PANEL 8 – ETHNORELIGIOUS IDENTITIES, NATIONALISM AND POLITICAL USES
The presentations will focus on social groups’ construction through martial arts practices and their religious references. The papers’ topics range from local groups cohesion to protect minority rights and marginalized communities, to nationalist militias and vigilantes aimed at defending exclusive ideals of imperialist countries.
- Discussants: Andrea Molle (Chapman University) & Benjamin Judkins (Cornell University) & Gabriel Facal (IrAsia, CASE)
* Due to technical issues, the video discussion of the panels 1, 2, and 8 have a strong echo. We apologies for the inconvenience. We are trying to fix it. Thank you for your understanding.
- Gabriele Paone (Oxford University) – Kimono and Rifle. Ethnography of BJJ Among the Youngest Inhabitants of a Carioca Favela
While there are studies regarding the impact of martial arts on the development of children and adolescents, there are few focused on communities characterized by a high level of crime and juvenile delinquency. Thus, I conducted six months of field research in 2018 in one of the slums (favelas) of Rio de Janeiro – Cantagalo-Pavão-Pavãozinho. This study investigated how the practice of a martial art – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) – helped give balance to children and young people constantly exposed to a reality of extreme contrasts. For example, between the wealth of adjacent tourist areas and the poverty of the local streets; between the criminality of drug traffickers who enforce a strict code of conduct in the community and the policemen who sell weapons to those same traffickers. I observed that BJJ can provide the youngest inhabitants of the chaotic community a safe environment far from the excesses that characterize the favela, a fixed point, a direction, a place in which they are not discriminated, but in which to show their worth regardless of skin color, gender, socioeconomic background or religious orientation. BJJ may offer these children an alternative spiritual path in which to find a point of reference in opposition to that of the criminal godfather and to live a life, “on the right path,” as they say in the favela
Keywords: Anthropology of childhood, early-life experience, martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, favelas.
Bio & Contact
I’m currently a graduate student of the MSc of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford and I am interested in the impact of martial arts on children who live in harsh environments. My previous qualifications include a MA in African Studies (Dalarna University, Sweden), in which I developed a critical anthropological analysis of the mainstream view of child soldiers. During a subsequent MA in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology (Bologna University, Italy) I completed a research project that won the University of Bologna “Thesis Abroad” scholarship. This enabled me to conduct the abovementioned field research in Brazil. The outcomes of this research that are in line with the objective of the 6th Annual Martial Arts Studies Conference may be presented during the conference.
- Raphael Schapira (Graduate Institute Geneva) – Fighting the good fight: Urban Evangelical Brazilian jiu-jitsu in Rio de Janeiro’s periphery
For evangelical Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners, the sport’s virtues and evangelical religious belief are intrinsically linked. Taking the example of two Brazilian jiu-jitsu clubs in Rio de Janeiro’s periphery and their historically specific, concrete and embodied ideas about human flourishing, I aim to contribute to the understanding of religion and martial arts from the perspective of the anthropology of ethics. Evangelical Brazilian jiu-jitsu coaches accredit that through training, the values of Brazilian jiu-jitsu are instilled into their students which give them the confidence to believe in a fulfilling future. Its realization, students are told, depends on their ability to embody these values. While martial arts values are important to Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners, evangelical or not, I argue that for evangelical athletes, virtues are closely connected to religious belief. For evangelicals, martial arts virtues such as determination, focus, and discipline embodied during training and competition are seen to be equally important in the spiritual fight understood by evangelicals to be permanently waging on between the forces of good and evil. In evangelical forms of being in the world, the practice of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a metaphor for spiritual fighting while simultaneously religion is spoken about using vocabulary derived from sports. However, the references to fighting are not purely sportive nor discursive due to the experience of everyday violence. Living in territory controlled by the drug cartels and under the constant threat of being caught up in the crossfire between rival gangs and the police, students in Rio’s peripheric evangelical martial arts clubs learn to practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a way to embody their belief and to come to terms with their violent surrounding by understanding the earthly and the spiritual world as a world of fighting.
Bio & Contact
Raphael Schapira is a Ph.D. candidate at The Graduate Institute Geneva at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology. He works on the anthropology of sports with a specific interest in martial arts. The topic of this paper is part of his Ph.D. project in which he seeks to understand conservative modes of subjectivity in Brazilian jiu-jitsu gyms in Rio de Janeiro’s periphery through a corporeal approach. It is based on fieldwork undertaken in Rio de Janeiro from September 2017 until July 2018. He is also a long time German ju-jutsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner.
- Henrike Neuhaus (Goldsmiths College, University of London) – The Spiritual and Martial Body: Catholicism and Taekwondo in Urban Argentina
Exploring the meanings of Taekwondo in different urban settings of the megacity Buenos Aires, I noticed at several competitions a club banner with a white and blue virgin. This image led me to engage with a faith-based sports and educational club in a neighbourhood which faces extreme poverty and multiple forms of violence that subvert daily behaviour. In these urban areas, religion offers refuge from the ferocities as assault, harassment and violence related to drug trafficking. Accordingly, the Catholic Church plays an important role to support the population not only spiritually but also by building a proper urban infrastructure. The parish inculcates Christian values through highly ritualised physical education on the sports grounds. The paper examines the Argentinian context of religious education and how the Asian martial art Taekwondo contributes to the transmission of faith and ideas of care through sports programmes. Within an analysis of the notion of prevention, I will provide an ethnographic example of demonstrating Christian ideals of charity and care. Therefore, the area of practice needs to be understood as a liminal space to creating a community, where religion and martial art oscillate. Hence, the training becomes a rite of passage to form people that are faithful to withstand the evil of the surrounding urban space. However, anthropological scrutiny will also demonstrate how utopian longing for peace and dystopian reality of manifestations of violence impact each class.
Key words: religion, integration, crime prevention, urban violence.
Bio & Contact
Henrike Neuhaus researches Taekwondo in settings of violence in Buenos Aires from a visual anthropological perspective at Goldsmiths, University of London. For her Masters in Latin American Studies at the Free University Berlin, she created several collaborative documentaries with informal cardboard and refuse collectors, among whom a significant number of research participants had a strong connection to martial arts, particularly Taekwondo. Pursuing this discovery has further developed into the fieldwork and documentary films that make up her practice-based PhD thesis on Taekwondo in Buenos Aires. She transmits her knowledge and skills of anthropological filmmaking as an associate lecturer at Goldsmiths, and as a guest lecturer at both the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), and the University of San Martín (UNSAM). At the latter, she also served as a part of the organising board of the UNSAM Science Fair and Short Film Festival 2018 pushing the boundaries of academic engagement.
- T.J. Desch-Obi (Baruch College, CUNY) – Pacts, Power, and Community Ethic
Experts in the Afro-Colombian martial art of grima were crucial to defense of maroon communities in the Colombian Cauca. In addition to these physical skills these communities also placed a premium on spiritual empowerment through pacts with the Virgin Mary, a duende, or especially the Afro-Colombian devil. Reliance on the latter figure is fascinating because these were professedly Christian communities, yet they relied on fighting men who made pacts with the AfroColombian devil to lead their military resistance against oppressive whites who sought to deprive them of their land, culture, and livelihood. This paper seeks to explore the role of this uniquely AfroColombian devil figure as a cultural champion of martial artists in this ostensibly Christian community from the perspective of West Central African cosmology.Key words: Virgin Mary, Devil, Pacts, Grima, Maroons.
Bio & Contact
Dr. T.J. Desch-Obi is currently a visiting professor at Universidad ICESI’s Centro de Estudios Afrodiaspóricos in Cali, Colombia. He received his doctorate from the University of California Los Angeles, and is the author of Fighting For Honor: The History of African Martial Art Traditions in the Atlantic World. He specializes in the historical ethnography of pre-colonial Africa and the African Diaspora with a focus upon martial arts, physical culture, religion, sport, historical linguistics, and military history. His current research focuses on the social history of the machete and the Afro-Colombian machete fighting from 1848 to 1960, and twentieth century prison boxing. Dr. Desch-Obi is a permanent member of the history department at the City University of New York’s, Baruch College, where he also teaches in the Black and Latino Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Religion departments.
- Andrea Molle (Chapman University) – A Nation of Warriors: the Impact of Krav Maga on the Ethno-Religious Identity of the Jewish People
This paper presents results from an ongoing research project about the complexities of the relationship between martial arts and ethno-religious identities in the context of the formation of the modern nation state. The multileveled connection between the discipline of Krav Maga, its technical principles and philosophy, and the construction of ethno-religious identities within the States of Israel and the contemporary American diaspora will be examined. An ethno-religious group is typically defined as an ethnic group whose members are unified by a common religious background and construct their collective identity through a combination of references to perceived common ancestral heritage and a hereditary religious affiliation. Interestingly, ethno-religious groups’ identities seems to be particularly reinforced by life threatening conditions such as the wearying experience of living within a larger community as a distinct, discriminated, minority or as a large national community surrounded by potential foes. Within both contexts, continuous access to a shared history and a set of unifying cultural traditions have proved to be paramount for the formation and survival of Judaism as an exemplar ethno-religious group. In this paper we argue that the discipline and discourse of Krav Maga, with its emphasis on multiple attackers and a narrative of moral strength, resilience and chosenness (i.e. the belief of a particular place in human history), has dramatically contributed to the preservation and thriving of the Jewish people. We also present evidence of how it played a fundamental role with respect to the Jewish ethno-religious identity by embodying and sustaining the connection between Israel and the much larger and diverse overseas militant diaspora.
Key words: Krav Maga; Israel; Nationalism; Assimilation; Ethno-religious.
Bio & Contact
Andrea Molle is Assistant Professor in Political Science and Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Society. His current research and teaching agenda focus on the investigation of the intersection of martial arts, religion and politics in different fields of the Social Sciences. Besides the martial arts, his specific research interests include international relations, computational social sciences, cross-cultural studies of new religions, religious violence and warfare studies. Much of his current research focuses upon the study of Krav Maga.
- Steven Jug (Baylor University) – Adding Faith to Martial Arts and Combat to Orthodoxy in Putin’s Russia
In the 21st century, the Russian Orthodox Church has begun to discursively integrate and practically disseminate Sambo training through its media presence and parish organizations. This paper approaches the recent trend of Church-Sambo engagement through the lenses of material religion, mediatization, and institutional programs in Russia. I argue that an unequal exchange has taken place, in which the embrace of Sambo represents a radical shift regarding ideas of morality and violence in Orthodoxy, while Orthodoxy provides a valuable source of visibility and legitimacy for Sambo. The emergence of Orthodox militias that provide systema training and seek Sambo practitioners marks a new role for both churches and Russian martial arts in the paramilitary mobilization efforts of the Russian government. The stakes of the change are significant, as the Orthodox Church has become the third national institution to promote martial arts in Russia after the Sambo Federation and public schools, but brings a greater media presence than either. For Russian Orthodoxy, the shift suggests either desperation to grow followers, or a new capitulation in support of Putin’s national policies. The paper will pay particular attention to the importance of technique among militias that provide non-expert training as well as the compromise of ascetic traditions and metaphysical cosmology with generic spirituality and martial morals. The addition of Orthodoxy may make Sambo more ideologically Russian while paradoxically adding a spiritual component that bolsters its similarity to established East Asian martial arts.
Key words: Russia, Sambo, Systema, Orthodoxy, Media.
Bio & Contact
Steven G. Jug is a full-time temporary lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Russian history from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He has published articles in the Journal of War and Culture Studies, Masculinities: A Journal of Identity and Culture, and in edited volumes with Routledge and Bloomsbury Academic. He presented a paper on the origins of Sambo at the 5th annual Martial Arts Studies Conference and is currently working on an article about the conflicts between print and radio media depictions of masculinity and violence in the wartime Soviet Union.