A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church by Matthew Engelke

By Matthew Engelke

The Friday Masowe apostolics of Zimbabwe seek advice from themselves as “the Christians who don’t learn the Bible.” They declare they don't desire the Bible simply because they obtain the be aware of God “live and direct” from the Holy Spirit. during this insightful and delicate ancient ethnography, Matthew Engelke records how this rejection of scripture speaks to longstanding issues inside Christianity over mediation and authority. The Bible, in fact, has been a key medium during which Christians have well-known God’s presence. however the apostolics understand scripture as an pointless, even harmful, mediator. For them, the materiality of the Bible marks a distance from the divine and prohibits the conclusion of a stay and direct faith.

Situating the Masowe case inside a wide comparative framework, Engelke indicates how their rejection of textual authority poses an issue of presence—which is to assert, how the non secular topic defines, and claims to build, a courting with the religious international in the course of the semiotic potentials of language, activities, and items. Written in a full of life and available variety, an issue of Presence makes vital contributions to the anthropology of Christianity, the background of religions in Africa, semiotics, and fabric tradition studies.

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For the conservative Christian, the Bible is often as much presence as representation. In semiological terms it is the sign without a divide—“the coalescence” of signifier and signified in which the “Bible as book is to biblical truth as God’s word in its materiality is to God’s truth” (Crapanzano 2000, 56). Although the Bible is central to liberal theologies as well, there is an important sense in which Schleiermacher and others have tried to push beyond Scripture. They have done this in part, I want to argue, by suggesting that the materiality of the Bible can be a barrier to reaching Christian truths.

A thing is often “the entifiable that is unspecifiable” (Brown 2001, 5). If we know what an object is, we name it; if not, it becomes a thing and, as such, dangerous. In other words we are forced “to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us” (2001, 4). I want to suggest that this is a useful distinction for understanding how the material gets configured within the Christian imaginations discussed here. What is dangerous in these imaginations is not the object per se but the possibility of its becoming a mere thing—an object that “stops working” or never did so in the first place.

Icons and indexes, on the other hand, are not wholly arbitrary because they are defined, at least in part, by the qualities of their materiality. The wind does not need agreement in order to blow, and the weather vane, as an indexical sign, does not contribute to it doing so. Why is recognition of the material relations of signs important? , “that which is as it is apart from any and all thought about it” [Parmentier 1994, 23]). Semeiotic has a much easier time incorporating the stuff of ethnography than does semiology.

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