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Grace is incommensurability in commensuration: the semantics of bwan among three generations of Wa and Lahu prophets’

Steinmüller, Hans ORCID: 0000-0002-5921-421X (2021) Grace is incommensurability in commensuration: the semantics of bwan among three generations of Wa and Lahu prophets’. Cambridge Journal of Anthropology. ISSN 0305-7674 (In Press)

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Abstract

Since the 17th century, prophets have reappeared periodically among the Wa and Lahu ethnic groups of mainland Southeast Asia. Exceptionally talented, these men built on the syncretic cults of run-away soldiers, secretive Buddhist sects, and Christian missionaries and became leaders of millenarian movements. Typically, in the Wa language, these men are said to be very strong and blessed, or full of grace (bwan). The prophets might be understood as reincarnations of mythical ‘men of prowess’, or as the representatives of the peripheral situation. However, both interpretations fundamentally misread the semantics of grace in Wa and neighbouring languages: a kind of cunning and strength that is so radical that it cannot be measured or mediated. Grace, here, is neither a ‘mediative concept’ (as Pitt Rivers suggested), nor is it the consequence of Christian conversion. Instead, grace is the incommensurability that emerges at the margin of a world that is measured.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: https://www.berghahnjournals.com/view/journals/cja...
Additional Information: © 2021 The Author
Divisions: Anthropology
Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2021 13:24
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2021 01:17
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/112553

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