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Anthropology, Pentecostalism, and the New Paul: Conversion, Event, and Social Transformation

Anthropology, Pentecostalism, and the New Paul: Conversion, Event, and Social Transformation
JHB 100a
Time: Sep 16th, 4:30 pm End: Sep 16th, 6:30 pm
Interest Categories: Sociology (FAS), Religion, Study of (FAS), Philosophy (UTM), Philosophy (FAS), Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations (FAS), Jewish Studies, History (FAS), Historical Studies (UTM), English (FAS), Comparative Literature (FAS), Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (UTM), Classics (FAS), 400-1 BCE, 1-400 CE
Lecture by Joel Robbins

The Working Group on Religion, Culture, Politics


The Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies



Joel Robbins, Anthropology (University of California, San Diego)

Anthropology, Pentecostalism, and the New Paul: Conversion, Event, and Social Transformation

This lecture brings together the current philosophical discussion of Paul and recent anthropological work on Christianity.  Taking the development of notions of the event as a source of radical cultural change as the center of new philosophical discussion of Paul, I argue that the rapid spread of Pentecostalism around the world in the last hundred years has subject many communities to just this kind of evental transformation.    Given this, how might philosophical theories of the event that claim Paul as their patron saint be read in relation to what it means for Pentecostal converts to become Christian in the contemporary world?  After outlining Badiou’s theory of the event, and arguing for its anthropological usefulness, I deploy it in analyzing in some detail the history of a community’s conversion in Papua New Guinea.  While Badiou’s model brings out many aspects of this case – showing the value of putting anthropological materials on lived Christianity into dialogue with recent philosophical work on Paul - the details of the case also push back in some ways against the model.  In particular, they demonstrate the difficulty people have living their lives wholly in terms of what Badiou sees as the universalism of the event.  This point leads to a final section in which I consider the possibility that Christianity, and in fact all universalisms, are best understood as what Coleman calls “part-cultures” – those that require some other culture that they both reject and curate in order to be able to play a role in shaping social life.  Taking account of this part-culture quality of evental universalisms allows for a more complex account of the nature of radical cultural transformation than one finds in the new philosophical literature on Paul.


This event is free and open to the public

If you are a person with a disability and require accommodation, please contact Kim Yates at (416) 946-0313 to make appropriate arrangements.

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