Webb Keane

Webb Keane is professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. His most recent book is Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter (California 2007). Among his other publications are "The Evidence of the Senses and the Materiality of Religion" (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2008), "Anxious Transcendence" (in The Anthropology of Christianity ed. Fenella Cannell, 2006), and "Religious Language" (Annual Review of Anthropology 1997).

Posts by Webb Keane:

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

What is religious freedom supposed to free?

What is religious freedom supposed to free? That is, what is the operant understanding of “religion” behind the claims of religious freedom such that religion requires its own forms, practices, and concepts of freedom under the law? Is there something about religion that gives freedom of religion either a privileged or a peculiarly worrisome character different in kind from artistic, political, or sexual freedom? And to this list, why not add occupational, associational, or, say, economic freedoms?

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Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Spirituality: what remains?

To use the concept of spirituality analytically is enormously difficult. There comes a point in reading this book when one can’t help wondering what would not count as spiritual? But, of course, that all-encompassing capacity is an important part of the popular appeal of this category in the first place. In a helpful moment of specificity, Lofton reports that Oprah is opposed to religion, which is identified with “exclusive rituals, legislating hierarchies, codes of membership.” Spirituality, by contrast, would presumably be what remains once these impediments have been removed. It is not created or bestowed, but uncovered. In this respect, spirituality is the product of that purification characteristic of what I have called the “moral narrative of modernity.”

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Friday, December 18th, 2009

No view from nowhere

keaneI’ll start with a comment about my own angle of approach. There is of course no view from nowhere, and it is one task of the commentators to point out the blind spots that any perspective inevitably brings with it. As an anthropologist, my aim was not originally to construct a critique of modernity or of Christianity. The book emerged out of a long series of attempts to grapple with the challenges my research in Sumba presented to certain common sense assumptions about persons, materiality, and language. I came to see those assumptions as characteristic products of the liberal and secular world that produced the habits and disciplines within which many of us live, and thanks to which, in part, the book itself was written.

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Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Christian moderns

Christian ModernsI argue that the moral narrative of modernity is a projection onto chronological time of a view of human moral and pragmatic self-transformation. This narrative, and the concrete projects it entails, runs into certain ubiquitous problems that arise from the material dimensions of human sociality and subjectivity. Protestantism was, historically, one major source of practices and concepts that express and try to control these problems. It was also a force for their circulation well beyond the Protestant, or even the religious, sphere as such.

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Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Secularism and press freedom

Secularism plays a crucial role in a certain moral narrative of modernity. This narrative tells a story of the liberation that is supposed to have emerged as people came to realize that the agency they had imputed to false gods, or to gods altogether, in fact belonged to them. […]

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