Two ways of being the Body of Christ: Toward an anthropology of church forms, with reference to Baptist and Roman Catholic polities in Italy

Matteo (Teo) Benussi, Tommaso Manzon


In this article, an anthropologist and a theologian explore an analytical framework for the comparative study of Christian churches, focusing in particular on ritual life among Roman Catholics and Baptist Protestants in Italy. Catholics and Baptists have different ways of articulating what it means to be “the Body of Christ”—that is, the ecclesia. If ecclesiology is a theme well explored by theologians, social scientists have hesitated to pronounce themselves on this topic. This contribution proposes a way to look at ecclesiology from an anthropological angle through the analysis of the liturgical orders of two different ecclesiastical bodies. By mapping foundational rituals and rites of passage, we aspire to isolate the different “ecclesiological axioms” that underpin liturgy and church form in these two polities. We hope that our reflection will stimulate discussion on a hitherto little-developed topic in the anthropology of Christianity, and strengthen interdisciplinary conversations between anthropologists and theologians.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/728727