Accepted paper:

Anthropology and theology


Douglas Davies (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Both anthropology and theology are, in effect, an exercise of reflection upon experience under the tutelage of distinctive traditions. A fundamental issue concerning each is the interplay of 'academic' perspective and existential commitments, an issue pinpointed in the difference between 'academic' theology and 'confessional theology', a distinction that asks after such a parallel in anthropology. One might say that Anthropology is a tradition of primary observation of others described through received theories of society, with a secondary consideration of self as the participant in observation. Accordingly, Theology is a tradition of primary observation of self, and self in a distinctive religious grouping, described through received theories of divinity. This duality involves potential conflict in terms of primacy of identity when considering anthropology and the social construction of cultural realities in relation to theology and the notion of divine revelation. 'Projection' versus 'revelation' is one way of putting it, and rapid or slow 'conversion' either way is possible. Ensuing issues concern the role of practice (fieldwork on the one hand, liturgy on the other - and a form of ethics in each) in developing selfhood; of cultural competence in seeing the way things are, of seeing-through them, and in decision making amongst optional perspectives. Issues of reciprocity, merit, and one's standing in peer-communities, are also germane.

Paper long abstract:

panel Plen04
Natural religion