The Department of Ethnology and the Centre of Excellence in Cultural Theory are delighted to announce the visit of Professor Joel Robbins, one of the leading scholars in the anthropology of religion, to Tartu University. He will deliver a lecture on the connections between Christianity and individualism on Thursday 9 May 16:15-17:45 at Ülikooli 16-214 (the Von Bock House).
Joel Robbins is professor at the University of California San Diego and currently Jane and Aatos Erkko Visiting Professor at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. In autumn 2013, he will start working as Sigrid Rausing Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology in the University of Cambridge. In the early 1990s, Joel Robbins spent 26 months among the Urapmin, a small community in Papua New Guinea. Without being directly missionized, the Urapmin underwent a charismatic revival in the late 1970s. Exploring the Christian culture of the Urapmin, Joel Robbins has offered a model for studying the nature of rapid cultural change more broadly. As Christianity had been until recently a neglected topic among anthropologists, Joel Robbins has begun to develop an anthropology of Christianity that compares the religious lives of Christians around the world and analyses related theoretical issues. He has published widely on the anthropology of religion, morality, values, epistemology and language. Currently, he works on the challenge of writing on good and suffering.
In his lecture on Thursday, Joel Robbins will revisit the idea that Christianity has played an important role in the development of the individualist tradition in the West. This is what historians and social scientists have long argued. As the anthropology of Christianity began to develop, some scholars involved in this project took up aspects of these arguments as they examined the ways conversion to Christianity among formerly non-Christian peoples led them to embrace some aspects of individualism as important for their own lives. Recently, however, other anthropologists have begun to question the validity of claims for a link between Christian conversion and the development of individualism. These scholars assert either that Christianity is not individualist or that it fosters various kinds of relationships as much as or more than it fosters a focus on the individual. In this paper, Joel Robbins will lay out these anthropological debates over Christianity and individualism. Drawing on the theoretical work of the anthropologist Louis Dumont, he develops an understanding of individualism as a value that allows us to recognize the role of relationships in some Christian traditions without having to underplay their individualist components. Joel Robbins develops his argument through a discussion of ethnographic materials from Papua New Guinea and, comparatively, from Africa and Amazonia.