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  • Christianismes en Océanie - Changing Christianity in Oceania (publication)

    couv assr 157.jpgLe numéro 157 des Archives de sciences sociales des religions, que j'ai coordonné, vient de paraître. Intitulé "Christianismes en Océanie - Changing Christianity in Oceania", il rassemble 8 contributions et marque l'aboutissement d'un travail collectif entamé en 2008 à l'occasion de journées d'études dont j'avais alors parlé ici.

    The issue #157 of the Archives de sciences sociales des religions has just been released. This publication that I've coordinated includes 8 contributions and is the main outcome of a collective work which began in 2008 with a two-day workshop held in Paris (see here).

    Vous trouverez ci-dessous le texte de présentation de ce numéro, ainsi que le sommaire. Pour lire le résumé de chaque article, il suffit de cliquer après les titres.

    You will find below a short presentation of this issue and the table of contents. To read the abstract of each article, just click after the title.

    Bonne lecture.

    Présentation. Au cours des trente dernières années, le christianisme a changé en Océanie, dans un contexte de profond changement social marqué notamment par l’urbanisation et l’intensification des migrations et sous l’effet d’une confrontation croissante entre des églises héritières des missions du 19ème siècle et les formes concurrentes du christianisme mondial – en particulier les plus récentes, christianisme,christianity,protestantisme,protestantism,oceania,océanie,pacifique,papouasie nouvelle-guinée,polynésie,fidji,anthropologie,religion,sociologie,théologie,joel robbins,simon coleman,john barker,jacqueline ryle,gwendoline malogne-fer,nouvelle-zélandeévangéliques et charismatiques.
    L’anthropologie du christianisme a changé, elle aussi. Les auteurs de ce numéro cherchent à prendre la mesure de cette double évolution, en associant l’exploration des christianismes d’Océanie et une réflexion collective sur les méthodes et les approches théoriques par lesquels nous en rendons compte. Ils mettent ainsi en lumière l’intérêt que représentent ces terrains océaniens dans la perspective d’une anthropologie du christianisme et pour une compréhension approfondie des rapports entre christianisme et cultures.
    Des montagnes de Papouasie Nouvelle-Guinée jusqu’aux communautés polynésiennes des banlieues urbaines de Nouvelle-Zélande, en passant par la Polynésie française ou Fidji, l’analyse des transformations contemporaines du christianisme océanien invite à dépasser une compréhension trop univoque en termes d’acculturation ou de domination culturelle occidentale, pour prêter davantage attention aux conditions de la rencontre entre une histoire chrétienne locale et les dynamiques actuelles de la globalisation religieuse.

    Presentation. Christianity has changed in Oceania in the last 30 years, in a context of deep social change marked by the impact of migrations and urbanisation, and under the influence of a growing competition between the churches stemming from the 19th Century missions and the new forms of christianisme,christianity,protestantisme,protestantism,oceania,océanie,pacifique,papouasie nouvelle-guinée,polynésie,fidji,anthropologie,religion,sociologie,théologie,joel robbins,simon coleman,john barker,jacqueline ryle,gwendoline malogne-fer,nouvelle-zélandeglobal Christianity - especially Evangelicals and Charismatics.
    Anthropology of Christianity has changed too. The authors of this issue aim to measure the effects of this double evolution, by articulating an exploration of Pacific Christianities with a collective reflection on the methods and theoretical tools we use to analyse them. Thus they point out the interest of Pacific fields of research in the perspective of an anthropology of Christianity and for a deeper understanding of the relationships between Christianity and local cultures.

    From the mountains of Papua New Guinea to the Pacific Peoples communities of New Zealand suburbs, in French Polynesia or in Fiji, the observation of Pacific Christianities invites us to move beyond a too simplistic description in terms of acculturation or Western cultural domination, and to give more attention to the circumstances of the encounter between Pacific Christian local histories and the contemporary dynamics of religious globalisation.

    christianisme,christianity,protestantisme,protestantism,oceania,océanie,pacifique,papouasie nouvelle-guinée,polynésie,fidji,anthropologie,religion,sociologie,théologie,joel robbins,simon coleman,john barker,jacqueline ryle,gwendoline malogne-fer,nouvelle-zélandeSommaire / Table of Contents 

    Yannick FerIntroduction
    Simon ColemanChristianities in Oceania: “Historical Genealogies and Anthropological Insularities” (résumé - abstract)
    Manfred ErnstChanging Christianity in Oceania: a Regional Overview (résumé - abstract)
    Yannick FerLe protestantisme polynésien, de l’Église locale aux réseaux évangéliques (résumé - abstract)
    John BarkerSecondary Conversion and the Anthropology of Christianity in Melanesia (résumé - abstract)
    Jacqueline RyleBurying the Past-Healing the Land: Ritualising Reconciliation in Fiji (résumé - abstract)
    Joel RobbinsSpirit Women, Church Women, and Passenger Women: Christianity, Gender, and Cultural Change in Melanesia (résumé - abstract)
    Gwendoline Malogne-FerLes protestantismes polynésiens à l’épreuve du genre. L’exemple de l’Église presbytérienne de Nouvelle-Zélande  (résumé - abstract)
    Gilles VidalLa contextualisation de la théologie protestante comme lieu de changement du christianisme en Océanie (résumé - abstract)

    Illustrations: église de la roche à Maré (P-J. Noël) ; culte samoan à la Wellington Methodist Parish (G. Malogne-Fer)

  • Nuku: Cook Islanders re-enact History

    matavai.jpgIn most of the Polynesian islands, an annual event commemorates the arrival of the first (generally Protestant) missionaries. People dance, sing and re-enact the original scene, when European missionaries or Polynesian “teachers” – notably those from the Society Islands – on one side, and the local populations on the other side, met together. Thus in French Polynesia, March 5 – a public holiday – is officially the day of “Gospel’s arrival”, commemorating the arrival in 1797 of the Duff, a sailing ship chartered by the London Missionary Society. In addition to this Tahitian date, many islands celebrate the landing of Christianity on their own shores. The performance often includes many comic relieves, with actors dressed in Western 19st century suits and wearing top-hats miming wild-eyed British missionaries facing new languages and customs.
    CICC Matavera.JPGIt may be in the Cook Islands, a tiny Polynesian State (in free association with New Zealand) located west of French Polynesia, that this annual performance is the more high-colored. Here too, each island used to have its own commemoration day, for example July 25 on the main island, Rarotonga. But on this island, the biggest event is now hold on October 26 and commemorates the arrival of missionaries led by the Rev. John Williams in the island of Aitutaki on October 26th 1821.  It's a national celebration:  “the National Gospel Day”. At this occasion, the six parishes of the Cook Island Christian Church (the Protestant Church stemming from this missionary history) prepare religious dramas – Nuku in local tongue. These nuku not only re-enact the October 26 event, but also show some significant events of recent history: in 2007, spectators could even watch a local version of the suicide aircraft attacks on The World Trade Center! Until the 1990s, it was a competition between the parishes, then the competitive side of things was dropped. Today, even if this no more a matter of official competition, parishes still compete on imagination. The website Rarolens, which regularly posts video chronicles of daily life rarolensbloghead.jpgin Rarotonga, had the great idea to post video extracts of the 2007 and 2008 Rarotongan Nuku. So here is the 2007 edition, introduced by a brief historical overview of Christianity in the Cook Islands. If you want to watch the 2008 edition too, just click here.


    * This note was revised and completed on February 15th 2009 thanks to the precisions given by Wendy Evans.

  • WYD 2008 in Sydney : Benedict XVI & Catholicism Down Under (interview)

    panorama sydney.jpgThe next World Youth Days (WYD), a Catholic event organised every two or three years, will be held from July 15th to July 20th in Sydney, Australia. The Catholic Church isi expecting 125,000 international visitors and it will be the opportunity for the pope himself to visit Australia for the first time.
    I’ve asked Marion Maddox, an Australian scholar specialist in Churches-State relationships and director of the Centre for Social Inclusion at the Macquarie University in Sydney to tell us in what context these Days occur and what kind of impact they may have on an Australian youth who seems not likely to be interested in the conservative discourse of Benedict XVI.

    jmj2008.jpgThe Roman Catholic Church has chosen Sydney to hold its 2008 World Youth Days (WYD). Is there any chance this could attract young Australians?
    I find it quite hard to understand what WYD is trying to achieve. It is presenting itself as aimed at youth, with a focus on freshness and modernity; but at the same time, it's a celebration of a certain kind of Catholic traditionalism. For example, Cardinal Pell has asked to have St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney designated as an official pilgrimage site which will entitle those who visit it for prayer st mary sydney.jpgduring the WYD celebrations to a plenary indulgence; confessional booths are being set up around the city (despite the fact that, until recently pressured by Rome to restore the traditional confessional, Australian Catholics had scarcely used it, preferring the collective 'third rite' confession during Mass). I expect that the event will attract young Catholics, particularly those of a traditionalist mind-set, but it seems to have been designed more as an event for reinforcing Catholic identity than as an attempt to attract the unconverted.

    Does the organization of these WYD in Sydney interest Australians, beyond the Catholic circles?
    The main impact WYD is having on non-Catholic Australians so far is negative. Newspapers are asking questions about the amount the rocks sydney.jpgof government money supporting it; roads will be blocked and Sydney's already overstretched public transport system will be even more strained; city office workers have been asked to take the week off work if possible so as to minimise overcrowding; special laws impose a A$5000 fine for "causing annoyance" to WYD pariticipants; police have said that anyone participating in a protest (eg groups representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse) will have to have their placards and messages approved beforehand. All this has contributed to public cynicism and irritation.
    Of course, this may change once the Pope arrives and the negative news stories are overtaken by positive events.

    What is the current situation of the Australian Catholic Church? The pope himself seems to consider an attempt to reconquest part of the lost ground (the “new evangelisation”) rather than a visit to a conquered land.
    sicdgif_logo.gifAustralian Catholics are predominantly made up of three waves of migrants: first, poor Irish workers and convicts, and the clergy and religious who came to look after them; then, after World War II, southern European (especially Italian) workers; and, most recently, Catholics from Vietnam and other Asian countries.
    Catholicism is Australia's largest denomination, with around 26% of the population, but Australia is culturally very secular and only a minority of that 26% would attend Mass regularly. While church attendance figures (for all denominations) have fallen since the 1950s, that was an unusually religious period; since European settlement, religion has played only a minor part in Australia's public culture and little or no part in national identity. So, if the Pope is attempting to regain 'lost ground', he might need to ask himself whether the church really ever had that much ground. Historically, Catholics suffered a lot of discrimination in Australia (for example, in employment) and were looked down on as poor and under-educated. The last half of the last century saw that turn around, with generous government support for Catholic schools, for example. Catholics used also to be strongly associated with the political Left (the Australian Labor Party). In terms of voting patterns that is still true, though not as strongly as in decades gone by. But Catholics, once extremely rare on the conservative side of politics, are now strongly represented in the parliamentary parties of the Right.

    Is the Australian Catholic Church conservative or liberal?
    Both; in recent years, the liberal voice has been more prominent, especially on issues of justice, peace and the environment. Catholic organisations were very important voices in drawing public attention to the previous government's harsh treatment of asylum seekers, for example, and have often been strong advocates for the poor, for workers'rights, and for Indigenous peoples.
    pell.jpgHowever, Australia's most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, is generally regarded as conservative, particularly on theological issues but also on social issues. Also, different parts of the Catholic church have different political flavours. Some of the most prominent liberal voices represent religious orders rather than the church hierarchy, for example.
    It has to be said, too, that even the more liberal parts of the church are not always good at standing for the oppressed when the question concerns the church itself. A recent example is the letter from the Australian Catholic bishops unanimously criticising a retired bishop, Geoffrey Robinson, who wrote a book about sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

    Is it right to say that Australia is a deeply secularised society?
    Yes. Around 70% of Australians claim some religious belief or affiliation, but only a very small proportion make it a central part of their lives. Around 9% of Australians say they go to church weekly.

    rudd.jpgIn your book God under Howard(1), you explored the relations between politics and religion under the conservative government of John Howard. The new Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presents himself as a strong Christian from Catholic origin but doesn’t seem to be willing to use it in politics. Does he exemplify the position of many Australian Catholics?
    Actually, Kevin Rudd is an Anglican; he was raised a Catholic but became an Anglican in adulthood (though when I interviewed him in 1999, he told me that 'the possibility of doing a Cardinal Newman [ie converting to Catholicism] always remains'. He has talked a lot about his faith, particularly before he became Prime Minister. One of his early moves to establish a profile as a potential leader was to write a pair of magazine articles about the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (I suspect he might be the first Australian Prime Minister in a very long time who could even name a 20th Century theologian, let alone write a learned essay about one!) Since the election, his faith comes through less in explicit statements than in more symbolic ways; for example, his February 2008 apology to the 'Stolen Generations' (of Indigenous Australians taken from their families in childhood) had a decidedly liturgical feel. Mainline churchgoers tend to see religion as something that might well inform one's politics but about which politicians shouldn't be too explicit. For most of Australian political history, politicians thought so too. The recent interest in our representatives' personal faith partly reflects the Americanisation of Australian politics and an increased focus on politicians' personal features generally (marriage, family life, personality etc).  Given that only a small proportion of voters actually do go to church regularly, we have to look for the wider effects of politicians' religiosity. God Under Howard argues that secular Australians quite like a certain amount of religiosity in our politicians. Politicians have a reputation for being cynical and self-serving; but, when they emphasise a religious identity, it reassures us that they stand for some higher set of values (even if they are values that few voters actually share).

    Australia is a country of immigration. How the immigrations of the last three decades have influenced the profile of Australian Christianity, in particular Catholicism? More widely, what is the place of religious issues in the debates on multiculturalism?
    Each wave of migration has brought a new ethnic dimension to Australian Catholicism. Also, each wave of migration has created a new group of easily-identified newcomers who can become the target of racist or other kinds of fears. At the moment, the big multicultural discussion about religion is to do with Islam. Ten or fifteen years ago, it was whether and how Indigenous peoples' religious traditions should be protected eg by laws preventing mining or development on sacred sites. Fifty years ago, the point of tension was antagonism between Catholics and Protestants (though the word 'multiculturalism' was not used back then). Religion itself is usually not important in such debates; often criticising religion is a way of distancing others without mentioning race. 
    1. Marion Maddox, 2005, God Under Howard. The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 386 p.

    Pictures of Sydney : Sydney Webcam.