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Social Anthropology: Events


“They Need Jesus in Their Heart”: the Agonism of Christian Conversion in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

“They Need Jesus in Their Heart”: the Agonism of Christian Conversion in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Speaker: Adam Marshall # University of Edinburgh
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Date and Time
24th Oct 2018 16:00 - 24th Oct 2018 18:00
5.11, Chrystal Macmillan Building

The Anthropology of Christianity Working group are pleased to present a seminar by Adam Marshall, who is currently teaching and completing his PhD here at Edinburgh. 

Adam’s thesis titled Order from Chaos: Agonism, Salvation, and Equilibrium among Khmer Evangelical Christians in Phnom Penh explores Cambodian notions of “chaos”, in its many forms, and argues that for Khmer evangelical Christianity, “chaos” is a necessary feature for creating order and stability. 

This paper focuses on the nature of Christian conversion in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and explores the unstable nature of Christian conversion, tracing its intrinsic agonism (the struggle to reach equilibrium) that helps clarify faith. The Cambodian people find themselves in a rapidly changing and precarious world, following decades of turmoil. Urban life in Phnom Penh disrupts much of what the Khmer understand as the proper “Khmer order”, in terms of hierarchy, ethics, family, and religion. For many Christian converts, conversion to Christianity is caught up in this shifting dynamic. Similar to anthropological discussions on the nature of conversion in the global south, Khmer Christians are uncertain about what being a Christian entails. Thus, for most, conversion is an uncertain and unstable experience that needs to be strengthened and “clarified”. In this paper I argue that this agonism helps clarify their uncertain faith by “preparing” their hearts to experience Jesus. Experiencing Jesus in the heart, in other words, is the central mechanism to bring equilibrium to the chaos of Khmer evangelical Christian faith.