P117 – Enchantment as Resistance in African Christianity
9 July, 14:00 – 15:30

Lauterbach Karen / Lund University


The growth of African independent churches (charismatic, Pentecostal, evangelical) has often been understood as a reaction to changed socio-economic circumstances such as increased liberalization, modernization, and individualization. In this panel we look at African Christianity, in its many expressions, as forms of cultural and social resistance; resistance that is related to religious ideas and practices as well as to how these ideas inform the social lives of people. In this way we for instance see new expressions of African Christianity as resistance to earlier forms of Christianity as introduced by mission churches (e.g. their formalism and ritualism) and/or other dimensions of Western cultural hegemony. The approach of the panel starts from indigenous religious concepts, which are approached with the intention not to take them out of their religious content and context. The aim is to build interpretative bridges between African enchanted worldviews and Western academic interpretations as well as between ethnography and theology.

Enchantement comme résistance dans le christianisme africain

L’expansion des églises africaines « indépendantes » (charismatiques, pentecôtistes et évangéliques) a souvent été appréhendée en termes d’une réaction face aux changements des conditions socio-économiques (l’essor du libéralisme, de la modernité et de l’individualisme). Dans ce panel, nous proposons d’aborder le christianisme africain, dans ses multiples expressions, comme une forme de résistance culturelle et sociale. Résistance liée aux pratiques et idées religieuses mais aussi à la façon dont ces idées forment la vie sociale de gens. De cette façon, nous considérons les nouvelles manifestations du christianisme africain plutôt comme une résistance aux formes antérieures telles que introduites par les églises missionnaires (cf. leur formalisme et ritualisme) mais aussi à d’autres dimensions de l’hégémonie culturelle occidentale. Le panel privilégie une approche partant des concepts religieux indigènes en étudiant ceux-ci à partir de leur contenu et contexte religieux. L’objectif est de construire des passerelles d’interprétation permettant d’unir les conceptions africaines enchantées du monde et les interprétations scientifiques occidentales mais aussi l’ethnographie et la théologie.

Paper 1

Olsson Hans / Lund University

“We are winning the Spiritual war”: Spiritual Practices and Pentecostal Migrants in Zanzibar

What does it mean to be a Pentecostal Christian in a predominantly Muslim setting? In the context of Zanzibar the answers to this could be summoned in the word resistance. Here, the small minority of Pentecostals stand against the cultural and social fabric of the archipelago. The presence of vocal Pentecostal churches made up by job-seeking mainland migrants has turned churches into locations of contested social space. When asking Pentecostal members of major Pentecostal branches in Zanzibar about how they cope with growing social tensions many see the emerging conflicts as signs that they “are winning the spiritual war”. With Zanzibar regarded as a potent hub for spirits and evil forces, affecting the society at large, Pentecostal identity implies an ongoing commitment to fight evil. Thus, generally life is seen as a war, “a field of spiritual warfare” where adherence to practices not only protect but also help engage and convict spiritual forces.
Based on ethnographic research on Zanzibar, this paper focuses on how spiritual warfare praxis support Pentecostal migrants in their interpretation of current socio-political developments as a means of negotiating their role in the Zanzibar society vis-à-vis a Muslim majority. The focus on Pentecostals spiritual practices reveals how a contextual theology of salvation is produced in conjunction to the threat of a powerful enchanted world experienced in relation to the social setting.

Paper 2

Habte Etana / School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

Evangelical Christianity as an Instrument of Resistance in Imperial Ethiopia: A New Approach

The Ethiopian empire had beaten back European colonialism in 1896 in the north, but itself practiced it in the south. Unlike the rest of Africa, where evangelical Christianity encountered indigenous African beliefs, the encounter in Ethiopia is between the oldest and established form of Christianity, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) – representing the ‘nationalist’ aspirations at the political centre of the empire-state – and the Evangelical form introduced by the Western missionaries. Moreover, the circumstances that eventually led to the emergence of African Independent Churches elsewhere are also largely absent in the case of Ethiopia.
Based mainly on empirical data drawn from Qellem, western Oromia, Ethiopia, this paper underlines Evangelical Christianity as a considerable force of resistance. Intentionally or not, the Evangelical movement in Qellem represented a voice of resistance because it challenged the ideological foundation of the Ethiopian empire— building a nation-state under the dominant Amharic culture by destroying all other languages and cultures. This approach will hopefully shed light on the national political crises which characterised the period (1941-1974).

Paper 3

Ravalde Liz / University of Edinburgh

Catholic Forgiveness for ‘African’ Sins: Adapted Forgiveness and Resistance among Catholics in Eastern Uganda

Many Catholics in Kaberamaido District, Uganda, put a heavy emphasis both receiving and granting forgiveness in their day-to-day lives. At the same time, however, many of these Catholics also condone and even engage in the practice of culo kwor (“paying for life”), whereby a suspected murderer may be beaten or killed, and have his property stolen or destroyed by members of the family of the deceased.
This paper examines this paradox, demonstrating how the concept of forgiveness has been adapted by local Catholics as an implicit form of resistance against certain Catholic moral standards. I argue that the concept of forgiveness is used selectively, and is predominantly applied to behaviours which are seen as acceptable within a long-standing local moral local framework, but which are regarded as “immoral” by the Catholic Church. As such, it acts as a means for people to retain the normality and acceptability of certain “un-Catholic” behaviours, whilst remaining committed Catholics. Meanwhile, in cases where the Catholic and local non-Catholic moral worlds converge, such as murder, the concept of forgiveness, as conceived in this context, loses its necessity.
Thus this paper shows that not only do charismatic and evangelical forms of African Christianity offer forms of resistance to the religion of the older, more established mission churches, but these churches are also implicitly resisted by adaptations of their own concepts, beliefs and practices by their own members.

Paper 4

Niedźwiedź Anna / Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Jagiellonian University in Kraków

Lived Catholicism in Contemporary Ghana as an Expression of Local Identities, Resistances and Empowerments

‘Mission churches’ in Africa recently went through a significant transformation, which might be described as a shift from ‘the white man’s faith’ to religion lived by local peoples. Based on ethnographic field research, I am going to explore this shift, focusing on the example of the Catholic Church in Ghana.
Reforms of liturgy and the development of the concept of ‘inculturation’ as well as a growing self-esteem of African clergy have made Ghanaian Catholicism more strongly ‘Africanized’. Dances, local music, and charismatic prayers are now a regular parts of services. My focus will be on lay Catholics and their experiences. I will point to grassroots activities instigated by lay people such as: overnight ‘healing and deliverance’ meetings, gendered and generational group support (among females and youth), and usage of indigenous symbols within Catholic setting. Numerous indigenous concepts are manifested and lived within frameworks of local Catholicism, enabling expression of various identities (e.g. ethnic, gender). They are also used by groups and individuals as a means of empowerment, providing tools to contest, resist and change these theological concepts which seem foreign. On the other hand ‘Christianization’ of various aspects of local cultures enable people to contest those elements of ‘indigenous’ traditions that are perceived as oppressive by ‘modern’ Catholics. Thus, I am interested in the twofold, complex and ambiguous nature of ‘African-Catholic enchantment’.

Paper 5

Lauterbach Karen / Lund University

Wealth and Power in Ghanaian Christianity

This paper discusses wealth and power in Ghanaian charismatic Christianity. One of the main features of charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity has been the so-called prosperity gospel in which money and riches are seen as a blessing from God. People come to church and sow financially in order to receive blessings such as education, job promotion or marriage. At the same time, rich flamboyant pastors are seen as spiritual powerful, and their wealth is seen as a direct sign of their access to spiritual power. This paper discusses the amassment and use of wealth in Ghanaian charismatic Christianity from a historical perspective and analyse it both in relation to mainline Christianity and in relation how other social groups have accumulated and redistributed wealth. The approach is to look at how ideas and practices around wealth in Ghanaian charismatic Christianity resonate with local ideas on wealth, religion and power and to relate this to discussions of how wealth and power is legitimized. The paper argues that rather than mainly seeing the focus on prosperity in charismatic Christianity as an adaption of a global religious ideology it can also be read as an expression of resistance to ideas of wealth introduced by missionary Christianity that separated religious virtues and the possession of wealth. Moreover, the paper discusses the relationship between the accumulation of wealth and the legitimization of power in the public sphere.

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