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Becoming Sinners

Christianity and Moral Torment in a Papua New Guinea Society

Joel Robbins (Author)

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In a world of swift and sweeping cultural transformations, few have seen changes as rapid and dramatic as those experienced by the Urapmin of Papua New Guinea in the last four decades. A remote people never directly "missionized," the Urapmin began in the 1960s to send young men to study with Baptist missionaries living among neighboring communities. By the late 1970s, the Urapmin had undergone a charismatic revival, abandoning their traditional religion for a Christianity intensely focused on human sinfulness and driven by a constant sense of millennial expectation. Exploring the Christian culture of the Urapmin, Joel Robbins shows how its preoccupations provide keys to understanding the nature of cultural change more generally. In so doing, he offers one of the richest available anthropological accounts of Christianity as a lived religion. Theoretically ambitious and engagingly written, his book opens a unique perspective on a Melanesian society, religious experience, and the very nature of rapid cultural change.
List of Illustrations
Prologue: A Heavy Christmas and a Pig Law for People
Introduction: Christianity and Cultural Change

1. From Salt to the Law: Contact and the Early Colonial Period
2. Christianity and the Colonial Transformation of Regional Relations
3. Revival, Second-Stage Conversion, and the Localization of the Urapmin Church

4. Contemporary Urapmin in Millennial Time and Space
5. Willfulness, Lawfulness, and Urapmin Morality
6. Desire and Its Discontents: Free Time and Christian Morality
7. Rituals of Redemption and Technologies of the Self
8. Millennialism and the Contest of Values

Conclusion: Christianity, Cultural Change, and the Moral Life of the Hybrid
Joel Robbins is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego. He is coeditor of Money and Modernity: State and Local Currencies in Contemporary Melanesia (1999) and of the journal Anthropological Theory.
“Robbins manages, through his ethnography, to illustrate for us the need to understand radical change.”—Reviews In Anthropology
“Becoming Sinners . . . raises the bar by joining a superbly detailed enthongraphy to a closely argued theorization of Christianity as culture.”—Dan Jorgensen Journal Of Contemporary Religion
“Robbins is an astute critic of the way anthropology has sometimes rendered an inadequate account, or even missed the Big Story, by a preference for the so-called authentic over the so-called hybrid. . . . It is good to see how thoroughly all this has been overcome in such a first rank contribution as Becoming Sinners.”—Journal Of Religion In Africa
“An impressively detailed history. . . [an] excellent ethnographic account.”—Keir Martin Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
"A major contribution to the understanding of cultural change by means of a remarkable ethnographic study of a Melanesian Christianity. Robbins is very unusual among his generation in being able to walk the walk of the most trendy Deep Thinkers without having to talk their talk."—Marshall Sahlins, Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

"Robbins's excellence as an ethnographer and theoretician is beautifully demonstrated in his book, Becoming Sinners, a ground-breaking ethnography of the interrelations between competing moral discourses in a context of rapid cultural change. One of the most significant contributions of this manuscript is that Robbins has combined a strong humanities orientation in a work on religion and morality with powerful social science methodology. This book will be a major milestone."—Bambi Schieffelin, author of The Give and Take of Everyday Life: Language Socialization of Kaluli Children

J. I. Staley Prize, School of American Research

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