American Anthropological Association 112th Annual Meeting

  • Joe Webster (Invited speaker)

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


    Praying for Salvation: A Map of Relatedness This paper attempts to push the work of Mauss (1909) to its fullest conclusion by arguing that prayer can be viewed anthropologically as providing a near complete map of social and emotional relatedness. Based on fieldwork among deep-sea fisher families living in Gamrie, Northeast Scotland, (home to 700 people and six Protestant churches), I take as my primary ethnographic departure the ritual of the ‘mid-week prayer meeting’. Among the self-proclaimed ‘fundamentalists’ of Gamrie’s Brethren and Presbyterian churches, attending the prayer meeting means praying for salvation. Yet, contrary to the stereotype of Protestant soteriology as highly individualist, in the context of Gamrie, salvation is not principally focused upon the self, but is instead sought on behalf of the ‘unconverted’ other. Locally, this ‘other’, is made sense of with reference to three different categories of relatedness: the family, the village and the nation. My argument is that each category of relatedness carries with it a different affective quality: anguish for one’s family, resentment toward one’s village, and resignation towards one’s nation. As such, prayers for salvation establish and maintain not only vertical – human-divine – relatedness, but also horizontal relatedness between persons, while also giving them their emotional tenor. In ‘fundamentalist’ Gamrie, these human relationships, and crucially their affective asymmetries, may be mapped, therefore, only when treating prayers as social phenomena that seek to engage with a world dichotomised into vice and virtue, rebellion and submission, and ultimately, damnation and salvation.
    Event typeConference
    LocationChicago, United StatesShow on map