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Personhood as a Tool to Reflect upon Koinonia

Terry Brown

This article examines the New Testament concept of koinonia (communion, fellowship) from the perspective of two concepts of personhood: Western European individualism and Melanesian relationalism. After a cautionary examination of the terms “communion,” “personhood,” “Melanesian,” “European,” and “culture,” the article discusses New Testament koinonia, noting its especially Pauline character. The article then surveys the Western European individualism in which personhood is experienced and understood primarily in terms of the autonomous individual. It then surveys the Melanesian (and more broadly, Oceanic) relationalism in which personhood is experienced and understood primarily in terms of relationships. The article draws on the observations of early twentieth-century missionary-ethnologist Maurice Leenhardt, current anthropological discussions, and the author’s personal experience of Melanesia to illustrate the latter. Finally, the article reflects briefly on how one’s experience and understanding of personhood might affect, both positively and negatively, how one understands and lives koinonia.

 
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