For the 2015 AAA in Denver, I will present a paper titled: "Freedom and Stress: Pentecostal Expressions of Christian Difference in Samoa" as part of the panel: "The Difference Denominations Make: Christian Sociality and Institutional Form," organized by Courtney Handman and Minna Opas. Other panelists include Jon Bialecki and Scott MacLochlainn. Joe Webster will serve as discussant.
Abstract: In the context of rapid epidemiological change and rising concern for diabetes, hypertension and obesity, many Samoans struggle to understand this change. This epidemiological change has occurred along side another change: the rise in Pentecostal churches since the 1950s. In this paper, I focus on this intersection through an analysis of the discursive constructions of denominational difference articulated through discussions of freedom and stress. Many Pentecostals discuss the difference between mainstream Protestant or Catholic Christianity by drawing attention to the experience of freedom, which is thought to accompany conversion. Freedom discourses highlight authentic and spontaneous subject formation so typical of Protestant Christianity, however, these discourses also work to draw attention to the financial, temporal, and food resource obligations of mainstream Christianity––in other words mainstream church-based obligations are cast as contrary to freedom. By contrasting freedom and obligation, Pentecostals create powerful critiques of denominational difference through the self-work associated with Protestant Christianity. By extension, many Pentecostal Christians draw from medicalized ideas of stress to connect obligation with metabolic sickness. This logic suggests that when cash, time, and food are directed away from the household to church, this enhances economic vulnerability, which in turn makes people feel stress and eat “unhealthy” foods. I argue that articulations denominational difference enables a Pentecostal critique to emerge that connects rising economic inequalities with metabolic disorders. Articulations of Christian difference provide a way for Pentecostals to locate the bi-directional relationship between stress, inequalities, and metabolic disorders in everyday practices, anxieties, and suffering.