Christian Moderns

Religious faith in the transcendent cannot help but be expressed through material forms and representations, in what Webb Keane calls a “semiotic ideology”. All worship, even the worship a God so trancendent he cannot be named or represented in images, has to be materialized through human, and therefore social, media of expression. This means it can never attain a condition sufficiently abstract or spiritual nor wholly spontaneous and sincere, consequently leading faiths to bouts of “purification.”

Using the missionary encounter between the morally rigorous Calvinism and marapu, an indigenous ancestor practice with elaborate materialization from Sumba, an island of eastern Indonesia, Webb Keane details the semiotic drama in Christian Moderns. Through a century long ethnographic study—beginning with colonial Dutch East Indies to independent Indonesia—Keane explores language, modernity and morality through the analysis of the “smallest capillaries of everyday life.”