Monday, July 14, 2008

A little history

It seems useful to me to review something of the history of organizations and gatherings of Christians in anthropology.

Bob Priest (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) gave a short history of the Network of Chrisitian Anthropologists on the listserv Fishnet recently. (excerpted here with permission)

“In the very first 1976 mtg at Wheaton College which produced the Network of Christian anthropologists, with 55 in attendance (including between 30 and 35 anthropologists), many of the same themes we're discussing now were discussed. Claude Stipe gave a presentation (later reworked and published in Current Anthropology) which raised questions about just how objective the field of anthropology was. Donald Larson summarized some key views expressed that "we are not ready to talk to AAA or contribute to periodicals 'as Christian anthropologists' until we are ready to talk to each other about our own paradigms." And it was suggested that people avoid titles like "A Christian View of . . ." but to recognize rather "a plurality of views even among Christian anthropologists.’”

Bob goes on in his post to note a gathering at Biola in 2000 (I think) at which about 30 anthropologists, along with several linguists and mission scholars, gathered to survey anthropological theory.

In addition, I would note that in 2003 I organized a gathering of Christians at Wheaton College in conjunction with the AAA meetings in Chicago. We had 40+ people in attendance and a good discussion similar to that on Fishnet at the moment.

Anthropologists have been part of several other organizations and gatherings, of course (Evangelical Missiological Society, Association of Professors of Mission, and various other topically oriented groups), but as far as I know, the Network is the most consistent and formalized gathering of Christian anthropologists we have.

Bob also wrote in his Fishnet post:

"I am encouraged by the energy and interest in having a more visible Christian presence, although my inclination is to think [Kevin] Birth is correct that the most important thing would be to become more active in planning and organizing and presenting at the AAA in ways and on themes that might allow presenters' Christian identities to be evident, should presenters wish to have this (as some of us, but probably not all, would wish)."

My question would be whether we can facilitate this by a stronger organizational presence.

Sociology has two Christian organizations, Christian Sociological Society (CSS) and the Association of Christians Teaching Sociology (ACTS). They hold meetings or conferences (with their main meetings in the case of CSS and separately in the case of ACTS), collect dues, publish newsletters and generally coordinate more than the Network. Perhaps an extra-AAA organization such as this would be more appropriate for anthropologists as well.

So the question remains: is there a next step for our organization? If so, what is it?

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