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Marian Burchardt & Johannes Becker: Subjects of God? Rethinking Religious Agency, Biography, and Masculinity from the Global South. [Abstract]

Religious specialists inhabit ambivalent institutional positions. On the one hand, as professionals working for organizations, their scope of autonomy is constrained and subject to organizational rules, religious dogmas, and religiously sanctioned restrictions on their own lives in the form of celibacy, choice of residence, etc. On the other hand, because of their charisma and their epistemic authority with regard to, for example, the interpretation of everyday events, personal crises, religious scriptures, and moral judgments, they may also have considerable autonomy and power. In this article, we compare the lives of Greek Catholic monks in the Middle East and Pentecostals pastors in South Africa. We focus on the question of how the subjective understandings and objective realities of personal autonomy relate to one another and change in the course of religious specialists’ careers. Scrutinizing religious agency in a gendered environment allows us to analyze how dominant constructions of connections to God, religious charisma, and ecclesiastical careers reproduce the masculine structure of church institutions. While Eastern Catholic monks are often portrayed as extremely constrained by institutional rules, Pentecostal pastors appear as largely autonomous, organizing the religious affairs of their congregations in a highly independent fashion. Our analysis demonstrates that such images often mirror idealized portrayals that are produced by dominant religious discourses. As our analysis also shows, however, these discourses obfuscate both the agency of monks and the institutional constraints of pastors.

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