Comparison in Anthropological Studies of Religion (14-16 May 2013)

The Genesis of value: Comparison in Anthropological Studies of Religion

EPHE-Paris May 14-16, 2013

Organizers: Annelin Eriksen (Gender and Pentecostalism Project, University of Bergen)

Andr√© Iteanu¬†( CNRS¬†–¬†√Čcole Pratique des Hautes √Čtudes)

In this workshop we want to challenge a common but very limited form of comparison. Anthropologists who explicitly claim to compare often focus on empirical phenomena (marriage institutions, religious institutions etc.) and on the way these are produced and developed in different contexts. To ensure comparability, they compare neighboring¬†or so-called ‚Äúsimilar‚ÄĚ, societies. However, as Detienne (2008) pointed out, in doing so, they remain prisoners of the idea that one can only compare ‚Äúthat which is comparable‚ÄĚ. Comparability is, however, not an objective fact but a social construction. For instance, in the cases of ‚Äúneighboring societies‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúsimilar societies‚ÄĚ, comparability is defined respectively¬†by assumed shared origin or mutual influences, and by material or structural resemblance. From an anthropological point of view, this could be regarded as ‚Äúsympathetic comparison‚ÄĚ, in a similar sense that we speak of ‚Äúsympathetic magic‚ÄĚ.

In contrast, the notion of comparison that this workshop wants to investigate is integral to anthropology but entails more than comparing ‚Äúsimilar‚ÄĚ societies. It is implicit in any anthropological description and becomes explicit when the observer casts his or her own position into the framework of his or her analysis. It has today become even more obvious or ‚Äúfundamental‚ÄĚ in all the explorations that deconstruct the anthropologist‚Äôs perceptive tools. No doubt, it is forever ongoing as every deconstruction opens the way for new ones.

Given this point of view, we all compare, all the time. However, the question of comparison itself has not been directly addressed for a number of years. Therefore, this workshop seeks to engage its participants in the question of the role of comparison for anthropology and how we should conceptualise comparative frameworks. As opposed to empirical comparison, ours takes place at the level of ideology. It implies a focus on how each analyzed element is part of larger systems which gives it its meaning. Dumont’s (1980) comparative analysis of hierarchical and individualistic systems is a case in point. His studies were used as a model for other comparative analyses in anthropology (see Kapferer 1988 [2011] on nationalism, or Alès and Barraud 1991 on sex/gender). This sort of comparison often involves contrasting different societies and a focus on cultural and regional diversity. It encourages the research to investigate the systematic way in which social parts (for instance violence or gender relations) are related to a larger whole that stands for the social. Adopting this stand, open new venues for it then becomes possible to compare even distant and heterogeneous social practices for as long as the analysis accounts for the analytical level of values on which the comparison takes place.

Nonetheless, in order to enhance the coherence of our discussion, this workshop will give priority to the ‚Äúlevel of religion‚ÄĚ. Religion is here taken in the sense of a value that has the capacity to encompass and influence the life of people while at the same time being idiosyncratic to a very large extent; for this matter, ideology or cosmology might be more appropriate terms. Encompassing values are also often sacred values, but not necessarily conventionally seen as ‚Äúreligious‚ÄĚ values (see for instance Kapferer 1988 on nationalist egalitarianism as a religious value).




Tuesday 14th


09.00-09.30 Welcome and opening by André and Annelin



Session 1 Comparison as a de-stabilizing strategy.

Chair : Knut Rio

09.30-10.30   Morten Nielsen and Morten Axel Pedersen

‚ÄėGetting it Wrong‚Äô: Incomparing the Comparable in a Collaborative Ethnographic Study of Chinese Infrastructure Projects in Mozambique and Mongolia

10.30-11.30   Matthew Engelke

The Secular Limn: Christianity and Humanism in Comparative Perspective


11.30-11.45   Coffee

11.45-12.45   Henrik Vigh

The Intentionality of the Other: on suspicion and social indeterminacy in Belfast and Bissau 

12.45- 13.00 Discussant Rane Willerslev


13.00-14.00 Lunch


Session 2: Comparison and value

Chair: Annelin Eriksen

14.00-15.00   André Iteanu

A disappearing world: a comparative attempt between the US and the Orokaiva



15.00-1600 Joel Robbins


On Value and Internal Comparison


16.00-16.15 Coffee

16.15-16.30 Discussant: Bruce Kapferer 15 minutes

16.30-17.00 General discussion


20.00 Dinner


Wednesday 15th


Session 3: comparison across time and space


10.00-11.00 Irène Catach Rosier 

Remarks on cross-overs in speech effectiveness in the Western Middle Ages


11.00-12.00 ¬† Bj√łrn Enge Bertelsen

Lycantrophy as potentiality of transcendence, sovereignty and territoriality: Comparing Amazonian and Southern African politico-religious formations

 12.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00.-15.00 Annelin Eriksen

The gender of charisma, a comparison of Pentecostalism in Africa and Melanesia

15.00-16.00 Ismael Moya

Of Comparability and Comparison. Melanesian Models in a Muslim African City; with comparative prolegomena on Economy.


16.00-16.15   Coffee

16.15-16.30 Discussant: Christine Jacobsen

16.30-17.00   General discussion


20.00 dinner


Thursday 16th


Session 4: Critical Comparison

Chair: André Iteanu

10.00-11.00 Knut Rio

Critical comparison between philosophy and ethnography: Approximating witchcraft to ‚ÄĚnothingness‚ÄĚ.

11.00-12.00   Ruy Llera Blanes

Who or what is a prophet? Debating categories of leadership, gender and charisma in the anthropology of religion

12.00-12.15   Discussant: Rane Willerslev

12.15-1300 General Discussion


1300-1400   Lunch


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