The Anthropology of Christianity

Jon Bialecki, Naomi Haynes, Joel Robins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article surveys the literature that constitutes the newly emergent anthropology of Christianity. Arguing that the development of this sub-discipline was impeded until recently by anthropology's theoretical framing and empirical interests, this article explains that demographic and world-historical forces have made it such that anthropology has had to recently come to terms with Christianity as an ethnographic object. In doing so, anthropology also has had to address its problematic relationship with Christianity, either in the religion's direct effect on the formation of the discipline, or as reflected by Christianity's influence on modernity itself, which has been vital for anthropology as both a category and as a style of cognition. In addition to these meta-theoretical questions, the anthropology of Christianity has become a space in which anthropology has been able to re-examine issues of social and cultural continuity and discontinuity in light of conversion to Christianity. Specifically, the issue of social change (often thought through or against the issue of ‘modernity’) has involved specific ethnographic examinations of fields, such as the relation between linguistic ideology and language use, economic practice, changing formations of gender and race, and the modes through which the person is culturally structured, and how that category of the person stands in relation to the social. Rather than presenting an overarching theoretical narrative, however, this review notes that these issues play out in divergent ways in differently situated communities, especially where Christianity's individuating effect may be muted where is it functions as an anti- or counter-modern force; this dynamic and contingent nature of Christianity underscores that Christianity itself is a heterogeneous object, and thus promises to be an area of rich empirical research and theoretical focus that should be beneficial not only for this sub-discipline, but also for the field of anthropology as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1139–1158
Number of pages20
JournalReligion Compass
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2008


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