The topic I want to pester Professor Keane about is belief. Christian Moderns uses the missionary encounter on the Indonesian island of Sumba to illuminate the contradictions inherent in the modernist project of “purification,” which separates out the materiality of words and objects from their symbolic meaning, and the social entanglements of human subjects from their transcendent souls. Where does belief fit in this picture? On the one hand, the book is all about belief: talk of belief is a key target of Professor Keane’s analysis. But belief is missing from the book’s toolkit of analytic terms. Professor Keane builds his argument using vocabulary drawn from contemporary linguistic anthropology. His treatment of belief is akin to his treatment of fetishism: he keeps his distance.Read the rest of An absence of belief?.
Danilyn Rutherford is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California - Santa Cruz and the author of Raiding the Land of the Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier.