Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christians, World View, and Contemporary Anthropology - 1

The following query appeared on the Fishnet listserv on Friday, January 9, 2009:


I am wondering if anyone knows of any Christian anthropologists in Mexico? I am working here in Oaxaca and I would like to partner with so me other organizations and people to hold a week long worldview seminar in 2010. I am looking for people that can speak a native Spanish, explain anthropological topics like worldview, and have a commitment to Christianity. Thanks for your help!

Response by Edwin Zehner, Visiting Fellow, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University:

I would strongly suggest talking directly with Robert Priest at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His missiology conferences regularly include presenters from Latin America whose primary language is Spanish, so he may have some useful suggestions for you.

I should probably also note that anthropologists here in the USA tend not to speak of “worldview” anymore, partly because the concept is too broad and easily lends itself to intellectual stereotyping and “essentializing,” as if everybody from the same “culture” thinks the same way, and as if that shared “worldview” generates all the behavior. As you know, the reality is somewhat more complicated. But if your audience is used to the concept of “worldview,” you should definitely use it to advertise the concept. But you might want to make sure the actual presenters are people who can represent the more recent, more nuanced approach.

Another person I might recommend is Brian Howell of Wheaton College, if he is free and if you have the financial means to get him down there. He would be very good at helping the participants through the complexities I've just mentioned, while also realizing where they are coming from. I think he also knows some Spanish. And of course Bob Priest is himself a native speaker of Spanish, and would also be good if available—in addition to knowing who else in Latin America might be good.

Follow-up response by Robert Priest, Head of the Ph.D. program in Intercultural Studies, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:

Since Ed volunteered my name I'll go ahead and write a note. The simple answer is I do not know any anthropologists in Mexico who are Christian. A fair number of Christian anthropologists have done research in Mexico at some time or other. Laura Montgomery from Westmont College, Dean Arnold from Wheaton College, etc. etc. And SIL would have several anthropologists fluent in Spanish—Tom Woodward in Dallas (with SIL), David Coombs in Peru, etc. Tito Paredes of Peru has a PhD in anthropology (UCLA) as well as an MDiv (Fuller). If you emailed Laura Montgomery (Anthropology, Westmont College), she might have ideas about Christian anthropologists in Mexico—or perhaps Dean Arnold would (Anthropology, Wheaton College).

I do agree with Ed that most anthropologists, in analyzing culture, tend to stress other sorts of order (functional, instrumental, structural, symbolic, discursive, metaphoric, psychological, dramaturgical, adaptive, etc) rather than rational/philosophic order—and thus few contemporary secular anthropologists make worldview the center of their approach to culture. A number of missiological anthropologists, by contrast, have done so—including Kraft and Hiebert. They have used the concept more as pedagogical tool than as actual underpinning for ethnographic research, however. An analysis of all this would require a whole article, so I better stop here.

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