When it rains, it pours – on top of the paper by Girish Daswani that I came across yesterday, there is a new paper by Simon Coleman that is really worth attending to. It is an intervention in discussions of Pentecostal Networks, an idea that Simon Coleman himself originally helped construct. While Coleman never sinks to such depths, discussions of Pentecostal networks have a tendency to descend into tropic discussions of rhizomes; what is worse is that the invocation of rhizomes usually masks the analytic presumption that each iteration or node in the network is more or less interchangeable; it is just the ‘ground,’ the places that these nodes are embedded in, which vary.
What is really nice about Coleman’s article is that it focuses on difference – not merely in how it juxtaposes the networks of two separate Pentecostal movements (Sweden’s Word of Life and the Nigerian Redeemed Christian Church of God), but it shows that inside of each network, the value of the nodes is predicated on degrees of spatial and organizational difference, and that the greater the difference between two nodes in a network, the higher the value of the shared connection is for each. This is a salutary reminder in any discussion of networks, but it is especially useful in the anthropology of Christianity, which (again, in less skillful hands) often seems to be torn between a presumption of complete Christian identity across any iteration, or an absolute nominalism that would foreclose either a comparative analytic turn, or an acknowledgment of the imbricated nature of different Christianities.
Apologies for the long hiatus – this summer I’m in the midsts of a move from my old institutional home at University of California, San Diego, to my new one in the department of social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh.
The occasion for popping up during all this chaos is to note the publication of a rather sharp essay by Girish Daswani. It brings together three important refrains in the anthropology of Christianity – temporality and rupture, ethical practices of self-formation, and the inter-Christian debates about the place and value of the material substrate of semiotic systems. What’s more, while people have observes resonances between these three threads before, this is the first essay in quite a while that has really tried to think all three without prioritizing any one in particular, and at the same time acknowledge the differential and differentiating nature of the underlying phenomenon itself.