Hungry for the Word! Starvation as Sacrifice Among Scottish Christian Fishermen

9 May 2012, 12:00 - 14:00

CRASSH Meeting Room

Dr Joe Webster (Social Anthropology) presents at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar 

Abstract

In Gamrie, a small fishing in northeast Aberdeenshire – home to 700 people and six churches – Christianity was often described as both a life of worship and a life of sacrifice. But what does a life of sacrifice look like and how is it related to worship? ‘Unsaved’ persons were said to be entirely guided by the sinful ‘lusts’ of the flesh, whereas Christians (the saved) were guided by the righteous yearnings of the ‘spirit’. The activity of sermonising reflected this divide. Sermons that catered to the saved were referred to as ‘Bible teaching’ whereas sermons directed towards the unsaved were referred to as ‘gospel preaching’. This differentiation between preaching to the unsaved and teaching the saved was made sense of with reference to the consumption of different foods. Preaching was likened to ‘milk’ – the food of unweaned babies –whereas the saved, being more mature, ‘hungered for’ the ‘meat’ of Bible teaching. In discussing these four pairs of concepts – ‘unsaved’ and ‘saved’; ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’; ‘preaching’ and ‘teaching’, ‘meat’ and ‘milk’ – I draw on the work of Robertson-Smith and (1889) [1972] and Hubert and Mauss (1898) [1968] to argue that sermonising can be understood as a type of sacrificial meal. Intriguingly, such a feast also represents a kind of starvation – not one that involves eating meat through the mouth, but rather one that involves eating words through the ear.

The event is free to attend but registration is required. Please click on the link at the right hand side of the page to register online.

About Joe Webster

Dr Joseph Webster is the Isaac Newton – Graham Robertson Research Fellow in Social Anthropology and Sociology at Downing College, Cambridge. His doctoral research (Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh) focused upon the folk-theologies of salvation and eschatology among Scottish fishermen in Gamrie, a small Aberdeenshire fishing village of 700 people and six Protestant churches. Ethnographically, he examined the connections between religion and fishing to show how words and language became charged with the power to enchant the world through a uniquely Protestant socio-spiritual experience of personhood, worship and time. The thesis, among other things, developed a new reading of Max Weber’s theory of enchantment, primarily by rethinking the relationship between immanence and transcendence. His Research Fellowship at Cambridge will be spent undertaking new fieldwork among Orangemen on the religion and politics of Unionism in Northern Ireland.