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Wiederverzauberung/Re-enchantment: How an Anglican mission saved a secret male cult in Vanuatu

Montag, 23. Oktober 2023, 18.30h

Vortrag von Prof. Thorgeir Kolshus, University of Oslo, Norwegen
Ort: Hörsaal C, Institut für Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie, NIG 4. Stock, Universitätsstraße 7, 1010 Wien

100 years ago, Max Weber held that the force of rationality and critical reason eventually, and inevitably, would displace magical and religious thought. Once lost, there was no way back: “Nicht mehr […] muss man zu magischen Mitteln greifen, um die Geister zu beherrschen oder zu erbitten.” A century later, we know that Weber’s thesis is far from accurate, and that globally a resurgence of religious and mystic beliefs is as common as ‘die Entzauberung’. In this talk, I will show how a different form of intellectual friction can cause a similar revitalization of belief systems in decline. On the island of Mota in northern Vanuatu, the introduction of a new set of beliefs, those brought to the Western Pacific by the Anglican Melanesian Mission from the 1860s onwards, stimulated a ‘Wiederverzauberung’ of the secret male Tamate cults that has continued to this day. Through an exchange between pre-Christian notions of magical powers, summed up in the concept of mana,and tenets and motifs of Anglican theology, such as apostolic succession and notions of sacredness, a distinct worldview has emerged that not only affects how people perceive the forces that are at play in the world: it has also caused contemporary Motese to have two souls, atai, each associated with the two domains that make up the Mota cosmology.

Based on almost three years of ethnographic fieldwork since 1996 and extensive research on archival sources, crucial parts of which were written in the Mota language and therefore not previously accessed, I will discuss how worldviews evolve, merge, and meander.    

About Thorgeir:
I have a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Oslo, where I was employed for many years (2002-19) before moving to OsloMet in 2017, where  I was part of the leadership of OsloMet’s DISCO Center for Diversity Studies until this year. Now I am back as head of the department of anthropology at the University of Oslo. I work ethnographically in the Pacific Ocean, more specifically the northern part of the island state of Vanuatu, where I have conducted almost three years of fieldwork since 1996. Combined with material from historical archives, this is my empirical foundation for probing the driving forces behind societal development – in particular the interplay between religion and politics, identity development and differentiation processes, including comparisons with Norway. I also do research on research communication, and have been a columnist for Norwegian dailies Aftenposten and Dagens Næringsliv.
I am at the board of the European Society of Oceanists (ESfO), coordinate the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania’s (ASAO) annual Distinguished Lecture.