:
“Christianity…insists on the opposition between this world and the next world – the material and the spiritual…” (p338)
“the idea of the withdrawal of God from the world” (p340)
“Where Christianity was theorised, I found the approach tended to stress its ascetic components above all else and to assume that it would be premised on an antagonism between body and spirit” (p340)
“…Parry…failed to foreground the inevitable ambivalence towards the body which this doctrine [the resurrection] establishes in Christianity. The Christian body cannot be all bad, even for ascetics for it will be returned to us in heaven, although in fixed and incorruptible form” (p342)
“The undoubtedly powerful ascetic current in Christianity has generally been accompanied by an attitude to ordinary family life and kinship which regards it as, at most, a kind of second best to spiritual life” (p342)
So, while Cannell doesn’t think this is necessarily a true representation of Christian thought, she thinks other anthropologists do. I’m sure there are some Christians for whom it is true, but it’s missing out on a massive chunk of quite orthodox believers who are deeply concerned with this world and what happens in it because they believe God is still intimately involved in it and cares for it deeply.
I need to get a handle on this field of work for myself!
h/t to Tracey for sending me this article (and a bunch of others I haven’t read yet!). Thanks!