The lecture of the annual general meeting of the Finnish Anthropological Society will be given by Professor Joel Robbins from the University of Cambridge with a title “Anthropology and Theology: The Prosperity Gospel, Humanity, and the Problem of Judgment”. The lecture will be held on March 15, at 6.00 pm at the House of Science and Letters (Kirkkokatu 6, Helsinki), in the seminar room 404. The lecture will be in English. Please distribute the invitation.
This paper is part of a project that explores the possibility of fostering a conversation between anthropology and theology. It considers a form of Christianity – the Prosperity Gospel – that both disciplines struggle to find acceptable. Looking at recent anthropological research with Prosperity Gospel Christians, primarily in Africa, that tries to overcome this aversion, and at recent theological work that attempts to reach the same goal, I uncover areas of significant overlap and also of divergence between the two disciplines. The divergence turns on the role of judgment in scholarly work. Comparing the ways some theologians are trained in making judgments about the phenomena they study with the way anthropologists are trained to suspend them, I argue that in very general terms contemporary anthropologists might endeavor to learn from theologians how they might better ground the kinds of judgments they seem increasingly drawn toward making. A surprising convergence between the two disciplines reveals itself in the way scholars from both sides tend to recoil from prosperity gospel models of the human being. This finding leads me to conclude the paper with a comparative examination of the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s and the theologian Wolfgang Pannenberg’s accounts of the nature of humanity. I concluded by arguing that in relation both to judgment and the nature of humanity one can see that a dialogue between anthropology and theology can help both disciplines recognize and reconsider some of their most basic, taken for granted scholarly commitments.