This panel will discuss issues surrounding enlightenment ideals of human agency and their relationship with Christianity. It will investigate how these ideas have travelled, examining some of the challenges that the cross-cultural investigation of Christianity presents.
Anthropology as a 'secular' discipline has had a particularly fraught relationship with Christianity, associated with its implicit theological agenda and with Western Imperialism. But Christianity's concern for the human subject has refused to subside as it has deliberated more on notions of enlightenment, progress, individualism, and agency than any other modern movement. In today's world, Western values are entering into discourses and practices across the globe due to Christianity's reach into these regions (Keane 2006), raising vital questions about the cross-fertilisation of ideas. Zomia - highland communities in South and Southeast Asia - provides an opportunity to examine these ideas, with one of the largest concentration of Christians in Asia.
Although 19th century Christian missions among the valley Hindu and Buddhist populations largely failed, the expansion of British economic interests at the empire's mountainous periphery generated renewed interests to 'enlighten' and 'civilise'. As missionaries found these indigenous communities receptive to Christianity, it took on new forms, shaping new identities and vocabularies for human agency, particularly in the form of post-colonial nationalisms. We ask how Christianity unravelled these social worlds that brought about changes to (or ruptured) traditional livelihoods. What new ideas emerged from the interaction between Christianity, with its enlightenment influences, and these indigenous communities? How is Christianity shaping and refashioning these communities within existing nation-states? We invite contributions that address Christianity and questions of human agency with a particular focus on Zomia, while illuminating the value for broader theoretical comparison in the emerging field of the anthropology of Christianity.