Accepted Paper:

Distant words and religious intimacy: mission encounter in Nenets reindeer herders' camps in Arctic Russia  


Laur Vallikivi (University of Tartu)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will explore the role of language in an encounter between Russian Protestant missionaries and Nenets reindeer herders in Arctic Russia. The bulk of religious conversion goes through the introduction of new speech practices and a new language ideology based on an ideal of truthful speakers.

Paper long abstract:

Missionaries' words do not arrive into a wordless universe. Both evangelical missionaries and Nenets treat various kinds of words as powerful, although their understandings about the origin and economy of word potency differ considerably. While Nenets see words as extensions of personhood or semi-independent agents that change relations in the world, missionaries believe that only the divine word is a true deed, as it takes place in the Creation. Human spoken words can have desired impact only as far as they are sincerely willed by a speaker whose aspiration is to become close to God. Nevertheless, in some instances of formalised speech, the demand for sincerity tends to wear off and all attention is on the act of speaking as such. For instance, this can be seen when a Baptist preacher examines (or interpellates) a candidate for baptism in the water or cajoles a reluctant old man to utter a few saving words. In these situations, evangelicals assume that sincerity is not only expressed but produced. I shall argue that negotiation with and over words can be seductive, but can also make Nenets sense their vulnerability to undesired consequences.

Panel P073
Religious intimacy: collaboration, collusion and collision in ritual communication