Abstract: This research article explores how expressions of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity in Tanzania have taken shape through a complex entanglement with African traditional religion and traditional healing. On the one hand, Tanzanian Pentecostals/Charismatics conceive of figures associated with the world of tradition (witches, traditional healers, different kinds of spirits) as the main adversaries in the spiritual warfare they understand themselves to be engaged in. At the same time I show how many of the beliefs that we might lump under the category of “tradition” constitute something of a common cultural ground that cuts across ethnic and religious divides. While Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity does in some ways represent a particular religious culture, I argue that we are also well served by considering Pentecostals/Charismatics as participants in a common and highly vibrant religious/spiritual/medical field where different kinds of interchanges, overlaps and mutual inspirations occur. For instance, I show how a concern with healing inspires multifaceted practices of positioning as Pentecostals/Charismatics both demonize traditional healers, and simultaneously take pains to highlight similarities between the power of God and the powers of traditional healing. Finally, I argue that processes of adaptation and the highlighting of similarities also imply a risk of confusion, as it sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish the power of God from the powers of healers and witchcraft.
Abstract:Neo-Pentecostalism is characterized as offering freedoms and empowerment for women, a limited role in navigating patriarchy, or strengthening patriarchal control. In Nairobi, Kenya, neo-Pentecostalism is concerned with a morality built around an idealized model of the nuclear family in which a wife is subservient to her husband. It might appear that women’s ministries empower female members to challenge structures of control, but such challenges are resisted and women are expected only to survive within existing structures. Single women are expected to live amongst the prejudices of society and dissuaded from any attempt to alter the societal structures that leave them marginalized.
Abstract: This paper explores specific musical and cultural attributes that make indigenous Tanzanian music traditions effective in church worship in Dar es Salaam, the foremost metropolis in this East African nation. Based in empirical evidence, it argues that the power of indigenous Tanzanian music traditions, in heightening the religious experience of believers, is inherent in musical attributes – melody, harmony, and rhythms – as well as cultural aesthetics that facilitate the believers’ identification with such local music. Specifically, the article shows how the power of indigenous Tanzanian music to arouse deep and demonstrable emotions among church members is attributable to the characteristics of traditional music and its cultural usage. Indeed, as the article affirms, the strength of these culturally-rich indigenous Tanzanian music traditions can be traced to their African origins and the traditional attributes and aesthetics that make them deeply religious and powerful in generating emotions.
By: Anna Eisenstein (University of Virginia)
Lydia Boyd’s Preaching Prevention charts two moments in Uganda’s recent history: the roll-out of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Asking what these two cases have in common, Boyd explores Ugandan born again Christians’ engagement with discourses on sexuality and health in the midst of rapid urbanization, neoliberal global health policies, and the international sexual rights movement. In classic anthropological fashion, she finds that “indigenous moral logics” animate and valorize specific sexual practices in this particular historical and cultural context. Far from a unidirectional “export” of American approaches to care and treatment, Ugandan born-again Christians re-oriented and re-purposed US-directed messages about sexuality and personal agency in light of longstanding, locally relevant models of hierarchal interdependence. By documenting the distinctive motivations of Ugandan Christians, the book forms an important corrective to assumptions that Ugandan Christian attitudes and activisms merely parrot American Christianity, or that the beliefs and interests of American and Ugandan Christians are interchangeable.
Abstract: Neo-Pentecostal or born-again language and understandings are highly prominent in Kenya. They were especially visible during the general election of 2013 in which the victorious Jubilee coalition campaigned using a narrative according to which the nation was being washed clean of past sins, redeemed, and born again. This was attractive to and reflected the desires of Kenyans seeking to move beyond the horrors of the postelection violence that occurred in 2007-2008. This provides an invaluable lens for conceptualising current Kenyan understandings of African Christianity and how these relate to politics and contemporary socioeconomic conditions. More specifically, this paper argues that in 2013 a popular desire for health and wealth, and deference to authority came together with personal but abstract repentance and forgiveness narratives. This contributed to a peaceful election but restricted the means through which criticism might be voiced and helps to maintain structural inequality and impunity.
By: Andrea Grant (University of Cambridge)
During my fieldwork in Rwanda, I was asked to write a “needs assessment” report for a centre for disabled youth outside of Kigali run by Catholic nuns. I was asked by a friend, a prosperous Rwandan woman in her 40s, who was a member of the centre’s volunteer board, made up of other Rwandan women who wanted to help the centre “morally and materially”. The centre was woefully underfunded and understaffed, and my friend felt that the report might help secure funding in the future. Although my research was focused on the new post-genocide Pentecostal churches, I agreed, thinking the centre might provide an interesting point of comparison. Over the course of several months, I made a number of trips to the centre, interviewing some of the sisters who ran it and some of the disabled youth. Even in my brief engagement with the centre, I was impressed by the sisters’ devotion to the residents, and their ability to provide so much care – and, indeed, what seemed to me to even be love – with such limited means. I couldn’t help but contrast this everyday engagement with the “drop in” visits Pentecostals made to orphanages or widows’ groups as part of their “outreach activities”. (Although these visits, it should be pointed out, were often accompanied by gifts and the sharing of food.) Entirely different understandings of community – of who was and was not included within it; of the kinds of persons and the kinds of relations that made it up – seemed to be at work.
It was with great interest, then, that I read China Scherz’s Having People, Having Heart: Charity, Sustainable Development, and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda. Scherz in many ways tackles these issues head-on, although her focus is more pointedly on development. She compares “secular” discourses of sustainable development with Catholic understandings of charity, and explores how they converge with and diverge from local Kiganda notions of personhood and exchange. The book, she writes, is about “understanding the ways these different ethicomoral assemblages – or the heterogeneous ways people understand and orient themselves toward something we might imperfectly call ‘the good’ or ‘the right’ – come together in collision, collaboration, coexistence and compromise” (7).
Abstract: In much of the work on Pentecostalism and development to date, Pentecostals have been considered as individual, adult converts adopting new (in contrast to traditional) socioeconomic approaches. These are seen by some authors as having transformative results for personal wellbeing and economic success as they are no longer subject to the restrictions of state, nation and society; others present opposite conclusions. As an alternative point of departure, this article considers that Charismatic, Pentecostal Christianity has been of great importance in the creation and evolution of Kenya as a state and nation. This understanding is used to illuminate the themes that dominated the country’s general election of 2013 and its developmental ramifications. It is suggested that exploring Pentecostalism at the level of nation and state, whilst continuing to allow for the importance of conceptions of personal responsibility, offers an additional and complimentary approach for exploring Pentecostalism and development.
Abstract: This article explores the quest among contemporary pentecostal migrants from mainland Tanzania in Zanzibar to become “saved” Christians. The analysis of a set of techniques and processes applied in developing and keeping faith reveals high levels of suspicion and doubt connected to the perceived presence of evil in the Zanzibari environment, which, in turn, is linked to a fear of losing salvation. With Christian minorities recently having their premises attacked in connection with sociopolitical hostilities in the predominantly Muslim setting of Zanzibar, the case in this article highlights how the context of violence is negotiated in pentecostal modes of suspicion toward the other while, at the same time, it bolsters spiritual growth. This illustrates how a pentecostal ethos intermingles with and provides migrants with ways of interpreting the contemporary setting in which religious belonging is at the fore in present-day calls for Zanzibari political sovereignty and inclusive Union politics.
Abstract: The social and political efficacy of “Born-Again” identity in Nairobi is fed by the accumulation of personal prestige or symbolic capital emerging from the Born-Again actor’s association with religious and moral virtues. However, this prestige is being undermined by ongoing rumors and scandals, risking disruption of the benefits associated with this morality. In this article, we explore the popular discontent with Born-Again identity and practice, concluding that its prestige in Nairobi is possibly eroding, with risk to its efficacy in mobilizing social and political power.
Abstract: Based on research in Tanzania, this article explores how masculine born-again Christian identities are constructed and enacted in a field of tension between Pentecostal/charismatic norms for masculine behaviour and popular cultural expectations of male honour and status. The author sheds light on the gendered aspects of conversion and highlights why becoming a born-again Christian often represents a different kind of challenge and a more radical change of lifestyle in the case of men. At the same time, the author argues that a thorough understanding of the ways in which born-again men negotiate identities and position themselves in the social world they live in requires that we move beyond the narrow focus on the oppositional aspects of born-again masculinities that characterises much of the literature on Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity and gender. Focusing particular attention on the recent neo-Pentecostal turn in Tanzania (and Africa), the article demonstrates how this kind of Christianity allows for transformations in private while at the same time providing room for the enactment of powerful masculine identities in public.