Failures of being: The Christian promise of acceptance in Sinja, Nepal

Samuele Poletti


“Being” can be a heavy burden to carry in Sinja, Nepal. The lack of a given self comparable to the Christian soul makes the struggle for being a potentially life-threatening affair, especially when circumstances impede the fulfillment of social expectations. Suicides that flow from the incapacity to embody what a person is socially expected to be illustrate the phenomenological dimension of what “social death” might really mean for people whose being is articulated in and through webs of social ties. Conversion to Christianity provides social misfits with a community of fellow believers that promises to guarantee them a full-fledged presence in the world vis-à-vis the potentially devastating outcomes of an utter failure of being, yet which also poses entirely new challenges. Ernesto de Martino’s concept of “presence” captures the existential stakes of conversion better than sweeping tropes about the in/dividuality of personhood, circumventing the impasse faced by long-standing debates in the anthropology of Christianity.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/722034