Accepted paper:

Rituals of savings groups and the ethics of anthropology


Maia Green (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses approaches derived from the study of religion to explore the proliferation of small scale savings and loan groups in sub Saharan Africa. Savings groups replicate themselves through highly ritualized practice and the enactment of separation between  every day transactions and the special practice of group saving.  Recent moves in the social sciences and in anthropology which destabilize the analytical uniqueness of the religion are productive in explicating a range of social phenomena.  The analytical equivalence of religious and non religious phenomena  supports  Hume’s fundamental  insight that  religion is best approached as a  political institution. A key aspect of religion for Hume was that it enabled social life through the inculcation and sharing of  moral codes.  Hume’s commitment to the enlightenment project did not  lead him to the denunciation of religion but to a recognition that extreme skepticism could compromise ethical social practice. Hume’s insights shed light on contemporary relations between anthropology and religion and between the practice of anthropologists and theologians. The emphasis in anthropology on critique as practice reveals the social constitution of the objects of anthropological attention with little attention to the social contexts of the production of anthropological knowledge and hence to the ethics of anthropological practice. The practice of theologians, in contrast, is self determinedly focused on ethics as constitutive of the domain of religious interest. Despite these apparent differences the two disciplines may have more in common as theological practice is marginalized and the practice of anthropology confined to the academy. The politics of authoritative knowledge making as ethical claim is not restricted to religion but applies to all disciplines.

Paper long abstract:

panel Plen04
Natural religion