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Accepted Paper:

The Exchange of Grace: Missionaries, Anthropologists and Charismatic Objects in Britain during the 19th and 20th centuries  
Chris Wingfield (University of East Anglia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will consider the long-term and long-distance histories of objects collected by the London Missionary Society, in terms of their capacity to reveal unfolding dynamics underlying encounters between European concepts of grace and analogous concepts such as mana.

Paper long abstract:

In 1973, Gregory Bateson suggested that 'if art is somehow expressive of something like grace... then the success of this expression might well be recognisable across cultural barriers'. This observation developed in conversation with Edmund Leach, but was ultimately prompted by the consideration of A'a, a Polynesian sculpture in the British Museum, originally collected by the London Missionary Society. A'a went on to prompt similar theorising by Alfred Gell in Art and Agency, having previously inspired the modernist artists Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore, as well as the poet and critic William Empson.

This paper will explore how the recognition of grace in charismatic objects, ultimately collected by missionaries to evidence of their displacement, played a role in simulating a series artistic, literary and theoretical responses in Europe. Nevertheless, consideration of these responses suggests that it has frequently been difficult to move beyond mere recognition when it comes engaging with the operation of grace.

While the actions of London Missionary Society missionaries were premised on a theological understanding of grace as a one-way transfer, or gift, the biographies of the artefacts they collected are suggestive of a process that operated over the longer-term as more of a two-way exchange, in which alternative, competing conceptions of grace framed many underlying encounters and exchanges.

Panel Mora01
Always something extra: ethnographies of grace
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 March, 2021, -