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Anthropology of CatholicismA Reader$
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Kristin Norget, Valentina Napolitano, and Maya Mayblin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780520288423

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520288423.001.0001

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Excerpt from Person and God in a Spanish Valley

Excerpt from Person and God in a Spanish Valley

(p.80) 6 Excerpt from Person and God in a Spanish Valley
Anthropology of Catholicism

William A. Christian

University of California Press

The book Person and God in a Spanish Valley, by anthropologist and historian William A. Christian, is a classic twentieth-century study in the anthropology of Catholicism. It embraces key spatial and temporal dynamics of Catholicism through the analysis of devotional behavior across a range of intersecting axes and contexts. Among these, gender, class, and moment within the life course are shown to be of particular importance in shaping the quality and concerns of individual faith. In chapter 3, of which this is an abridged version, Christian shows how different styles of payer point to different economies of affection, obligation, forgiveness, and indebtedness. “Putting God in one’s debt” clearly illustrates that Catholicism is not only a practice of devotion but also an economy of circulation of affects and indebtedness. Devotional prayers can work either to keep humans and the divine separate or to bring humans increasingly close to the divine. However, Person and God also does much to emplace Catholicism within a broader history of agrarian politics and reform in northern Spain and is a remarkable work for its mastery of historical perspective as well as its fine ethnography. In particular, it offers some important anthropological insights on the local repercussions of the Second Vatican Council (1963–65), revealing shifts toward new forms of priesthood, less concerned with a hierarchical reproduction of the church (and its connection to land patronage) and more inclined to a lay participation. The effect of such changes in Catholic doctrine and orientation on long-existing systems of “triadic patronage” in the area is one of the key questions that this work addresses. Among the numerous monographs on Mediterranean villages that came out in the 1970s, Christian’s is perhaps unusual in the degree to which it foregrounds Catholic forms of reasoning and practice, rather than backgrounding them to discussions of patronage and kinship and political economy. The importance of Person and God for a modern anthropology of Catholicism cannot be overestimated, for it has been key in establishing a core “analytical grammar” for understanding popular Catholic practices that subsequent generations of scholars continue to revisit. Indeed, the work has figured as an important reference point in various twenty-first-century writings on the anthropology of Christianity,1 having achieved something of a status as “the go-to” citation for discussions about the presence of an “earlier” anthropology of Christianity.

Keywords:   Christian-William, Popular devotion, Prayer, Catholic-Mediterranean, Vatican II, Pilgrimage, Christain-God

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