Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Corruption, according Akhil Gupta and Sarah Muir, is a category of transgression (2018). As a result, corruption discourse is most often a call to redefine a moral or sociopolitical order (Feldman 2018). This means corruption talk is typically a condemnation. But what if “corruption” is understood not only as transgression, but one’s existential condition? In what circumstances would someone positively identify themselves as corrupt and deny the possibility that it could be otherwise? This paper will explore the many lives of “corruption talk” within the context of evangelical megachurches in South Korea and the United States. Corruption discourses take on a particular valence in a religious tradition founded on the idea that all human beings are inescapably depraved, crooked, and fallen. I will focus on Christian responses to moral, political, and economic corruption that seek to reconcile the desire for reform with the belief in original sin. In these moments, it becomes clear that the political possibilities of anti-corruption movements are shaped by (among other things) the theological context that informs corruption talk. The resignation to human depravity serves to neutralize political critique in particular situations, while in others, such resignation is seen to be necessary for lasting reform. Looking at corruption discourses across megachurch Christianities in Seoul and in Los Angeles, I bring together recent ethnographies of corruption and Christian critique (Handman 2015) to explore the possibilities for anti-corruption efforts in a world understood to be always already corrupt.