All Souls' Day, 1997, in Guangdong, China
1998 AAA Panel Abstract
Near and far from the Vatican, in Italy, Ecuador, Mexico and China, local actors inscribe worldwide symbols of the Roman Catholic Church in the histories of different nations, places and people. The spaces that Catholics come to inhabit by means of religious practices are at once physical, cognitive, moral and apparently essential. Catholic identity becomes "naturally" bound up in the habitus of diverse persons, communities and states. Nevertheless, local social architectures shape Catholics' spiritual desires and religious expressions, and the transnational Church is culturally refracted as local subjects negotiate their own Catholic spaces. This panel will present five ethnographic cases to explore how these locating practices mediate the experience of Catholicism throughout the world. In Sardinia, Italy, a pervasive sense of place invests the celebration of Catholic festivals. Religious processions move through the oldest streets and chapels of a mountain town, inviting the senses to affirm a distinctive moral geography in which Catholic and local histories are mutually relevant and essential. In Ecuador, indigenous pre-Hispanic and Catholic rituals and beliefs are incorporated into practices in both consecrated and nonconsecrated spaces to create a Catholicism that goes beyond mere syncretism. In Oaxaca, Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a locally contested sacred space. Agents of official culture attempt to co-opt popular sacred symbology in the reification of national identity, while ritual performances enable participants to reconstitute community level discourses of shared memory and local experience. In Guadalajara, Mexico, middle class single mothers draw on a variety of competing transnational discourses to carve out a moral space within Catholic discourse on sexuality and motherhood. The result both articulates and contests the more orthodox discourse voiced by Catholic nuns who run shelters for unmarried mothers. In rural China, being Catholic and Chinese in a postsocialist state is bound together with transnational processes that shape the local Church as it looks beyond Vatican II and the Maoist period to the new millennium. These analyses collectively recontextualize past anthropological examinations of Catholic experience within a transnational context. Using a comparative approach to ethnographic case studies, the panel also reflects upon the general significance of "locating practices" to the anthropology of religion.
Discussant: Lawrence Taylor (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)
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