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In search of prosperity

In search of prosperity

Ryan Schram

Mills 169 (A26)


September 18 and 20, 2017

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/8.1


Haynes, Naomi. 2015. “‘Zambia Shall Be Saved!’: Prosperity Gospel Politics in a Self-Proclaimed Christian Nation.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 19 (1): 5–24. doi:10.1525/nr.2015.19.1.5.

Alternative modernity

Brenner argues that Islamic movement does for Indonesia as Protestanism did for early modern Europe, i.e.:

Islamic movement : Indonesia : : Protestantism : Europe

So Indonesian modernity is an “alternative” to Western modernity, but for Brenner, there is a formal parallel between them. The societies are changing in different ways, but the process of change is the same on a deeper level.

If there are many modernities, which one is this?

The multiple modernities thesis states:

  • All societies change, but societies do not all eventually end up at the same destination.
  • Social change cannot be measured on a single, absolute scale of progress or development.

If there are many modernities, then Western society exists in only one? What makes it different?

Do secular societies have a 'sacred'?

What are the distinctive cultural values of Western modernity not shared, for instance, by Indonesian modernity, Maimafu modernity, or Kabre modernity?

Western societies tend to be very secular, but as cultures, their members also share a system of values? What is the idea to which Western societies attribute overriding importance, that is, “sacred” value?

The individual as a cultural construct

Western societies tend to teach members to see themselves as individuals. This has come into our discussion in several ways already:

  • The person as a consumer
  • The person as a wage laborer
  • The person as a social actor

Let's examine directly the idea all these have in common: The individual.

An alternative to Weber

Weber assumed that being an individual is natural, and hence a precondition for social action. It is natural for an actor to have a unique, subjective, private view of their action, and so we must take their perspective as an individual to see what they create through action.

What if the individual does not exist except in our imagination?

What if you have to be taught to see yourself as an individual, and not something else? Western children are taught this from the day they are able to talk.

  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What is your favorite X?

Christianity around the world

When we think of the globalization of Western cultural forms, most people think of commodities and mass consumption. They may also think about ideologies like liberal democracy, capitalism and personal achievement.

The Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life. 2011. “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population- Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.” http://www.pewforum.org/

Different kinds of Christianity have also globalized, but not always in the same ways or to the same places. Pentecostal Christianity speads almost by word of mouth and is growing very rapidly

  • Kekchi Maya of Guatemala

Christianity is based on Western ideas of the individual

  • Personal, sincere confession
  • Equality of all believers qua moral subjects
  • Individual responsibility for one's relationship to God
  • Christian morality is distinct from obligations entailed in social relationships
  • God cares for human beings as individuals, not groups or as members of society

The Urapmin of Papua New Guinea

  • “The Holy Spirit came.” (Robbins 2004, 129)
  • The present era is a “free time.” (p. 220)
  • “When do you think the world will end?” (Robbins 1997)

Urapmin Pentecostalism is a contradiction in values

  • “My wife can't break off part of her belief and give it to me.” (Robbins 2002)
  • “You shouldn't talk behind the Holy Spirit's back.” (Robbins 2004, 135)

Prosperity theology and individualism

  • Prayers to God must be answered.
  • Health, success and wealth are what God wants for believers.
  • Not an ascetic morality

Is this a reflection of Western individualism, or a kind of reciprocity with God?


The Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life. 2011. “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population.” http://www.pewforum.org/

Robbins, Joel. 1997. “‘When Do You Think the World Will End?’: Globalization, Apocalypticism, and the Moral Perils of Fieldwork in ‘Last New Guinea.’” Anthropology and Humanism 22 (1): 6–30. doi:10.1525/ahu.1997.22.1.6.

———. 2002. “My Wife Can’t Break Off Part of Her Belief and Give It to Me: Apocalyptic Interrogations of Christian Individualism Among the Urapmin of Papua New Guinea.” Paideuma 48: 189–206.

———. 2004. Becoming Sinners: Christianity and Moral Torment in a Papua New Guinea Society. University of California Press.

A guide to the unit

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