From Invisible Christians to Gothic Theatre: the Romance of the Millennial in Melanesian Anthropology

Bronwen Douglas

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    This paper is a history and textual critique of the anthropology of millennial, pentecostal, and charismatic Christianity in Melanesia located in relation to interpretations of indigenous religiosities worldwide, particularly mainstream Christianity but including "cargo cults" and millenarianism generally. An important subtext is the correlation between anthropological scholarship and the empirical settings of fieldwork, historicizing ethnographic texts in terms of indigenous actions and desires which subtly helped mould particular representations. Anthropology's major national traditions have been pervasively secular, romantic, and ahistoric. In Melanesia anthropologists essentialized exotic, "traditional" ritual complexes and mostly elided the less dramatic, mobile religious practices and experiences of the ever-growing majority of Melanesians who appropriated varieties of Christianity to their own ends. Only recently has mainstream Melanesian Christianity become a proper topic for ethnography, often in conjunction with a prolific literature on the "politics of tradition." Emblematic of the extent to which anthropologists are shifting Christianity from outside to within Melanesian religiosity is an emergent ethnographic focus on burgeoning pentecostal, charismatic, and millennial Christianity. Such movements may better cater to the discipline's expertise in exotic ritualizing than the seeming mundanity of mainstream Christian practices, but there is also powerful indigenous impetus in anthropology's romance with the millennial.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)615-650
    JournalCurrent Anthropology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2001

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