By Matthew Engelke
Situating the Masowe case inside a extensive comparative framework, Engelke exhibits how their rejection of textual authority poses an issue of presencewhich is to claim, how the spiritual topic defines, and claims to build, a dating with the non secular global during the semiotic potentials of language, activities, and gadgets. Written in a full of life and available variety, an issue of Presence makes very important contributions to the anthropology of Christianity, the background of religions in Africa, semiotics, and fabric tradition studies.
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Extra resources for A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church
They insist they are revitalizing the Christian mission. They see themselves as taking up the enthusiasm of the earliest converts and reclaiming the direct dialogue with God. Of course, Christianity did not remain an “oral faith” (Stock 1990, 3), or, as it is often characterized, a religion of the downtrodden (Merdinger 1997, 3–27). By the late fourth century, the time of Saint Augustine’s conversion, Christianity had become the oﬃcial religion of the Roman Empire, the Church was ﬁrmly established, and the canonical texts of the New Testament were coming into place.
Gamble (1995, 238) tells us, Augustine’s remedy for headaches was to place the Gospel of John under one’s pillow at night. Like other ancients, he understood the divine in writing to be “a power that belonged to words, but no less to the books in which they stood” (Gamble 1995, 241). As things, the books of the Bible can be eﬀective in themselves. This dual character of Scripture is another aspect of the problem of presence worth investigating. As part of a semiotic ideology, it is the claim that the Bible’s signiﬁcance cannot be reduced to the register of either word or object.
As a semiotic ideology, semiology is indeed a metaphysical proposition. Saussure overlooked how materiality matters. An object may imply an innocence of facticity, but this is “quite illusory” because “the object is just as likely as the word, if not more so, to evoke variable responses and invite a variety of interpretations” (Miller 1987, 106; see also Thomas 1991). When the object in question is also, in some part, a linguistic sign—as it is in any text—this point becomes especially apt. Since the 1970s the work of the pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce has become increasingly important to anthropologists interested in the theory of signs.