Still Transformations: Mediating Presence in a Catholic Charismatic Humanitarian Mission

by Nofit Itzhak

Institution: University of California – San Diego
Year: 2016
Keywords: Cultural anthropology
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2121821
Full text PDF: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/0bs7r5ck


This dissertation is an ethnography of the Emmanuel community, a transnational Catholic Charismatic intentional community and its two affiliated humanitarian NGOs in France and Rwanda. It investigates how love, empathy and other moral sentiments are implicated in processes of self and social transformation, and the manners in which Emmanuel’s relational ethos, or ethic of love, comes into expression in 1) quotidian life, 2) devotional and ritual practice, and 3) humanitarian outreach. In these settings I show how religious and cultural difference against the background of distinct histories of conflict, violence and complex postcolonial realities shape sociality. I argue that for Emmanuel, humanitarian mission and community life are sites dedicated to the dialogical transformation of the self, an effort centered on the intentional establishment of controlled social friction and the creation of opportunities for empathy; and further, that these processes are anchored in the disruption, decentering and reorientation of the self in relation to the divine and to social others. This explicit identification of the locus of self-transformation in the social, and Emmanuel’s orientation to change more broadly, are achieved and shaped by the mediation or insertion of the divine into human sociality. This mediation seeks to establish, and is based in the experience of the divine as not only transcendent to the world but as also powerfully immanent in it. Making these arguments, the dissertation intervenes in key debates in the contemporary anthropology of Christianity, the anthropological critique of humanitarianism, and anthropological debates on empathy, intersubjectivity, and self-transformation.