P147 – Politique de la délivrance et guerre spirituelle des pentecôtistes en Afrique
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Gusman Alessandro / University of Turin
Fancello Sandra / IMAF, CNRS


 Avec le succès des églises pentecôtistes et des centres de délivrance, la lutte contre les «forces du mal» est devenue un thème de mobilisation dans l’Afrique contemporaine. Le discours sur l’omniprésence de la sorcellerie dans les sphères de la vie quotidienne, alimenté par le «marché de la guérison», contribue à renforcer l’imaginaire de la persécution par les autres, proches ou lointains, le pentecôtisme constituant une forme paradoxale et alternative de discours sorcellaire. La délivrance pentecôtiste se présente comme une ressource individuelle et collective face à la sorcellerie, puisant sa force dans sa dimension discursive autant que dans la performance rituelle et corporelle. La libération du Mal est devenue également un thème politique récurrent dans les discours des chefs d’État africains (de Gbagbo à Bozizé ou Museveni) qui appellent à « guérir la nation » par une chasse aux sorciers (les migrants, les musulmans, les homosexuels, etc.) et une « guerre spirituelle » qui n’est pas toujours métaphorique. Le discours politique de la mobilisation contre la sorcellerie vise en réalité à masquer de désengagement des États par une rhétorique de la victimisation collective. L’atelier propose une réflexion sur les ressorts de la politique de délivrance du discours pentecôtiste au regard de la situation d’«epistemic anxiety» des sociétés africaines actuelles.

Politics of Deliverance and the Pentecostal Spiritual War in Africa
With the growing success of Pentecostal churches and of deliverance centers, spiritual warfare has become a theme of mobilization in contemporary Africa. The Pentecostal discourse about the omnipresence of witchcraft in the different spheres of everyday life, fuelled by the “healing market”, contributes to reinforce the popular imagination of persecution, either from relatives or from other people, thus making Pentecostalism a paradoxical and alternative witchcraft discourse. Deliverance in Pentecostal churches is at the same time an individual and collective resource against witchcraft, gaining its force from the discursive dimension and from the ritual and bodily performance. Deliverance from evil has also become a recurrent political theme in the speeches of African national leaders (from Gbagbo to Bozizé to Museveni) who call for a witch-hunt (against migrants, Muslims, homosexuals …) to “heal the nation”, and for to a “spiritual warfare” that is not always only metaphoric. The political discourse of mobilization against witchcraft thus aims at hiding the withdrawal of the State with the usage of a rhetoric of collective victimization.

Against this background, this panel is concerned with a reflection on the responsibilities of Pentecostal deliverance politics within the condition of “epistemic anxiety” of contemporary African societies.

Paper 1

LeBlanc Marie Nathalie / Université du Québec, Montréal

« Spirit Migraines », « Burning Stomachs » and Other Pentecostal Predicaments: Idiomes of Distress Among Refugees of African Origin in Canada

In this paper, I propose to analyze the discourses of sufferings produced by refugees and migrants of African origin living in the city of Montréal (Canada). The paper draws on data gathered in the context of a research-based unit in the family and community psychiatry unit of one of Montréal’s hospitals. As a cultural mediator, I have collaborated for more than 15 years with the teams of doctors, social workers and therapists in the process of assessing and establishing treatment plans for patients. In a significant number of cases, discourses of distress and suffering are formatted in the framework of religious experience. However, despite divergent migratory trajectories and multiple countries of origin, Pentecostal believers produce particular discourses about spiritual predicaments, witchcraft and the occult. Idioms of “witchcraft attacks” and the need to be “freed from evil forces” are often typified by ailments such as “spirit migraines” and “burning stomachs”. Further, in a number of cases, patients follow through paths of spiritual healing in local African Pentecostal churches and collaborative work has been established with local pastors. Through the cases of refugee claimants involved in local African Pentecostal churches, I will show that idioms of individual and intimate spiritual experiences have collective implications that extend beyond psychiatric conditions to the predicament of being a refugee of African origin in the Canadian context.

Paper 2

Costantini Osvaldo / Sapienza – Università di Roma

Deliverance and agency. Pentecostalism in Ethiopia and diaspora

Starting from our respective fieldworks in Ethiopia and in Italy, we would like to propose an analysis of the Ethiopian Pentecostalism in the homeland and in the contexts of migration, focusing on construction of person, deliverance and agency.
As for Ethiopia, where the phenomenon has grown dramatically in the last few years, we want to emphasize how Pentecostalism becomes an idiom able to cope with the uncertainties of a country in rapid transformation. Providing new and unprecedented social ties, it gives faithfull tools to act in the world. Through the deliverance as well as the daily activities, the work carried out in the churches aims to build a “pentecostal person” as an individual able to cope with uncertainity of the social life. By giving a moral order based on invididual entrepreneurship those churches give people a way of taming incertitude by creating an individual consistent with the neoliberal ideology and related practices. In this way they construct also new forms of agency.
Deliverance, new social ties and new forms of agency act also in migratory context, where Pentecostal discourses and practices give rise to the opportunity to face anxieties stemming from the possibility to fail the migratory project as well as the daily toil of the new environment and the aporias of mobility. An issue that leads the focus to frustrations that arise in a territory where the gap between the imagined and possible, between desired and reality is wide and diacritical.

Paper 3

Babalola Sunday Funmilola / Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Ikeji-Arakeji, Osun State, Nigeria

Spiritual Warfare in African Pentecostalism and the Indigenous African Religion: A Nigerian Experience

This study is essentially phenomenological in approach. It seeks to contribute scholarly to a current discussion in African scholarship that African indigenous religion and Pentecostalism as it is being practised in Africa today could have a lot in common. Another issue central to this study is the possible relationship between poverty and the concept of witchcraft attacks among Africans in the context of deliverance through Pentecostalism and spirituality. The study, therefore, raises and discusses issues such as the reality and effects of witchcraft in a contemporary Nigerian society. The study, however, centres its research around the Christ Apostolic Church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God and the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries as some of the major Pentecostal movements in Nigeria. The study is conducted mainly through the use of interviews, questionnaires, archival materials and relevant text books. The data are duly collated and analysed using simple descriptive method.

Paper 4

Fancello Sandra / IMAF, CNRS

Diabolisation de la contestation et politique de la délivrance

Paper 5

Gusman Alessandro / University of Turin

Delivering from the spirit of “blocage”; refugees’ experience and spiritual warfare in Congolese churches in Kampala (Uganda)

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been experiencing massive waves of forced displacement for the last two decades; almost 200,000 people fled to Uganda.
The creation of churches – especially the “églises de réveil” – in Kampala provides refugees with a sense of community and with a new social network in the host city. In the context of displacement, pastors and believers tend to relate their suffering and dramatic experiences to the presence of demons and to explain their condition religious terms (i.e. establishing a parallelism between the life of Jews in Egypt and their own situation); the recourse to the flourishing field of deliverance is frequent: many refugees address Pentecostal churches to obtain protection and prayers to put an end to the “blocage” they are experiencing in their lives.
Starting from the fieldwork I conducted in three Congolese Pentecostal churches in Kampala, the paper aims to explore the connections believers established between the condition of being refugees and the fact of being under witchcraft attack; I focus in particular on the experience of “blocage” concerning the resettlement process, considered as the result of a demonic action. The religious language and the recourse to deliverance become in this context a way of making meaning of a meaningless condition, translating the experience of liminality of the protracted refuge in Uganda in biblical terms, and situating it at the abstract level of the spiritual fight against evil spirits.

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