Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt: Book Review

Haynes, Naomi. 2016. Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Reviewed by: Casey Golomski (University of New Hampshire)

The key values Haynes describes in her innovative book about Pentecostals in a Zambian town are “moving” (ukusela in Bemba) and “moving by the spirit.” Moving means to be visibly, recognizably improving one’s lot, and it can be materialized or realized in growing up, having children, gaining weight, getting an education, or advancing professionally. Things move in a positive sense, and stagnate or regress in a negative sense. “Moving by the spirit” is the newer, Pentecostalized version of ukusela, with the religion offering new evaluative metrics and modalities of relating to others in the Copperbelt. Haynes’s use of vernacular concepts to illuminate anthropological theory was one of my favorite things about the book overall. I can easily envision, when teaching this book, writing the different concepts of “moving” and “moving by the spirit” on the board to illustrate Bantu (Bemba) grammatical structures and show students how local values are religiously reframed.

Moving by the spirit operates via two key sub-values of charisma and prosperity where the latter is subordinated to the former in a relational production of social life. Charisma, in a sense related to Weber’s definition, is the development of Pentecostal religious skills (prayer and prophecy). Prosperity occurs in “breakthroughs” of economic achievement and or healing (the “health and wealth” gospel) (Chapter 3). Charisma operates relationally too in egalitarian (female) and hierarchal (male) ways to keep prosperity from turning corrupt. Patriarchal power is structurally-symbolically reinforced, but practically undermined in pastors’ keen development of charisma (Chapter 5). The social foregrounding of asymmetrical, morally paternal relationships between pastors and laypeople tends to trounce overly avaricious aspirations of pastors or other individuals seeking prosperity. Such individuals embody a potential schismatic, spiritually un-mediated threat within each church (Chapter 8). Specifically, when their aims of prosperity are overly economized, rather than focused on mediating relations between people and the divine, the gospel tenets of Pentecostalism and church life are rendered problematic (Chapter 6).

Haynes applies theories of value to the anthropology of religion and Christianity to make her case, and she nicely spells them out without sacrificing their complexity or rigor. It was pleasing to see how her corpus of articles culminated in a readable ethnography. Her approach is avowedly socio-structural and expands on the work of Joel Robbins, David Graeber, Jane Guyer, Marilyn Strathern, and Louis Dumont. This also enables her to easily cite many non-Africanist and some non-Christian ethnographic examples to cast the comparative net more widely, ranging from Jains in India, to Christians in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Sweden. In this too, there are interesting resonances of symbolic-structural or semiotic legacies in this expansion, reminding me of Richard Parmentier’s (1994, 2016) pragmatic semiotic approach to sociocultural and historical processes. These kinds of approaches bear out a tight relation between ethnography and theory, where everything on the ground is explainable according to their locatable, re-adjusting positions along vertical and horizontal axes of Pentecostalism (75-76). She even describes one local economic dynamic as like a cogwheel (52).

Suburban Gentiles or genteel suburbanites?

As I concluded the book, a certain sign came to mind. When I went to look up its spelling in the Oxford English Dictionary, I saw I was conflating two words in one—but possibly to a helpfully interpretive end.

1) gentile – (a) “not Jewish”, (b) “relating to or indicating a nation or clan, especially a gens.”

2) genteel – “characterized by exaggerated or affected politeness, refinement, or respectability.”

Interestingly, these terms’ contemporary meanings might help characterize the identities of the Pentecostals described by Haynes. Her ethnography and aspects of her theoretical model more directly reveal the second definition, whereas my own reading of the book might reveal more about the first.

As for “genteel,” Haynes notes the varied socioeconomic status of residents in Nsofu, a township outside of Kitwe. She offers evidence of asymmetrical class-based relations (43-45), but Nsofu largely reads as a predominately middle-class kind of place based on the careful descriptions of peoples’ everyday aesthetic practices and aspirations. The business suits and skirts that many residents wear on their way to and from work and church, the décor in home and church, and household furniture rendered a vision of life as properly comfortable and refined, of course under particular economic circumstances. Chapter 7, “Mending Mother’s Kitchen,” offers an analysis of an asymmetrical yet “socially productive” ritual exchange relation between lay members of the church who prepare a party for a pastor’s wife. The main gift that materializes value(s) in this party is patently domestic: an upright refrigerator. Perhaps because it reminded me of my own fieldwork experience of living with a pastor, my favorite vignette highlighting the dynamics of value(s) materialization was when her host family, the Mwanzas, assembled a new curio/display shelving unit in their living room in the middle of the night (37).

Being “genteel” was also evident in Haynes’s framing of Pentecostalism as a way to create a “good life” through everyday religious practice in that she focused on showing how Pentecostals’ religious “commitments shape social relationships” (2). This contrasts to approaches that take Pentecostalism as a social movement reflecting peoples’ religious engagements with neoliberalism’s semiotic slippery slope and economic precarity. In some ways these models might actually fit together very productively. Can (not) we have nice things and livelihoods when the political-economically interconnected world we live in is unkind toward to us? How or which genteel aspirations are otherwise indicative of modernity? The Pentecostals she met were pitched, as Haynes says she herself naturally is, toward optimism (6-7). It might be fun for anthropologists to take Lauren Berlant (2011) on an ethnographic tour of Zambia or other places where such values operably realize the good life. Elsewhere in Southern Africa, the ability to do to so is quite complicated in this regard (Iqani and Kenny 2017). Ethnographically, in Haynes’s account most people seemed quite amenable to each other and to her (save for one encounter, 151-152), an experience that is the inverse of what Ilana van Wyk (2014) calls a potential “ethic of dislike” in personal and ethnographic relationships with Pentecostals in the region.

As for “gentile” referring to religious identity—again, being my own interpretive foray into the book’s content—how do Pentecostals subjectively identify themselves as Pentecostals specifically or as existing among variety of Christians on the Copperbelt? This is perhaps where invoking the term Gentile is a bit of a stretch, because we do not learn the answers these questions. Haynes notes that her original research goal of distinguishing Pentecostals from non-Pentecostals did not make sense methodologically. Also, she does not aim to outline Pentecostalism’s theology save for explaining that it is highly egalitarian as supposedly everyone can be flooded with the power of the Holy Spirit and that it fosters the operation of many social dynamics—charisma and prosperity, asymmetry and equality, dependency and hierarchy, mutuality and difference. Still, I wonder, did these Pentecostals see themselves as Gentiles in a biblical sense? What other kinds of identities did they adopt in practice? Did movement or “alternation” (rather than “conversion,” in her terms) between churches give rise to ecumenism?

This relates to a second and final point on the term Gentile, as meaning a member of a nation, clan or gens: what other axes of social difference besides class and gender—sexuality, for example, as van Klinken (2014) considers—could be religiously forged in the production of equality or asymmetry in Zambia more broadly? Perhaps this difference is a result of analytic scales—Haynes’ neighborhood ethnography versus van Klinken’s ethnographic analysis of popular discourse—and yet this begs further questions about the scale of theoretical models of value employed in the book. How far out does the subversion of prosperity to charisma in “moving by the spirit” extend? Is it localized to Nsofu or Copperbelt churches? Is it a function of small-scale settings? Anthropologically, are small-scale, culturally homogeneous churches, communities, or societies productive of certain kinds of data and thus certain theories? Can Haynes’s framework scale to the level of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, ecumenically diverse nation? When I looked at her website, I found she is already funded to examine what it means for Zambia to officially call itself a Christian nation (Phiri 2008[2003], van Klinken 2014), so it is likely I will soon read well-written answers to these questions.


Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Iqani, Mehita, and Bridget Kenny, eds. 2017. Consumption, Media and Culture in South Africa: Perspectives on Freedom and the Public. London: Routledge.

Parmentier, Richard. 1994. Signs in Society: Studies in Semiotic Anthropology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Parmentier, Richard. 2016. Signs and Society: Further Studies in Semiotic Anthropology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Phiri, Isabel Apawo. 2008[2003]. President Frederick Chiluba and Zambia. In Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa, T.O. Ranger, ed. Pp. 95-129. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

van Klinken, Adriaan. 2014. Homosexuality, Politics and Pentecostal Nationalism in Zambia. Studies in World Christianity 20(3): 259-281.

van Wyk, Ilana. 2014. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in South Africa: Church of Strangers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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