Entangled Religions 12.3 (2021) er.ceres.rub.de

(Review A) Dancing for the Saints in the Time of COVID-19: Responses to the Lockdown in the Texcoco and Teotihuacan Regions in Central Mexico

Kamila Baraniecka-Olszewska Centre for Ethnology and Modern Anthropology, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences

This is the first review of the preprinted article “Dancing for the Saints in the Time of COVID-19: Responses to the Lockdown in the Texcoco and Teotihuacan Regions in Central Mexico.” The review will be taken offline once the final article has appeared.

review, preprint

Summary Evaluation

1

Accepted with suggested minor/major revisions (B/C).

Original Article

2

The original article can be found under the following link: https://er.ceres.rub.de/index.php/ER/article/view/8901

Give a presentation of the article. What is its contribution to research?

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Covid-19 pandemic have caused massive changes in religious life, also in ritual practices. Investigating how this situation is dealt with by religious institutions and also by believers – how they change their devotion practices to maintain relation with the transcendent – is of crucial importance. New ways and new media of connecting with the sacred are being established, new practices take place of the old ones, triggering different ways of approaching and experiencing religion.

4

The article “Dancing for the Saints” tackles this problem demonstrating how covid-19 pandemic restrictions changed the cult of Catholic saints in various towns in central Mexico. The Authors focus on a few media which, before the pandemics, constituted the main way of relating with the saints during feasts and describe transformations they have undergone during subsequent lockdowns. The Authors choose dances performed to honour saints to provide readers with more detailed description of believers’ strategies of coping with pandemic influence on ritual practice. Moreover, they present new media – mostly social media – which enabled the faithful to participate, at least to some degree, in religious celebrations and allowed for “symbolic representations” of the analysed dances.

Assess the source materials and research literature.

5

The article is quite general in its nature, so it is really difficult to assess source materials. The research has been conducted by the Authors for many years in many locations (there are over 25 towns mentioned in the description, although the map shows fewer). They decided to present an overview of the situation before the pandemics and during it what leads to inevitable generalizations and rather sketchy presentation of cargo systems, feasts for the patron saints, the dances and finally creative reactions to pandemic restrictions.

6

The Authors took common denominators of analysed celebrations and presented them in a quite unified way. Yes, feasts, dances and cargo systems are to some degree similar, but they are also very different. From the article we do not learn about the towns where these feasts are celebrated, their social and political background or the popularity of the saint. Different dances, with different origin, e.g. group, line dances and Moros y Christianos are put together under the label of an offering for a saint, because of their function. However, questions of identity, power relations, gender, as well as political and social aspects of the dances remain absent in the article. I understand the idea of presenting some common direction of pandemics-related changes, but the article is a bit too much detached from the ethnographic material. Authors refer to quite classical works on cargo systems and on “popular religion” in Mexico. Explaining cargos is crucial for understanding changes in ritual practice. Therefore considering how community puts pressure on its members to take a cargo could shed some more light on the need of fulfilling it, not only in terms of a religious vow. Also relation between cargo systems and migration could be important here, since during pandemics migrants could not back to Mexico to fulfil a cargo.

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I cannot fully agree with using the notion of “popular religion” in the article. I see emphasising the difference between “popular” and “official” religion very risky in anthropological research and if such a division is done, it should be justified by ethnography. Perhaps an approach suggested by Kristin Norget in her research on Catholicism in Oaxaca could be of some use here – she applies the term “popular religion” in her research, but presents it as a “dialectical encounter” between the Church and the believers.

Assess the problem formulations; are they clearly stated?

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The problem is formulated very clear, the article is well structured. However, clear configuration does not solve the question of too general presentation of the subject of research and also of the argument.

Assess the analysis and conclusion.

9

The article is very informative and presents established scholarship on religious feasts, their “double origin” – syncretism of Native and Christian beliefs and practices. Further the Authors describe ritual dances perceiving them as acts of individual devotion, fulfilling of a vow, an offering or a part of a “contractual relation” with a saint and consequently, they place their interpretation of pandemic forms of dances within this frame. Such an approach causes that the social and political dimensions of feasts and dances are lost together with all power relations accompanying choosing dancers, mayordomos etc. The article of Diana Taylor Performance and/as history on fiesta in Tepotzlan could offer some insight on different approach to feasts. However, if the Authors decide to stick to their interpretation, their choice should be explained to the readers.

10

In my opinion also describing modified dances as “symbolic representations” requires some more unpacking. In the quoted literature (Evans-Pritchard; Dehouve) “symbolic representation” of an offering is enough to substitute it. Here the dancers are still waiting for the occasion to perform “properly”. Without ethnographical description why people agree or want to dance, how they understand a “proper” offering in the times of covid-19 pandemics, the notion of “symbolic representation” remains a bit vague.

Summary, final verdict, and rationale for your decision:

11

Despite the instruction I have ticked two checkboxes: Accepted with suggested minor revisions and Recommendation of major revisions and re-submission, because the situation could be solved in two ways. First one: the present version of the article is published only with more detailed explanation of the use of “popular religion” or “symbolic representation” notions and adding ethnography to the last part of the text on pandemics-related transformation of the dances. Perhaps these minor changes should also include some more complicated image of fiestas and danzas and references to up-to-date literature on the subject. The second solution requires substantial changes – reducing the general part on cargos, fiestas and danzas to minimum and presenting particular case studies which could provide a reader with better understanding of the process of transformation of the dances under covid-19 pandemics and also give insights into complexity of changes in religious life on different levels, not only within honouring the saints framework. The decision how to proceed should be agreed between the Editors and the Authors.