Keeping God's distance

Sacrifice, possession, and the problem of religious mediation

by Joel Robbins

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Much contemporary work in the anthropology of religion explores how human experience of the divine is mediated. One question rarely asked, however, is why people distance the divine from themselves in the first place, such that complex practices of mediation are necessary to make it present. An answer to this question is provided by Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss in their book Sacrifice, which I read as a key precursor to current work on religious mediation. Hubert and Mauss focus on how religious mediations model and shape social mediations. I demonstrate the usefulness of an approach to mediation that draws on their work by examining a shift from sacrifice to possession as forms of mediation among Pentecostal converts in Papua New Guinea. I also show that this approach can help us further develop broader anthropological theories of mediation and social life. [religion, mediation, sacrifice, possession, Pentecostalism, Papua New Guinea]

Planti ol saveman husat i stadi ol kainkain lotu, ol i tok olsem: long olgeta kain lotu ol bilipman i save ting ol god na tewel samting i stap longwe liklik. Tasol dispela lain saveman ol i no save askim: bilong wanem ol god save stap longwe na ol bilipman i mas hatwok long i stap klostu na toktok wantaim ol god? Long tingting bilong mi, wanpela buk bilong Henri Hubert na Marcel Mauss, ol i kolim Sacrifice, em inap long helpim yumi bekim dispela askim. Hubert na Mauss tok olsem, wei bilong wokim koneksen wantaim god, em i save sanap olsem wanpela piksa i soim wei bilong wokim koneksen namel long ol manmeri. Sapos yumi bihainim dispela tingting bilong Hubert na Mauss, dispela em inap long helpim yumi kisim save long wei bilong lotu bilong ol Pentekostal, na long wanem as planti ol i save lusim wok bilong givim ol ofa i go long god na ol i save go insait long wok bilong kisim spirit (ol i kolim ‘possession’ taim spirit i kisim ol). Na tu, mi ting olsem dispela luksave long koneksen wantaim ol god samtink inap em helpim yumi tingting gut long ol kainkain koneksen i stap namel long ol manmeri. [ol kainkain lotu, koneksen wantaim god, wok bilong givim ol ofa i go long god, wok bilong kisim spirit, ol Pentekostal Kristen, Papua Niugini]