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Bialecki - No Caller ID for the Soul

Bialecki - No Caller ID for the Soul

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Published by: jon_bialecki on Sep 22, 2011
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No Caller ID for the Soul:Demonization, Charisms, and theUnstable Subject of ProtestantLanguage Ideology
 Jon Bialecki
University of California San Diego
The ethnography of Christianity has only one area where a sort of Khuniannormal science” has been achieved: Christian Language practices has beenagreed on as a topic of vital and sustained ethnographic interest, and is usual-ly understood analytically as being shaped by a referentially oriented, individ-uating “Christian [or, at times, Protestant] Language Ideology.” Relying on areview of the ethnographic literature regarding Christian Language use, and onan impromptu deliverance from demons observed during fieldwork with “TheVineyard,a Southern California originated but now world-wide ChurchPlanting movement, this article argues that such an understanding is nowrong, but only partially apprehends the relevant dynamics of language use.This piece posits that Christian language use can be understood by delineating two sharply contrasting, but both valued, forms of speech—“centripetal” and “centrifugal”—each of which has different implicit concerns about the impor-tance of self-identity and the sorts of boundaries that comprise the ethical sub- ject.
[Keywords: Anthropology of Christianity, Christian Language Ideology,Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, Southern California.]
 Anthropological Quarterly,
Vol. 84, No. 3, p. 679–704, ISSN 0003-5491. © 2011 by the Institute for EthnographicResearch (IFER) a part of the George Washington University. All rights reserved.
No Caller ID for the Soul: Demonization, Charisms, and the UnstableSubject of Protestant Language Ideology
Christian Language Ideologie(s)
In the rapidly emerging Anthropology of Christianity (Bialecki, Haynes,Robbins 2008; Cannell 2005, 2006; Lampe 2010; Robbins 2003; Scott2005), it is fair to say that language use is the area where there has beenthe most productive work. This work has been surprisingly extensive, cov-ering not only historical material (Bauman 1990), but also addressinglocales both outside (Keane 1998, 2002, 2007; Robbins 2001) and within(Bielo 2008; Crapanzano 2000; Harding 1987, 2001; Malley 2004; Shoaps2002; Stromberg 1993) the current ideological metropole for ProtestantChristianity, the United States (see Brouwer, Gifford, and Rose 1996); thisconcern for language has addressed a surprisingly wide swath of registers,including the ephemeral voice (Engelke 2007), the world-making possibili-ties of print (Keller 2005), and the vexed activity of translation (Rafael1992). In truth, this is one instance within Christianity-centered ethnogra-phy in which one cannot claim that this “emergent” status has resulted ina merely preliminary sketch or a hazy program for further research; rather,this “emerging” discussion has resulted in what has effectively become aKhunian normal sciencewithin Christianity-centered ethnography(Robbins n.d.); this normal science can be glossed as “Christian LanguageIdeology.” This ubiquitous and formulaic status might give us pause. Whileit is true that some account of the systemic regularities in the use and con-ception of language by Christian populations is necessitated by the factthat Christianity (particularly its Protestant instantiations) is notorious as areligion centered around speech, this emphasis on linguistic representa-tion as a mode of inaugurating and fixing religious experience could beseen as both overreaching and completist.But again, we may be too quick here to err. While language may not bethe only phenomenon at work here (see Lurhmann 2004; Luhrmann,Nusbaum, and Thisted 2010), it may also be that Christian language is not asmonolithic an object as it may first appear to be. If we think systematicallyabout these various Christian language ideologies, we can see that while theyshare a family resemblance, there are also moments when they differ fromeach other in what appears to be a not entirely unmotivated manner.Where these formulations of ethical language use differ is in how theyimagine the referential dimension of language functions. Take as an exam-ple Crapanzano’s
Serving the Word 
(2000), a discussion of (among other top-ics) the way in which the language ideology implicit in Biblical literalismfunctions for certain American Fundamentalists. For Crapanzano, literal-
ism serves as a drag that constrains allegorical readings, in which imagina-tive frontiers are occluded, where the Bible is read in a decontextualized,imperative mode, where the social is denied in a nominalist turn, andwhere the rhetorical and ironic aspects of speech are obscured by the sub-stantive and referential. Despite their couching it in a moralistic ratherthan a psychological idiom, and also despite the Fundamentalist rejectionof individualism as an ideology, Crapanzano’s informants are radicallyindividuated actors, with spoken agency limited to two sources—thedivine (often through the form of providential planning, or occasionallyinspiration) or the self (even if that agency reaches its apotheosis in its con-tinuing self-erasure through faith in, and submission to, God).Compare that with Harding’s (2001) description of Jerry Falwell’s rheto-ric, which emphasizes figurative and allegorical language, and where the“literal” Biblical narrative is constantly being re-imagined as Falwell (here,the name for a collective enterprise, and not a single speaker) deploysthese narratives in new, expansive, and transformative contexts. Here, therhetoric functions as a sort of processual unfolding that orientates the sub- ject not towards his or her self, but outwards and beyond, towards Biblicaltypological forms and historical and futurial events that are the true siteof meaning. It is not impossible to reconcile these two narratives;Crapanzano’s interest is primarily in the hermeneutic practices of this pop-ulation, particularly its academic and professional elites, while Hardingdiscusses instead the work being done by a public figure to reorient andovercome Fundamentalist separatist impulses that had kept the religiousmovement from the political arena for much of the 20th century. Thesedetails aside, though, there is something jarring in the sharply contrastingsense of the subjectivities entailed in each author’s accounts of language— Harding seems incredibly centrifugal in its expansiveness; while the other,Crapanzano, due to the limitation (and at times foreclosure) of certainaspects of language, appears to be centripetal (and perhaps, as presentedby that author, claustrophobic). And these are both describing populationsthat are at least overlapping, in as much as both serve up Jerry Falwell andhis Thomas Road Baptist Church as exemplars, even if each case exceedsmerely addressing Falwell, or even American Baptists.Loose and impressionistic as these terms are, I argue, the words
do sketch out two contrasting, yet prevalentthemes in accounts of Christian Language Ideology. The use of centrifugaland centripetal as metaphors emphasize the underlying identity of these

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