Accepted Paper:

Metaphor, image and change: the body in a missionary and development endeavour  


João Rickli (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Missionary initiatives are seldom analysed from the point of view of the body. This papers focuses on three bodily aspects of a Dutch Protestant mission in Brazil: body as metaphor, the representations of the body and the transformation of bodily dispositions of missionaries and missionized.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyses the bodily aspects of missionary and development initiatives organised in Brazil by Kerk in Actie, a Dutch Protestant missionary agency. The text focuses on three main aspects: body as religious metaphor, representations of body in the missionary endeavour, and the social construction of the bodies of missionaries and target groups. The analysis of the first aspect provides an understanding of how body appears in rituals and religious discourses of the missionary organisation as a metaphor of (and for) unity and cohesion, being the expression of processes of inclusion and exclusion. The second aspect is related to the images of healthy, beautiful, and saved bodies that orientate missionary and development endeavours. Combining some concepts of cognitive anthropology and the anthropology of body, the paper discusses how specific symbolic repertoires (D'Andrade) play a role in the social construction of bodies as objects of salvation and development, looking also at how the difference between body and soul is reflected in discourses about mission and development, respectively. Finally, the analysis of the third aspect provides an understanding of the social construction of bodies in the whole missionary network, based on the phenomenological notion of embodied self (Csordas). The analysis treats the transformation of bodily dispositions of both missionaries and missionized, trying to explore the superposition between two dichotomies: the one opposing mind and body, and the other opposing the West and the rest.

Panel W011
Body and soul: on corporeality in contemporary religiosity