Saturday, November 15, 2014

Christians and Anthropology

How many of us even care to know what Anthropology is? If you are a Christian like me, how does it have any bearing on your life? I refer to myself as an armchair cultural anthropologist. But what does any of that even mean?

Anthropology is simply the holistic study of humankind. It is understanding people both in your culture and people in other cultures. It is studying and understanding what connects people and why.  See? Very simple! I have had an interest in other cultures for as long as I can remember, but have only recently taken a college class on Introduction to Anthropology. I am still in the middle of the class but I have already learned so much! 

So far, the most important thing I've learned is how Anthropology is intimately involved with me as a Christian. Consider this excerpt from my textbook. 

"As Christians, we are practicing a faith born in an ancient Middle Eastern context, first preached in a language (Aramaic) we do not speak, originally recorded in yet a different language (Kione Greek), developed among a multi-cultural religious minority in a now-extinct empire, passed through multiple European, African, and Asian cultures over thousands of years, and finally interpreted among the technological complexity of the twenty-first century. In other words, simply being a Christian is a cross-cultural experience."  ("Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective" By Brian Howell and Jenell Paris)

Isn't that just amazing? Whether we have an understanding of culture of not we are already part of a cross-cultural experience! Having an anthropological understanding can enable a Christian to serve the world by better understanding it. You may be thinking, "Oh, sure, that sounds like something missionaries really need to study." Well, you are right. Missionaries do need to have an anthropological understanding so they are better equipped to serve in different cultures. But what about us here at home? Are you equipping yourself to understand and serve in your own culture? Do you even fully comprehend the culture around you? 

I learned about something called Pastoral Anthropology. Basically it is the use of ethnographic techniques (usually by a pastor) to learn about the community where a church is located, the demographics of church members, and the social and spiritual needs of both communities. Getting hung up on that big word "Ethnographic"? Simply put an ethnography is a writing about people. It is "being there".  If we expect Pastors to do the work of understanding their congrgation so that they can minister to us, why won't we try to compassionately understand the culture around us so we can minister to them?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that Anthropology is awesome, and it can have incredible impact on your faith. That's all for now!

1 comment:

  1. You have done a great job of renewing my interest in anthropology with this intriguing introduction. I am especially interested to see how you will connect pastoral anthropology, cultural anthropology, and missional anthropology. Good stuff!


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