Partible penitents: Dividual personhood and Christian practice in Melanesia and the West

Mark Mosko*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    166 Citations (Scopus)


    Recent discussions by anthropologists and others regarding the transmission and adoption of exogenous cultural elements have been framed by such tropes as cultural 'rupture', 'collision', 'disjuncture', 'hybridity', and 'globalization'. These studies have been undertaken largely independent of the 'New Melanesian Ethnography' and its distinctive understanding of partible personhood. Burgeoning studies of Christian conversion have elided the partibility of persons with respect to both indigenous modes of agency and analogous features of Christianity, while practitioners of the New Ethnography have mostly avoided analysing religious change. I seek to transcend this bifurcation by demonstrating the dividual character of personhood and agency in several exemplary instances of Melanesian Christianity (Maisin, Karavar, Gebusi, and Urapmin), which previous investigators have portrayed in opposed terms as inherently individualist. There and in a further ethnographic treatment (North Mekeo) I show how people's assimilation of Christianity has been effected through elicitive exchanges involving parts of their persons and corresponding personal detachments of God, Jesus, Mary, Holy Spirit, the Devil, and so on. Paying due heed to these heretofore unrecognized analogies between indigenous dividualism and Christian 'individualism' provides a novel explanation for the nature and rapidity of conversion and change in Melanesia and beyond.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)215-240
    Number of pages26
    JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010


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