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Journal Article

Continuity Thinking and the Problem of Christian Culture: Belief, Time, and the Anthropology of Christianity

Joel Robbins
Current Anthropology
Vol. 48, No. 1 (February 2007), pp. 5-38
DOI: 10.1086/508690
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/508690
Page Count: 34
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Continuity Thinking and the Problem of Christian Culture
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Abstract

To this point, the anthropology of Christianity has largely failed to develop. When anthropologists study Christians, they do not see themselves as contributing to a broad comparative enterprise in the way those studying other world religions do. A close reading of the Comaroffs’ Of Revelation and Revolution illustrates the ways in which anthropologists sideline Christianity and leads to a discussion of reasons the anthropology of Christianity has languished. While it is possible to locate the cause in part in the culture of anthropology, with its emphasis on difference, problems also exist at the theoretical level. Most anthropological theories emphasize cultural continuity as opposed to discontinuity and change. This emphasis becomes problematic where Christianity is concerned, because many kinds of Christianity stress radical change and expect it to occur. Confronted by people claiming that radical Christian change has occurred in their lives, anthropologists become suspicious and often explain away the Christian elements of their cultures. Christian assertions about change are hard for anthropologists to credit because anthropological and Christian models of change are based on different models of time and belief. Unless anthropologists reconsider their nearly exclusive commitment to continuity thinking and the models of time and belief that ground it, the anthropology of Christianity will continue to face handicaps to its development.

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