Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Reed College

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2004
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Chicago
Translating Locality: The Politics of Language and Culture in Papua New Guinea Bible Translation

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), linguistic and cultural difference has long served as the marker of locality, the terminus of globalizing institutions and practices such as Christian missionization, primarily because the country is home to over 800 languages. Christian organizations that work in PNG such as SIL International, a worldwide Bible translation and literacy group, have recognized in this connection between locality and ethno-linguistic difference both the hand of God and a Christian mission. They work under the theologically-supported belief that a speaker's "heart language" (i.e. native first language) is the only language in which "true" conversion to Christianity may occur. My project thus examines Christian missionization as an attempt at a species of "globalization" that has to deal with linguistic and cultural differences. These differences have often been seen as the limit of globalization, theorized alternately as syncretisms, conjunctures, etc. But if this is so, then here are Evangelicals who believe in a conversion of the "heart" that has to be carried out through the "heart language," localizing their message so as to globalize their religion. My case study will focus on the Guhu-Samane people ofMorobe Province, PNG, for whom Bible translations have become the touchstone of competing and contested valuations of their own language and culture. My goal is to ask not only where locality is situated, but how a purportedly "local people" find it and deploy it. I contend that the ways in which Guhu-Samane incorporate Christianity and linguistic and cultural knowledge is integrally related to the long-standing issue of extreme diversity that Christian organizations have had to confront - in terms of both methodology and theology - in the Papua New Guinean situation.