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Conversionary Sites

Transforming Medical Aid and Global Christianity from Madagascar to Minnesota

Conversionary Sites

Transforming Medical Aid and Global Christianity from Madagascar to Minnesota

Drawing on more than two years of participant observation in the American Midwest and in Madagascar among Lutheran clinicians, volunteer laborers, healers, evangelists, and former missionaries, Conversionary Sites investigates the role of religion in the globalization of medicine. Based on immersive research of a transnational Christian medical aid program, Britt Halvorson tells the story of a thirty-year-old initiative that aimed to professionalize and modernize colonial-era evangelism. Creatively blending perspectives on humanitarianism, global medicine, and the anthropology of Christianity, she argues that the cultural spaces created by these programs operate as multistranded “conversionary sites,” where questions of global inequality, transnational religious fellowship, and postcolonial cultural and economic forces are negotiated.
A nuanced critique of the ambivalent relationships among religion, capitalism, and humanitarian aid, Conversionary Sites draws important connections between religion and science, capitalism and charity, and the US and the Global South.

288 pages | 18 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Sociology: Medical Sociology


"Halvorson offers a fascinating and nuanced analysis of 'conversionary sites' that richly shows how material things congeal bodies, healing, and history in a way that is rarely simple to understand, and always requiring of multiple perspectives arrayed together and against each other."

Anthropological Quarterly

"[Conversionary Sites] not only addresses important questions concerning aid and religion, neoliberalism, and postcolonialism, but also is a beautifully crafted example of how careful attention to multiple perspectives can uncover new knowledge about the subtle impact of cultural practices on the maintenance of power asymmetries."

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Although the fields of humanitarianism, assistance, development, and charity have rapidly expanded over the past ten years, there is still relatively little written on the role of religious organizations. As such, this book is a much-needed contribution to a series of critical conversations about such assistance. Halvorson’s scholarship is exceptional, and her writing is clear, focused, and elegantly presented. Conversionary Sites will speak to multiple audiences, both within anthropology and beyond, to address questions of assistance, religion, and postcolonial politics.”

Melissa L. Caldwell, author of Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia’s Countryside

“Focusing on discarded medical supplies that circulate from Minnesota warehouses to hospitals in Madagascar, Conversionary Sites is a beautifully crafted exploration of how transnational Lutheran actors negotiate distinct biospiritual regimes of medical, economic, and moral value. In this fraught process, far-flung Christians engage in value conversions that transform waste into divinely blessed objects, while also managing the contradictions that arise out of a nominally equal but in fact profoundly racialized and classed encounter. A provocative and original study of global medical humanitarianism that offers vivid insight into global Christianity under neoliberal conditions.”

Andrea Muehlebach, author of The Moral Neoliberal: Welfare and Citizenship in Italy

Table of Contents

Introduction: Conversionary Sites in Global Christianities
Chapter 1. Remembering and Forgetting through Medical Aid Work
Chapter 2. Becoming Humanitarians: Bodies Multiple in Communities of Aid
Chapter 3. Redeeming Medical Waste, Making Medical Relief
Chapter 4. Restructuring Value in Antananarivo
Chapter 5. Translating Aid, Brokering Identity: Malagasy Doctors as Precarious Heroes
Chapter 6. Traversing Shadow Spaces of Accountability
Conclusions: Aid’s End Times



Society for the Anthropology of Religion: Clifford Geertz Prize
Honorable Mention

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