Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Once a staunchly Christian nation, Scotland’s church attendance has seen rapid decline since the 1960s. Some believers argue the tide of secularisation has left Scottish churches in societal “exile” and strive to create a counter-current in the form of revival. However, in a religious category marked by church schism and heterodoxy, the pursuit of revival entails deep and ongoing contestation about the very nature of being Christian. This paper draws on ethnographic research of ‘Cairn’: a charismatic, Christian revivalist movement in Edinburgh. Cairn seeks to “transition” dying churches from an insular, conservative approach, to a missional model, engaging local non-Christian communities. In 2016, Cairn launched a ‘replant’, commissioning a young, enthusiastic team to revive a small Baptist church on the brink of closure. The replanters arrived to find a dwindling congregation with elderly leaders whose understanding of faith and ideals for the church contrasted their own. These disjunctures include starkly polarised opinions on female preachers, hermeneutics of Bible study, and procedures of ritual. While all share aspirations for revival, the composite parts of the replant pursue opposing models of church and modes of being Christian. This paper demonstrates how resulting tensions - particularly regarding church hierarchy and engaging secular culture - are continuously negotiated. This work shows how forces of secularisation forge heterogenous faith communities. I argue the urgent drive for revival exposes conflicts over the fundamentals of how to be Christian, creating complex dynamics of compromise and resistance in the project of revivalism.