Christianity, Wealth, and Spiritual Power: Book Review

Lauterbach, Karen.  2017.  Christianity, Wealth, and Spiritual Power in Ghana.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

By: Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)

In an important thesis published in 1998, Birgit Meyer showed how making a ‘complete break with the past’ had become a central concern for Ghanaian Pentecostals. Five years later, Joel Robbins’ (2003) piece on the problem of “continuity thinking” (an anthropological bias toward emphasizing cultural continuity) called for “an anthropology of discontinuity”, that further engaged with a self-conscious anthropology of Christianity (see Bialecki et al 2008:138). Since then, the literature on discontinuity and rupture, which takes seriously Christian ideology and Christian attempts to bring about change, has shaped many debates (Meyer 2004; Engelke 2004; Robbins 2007). It has also impacted on how, when I came back from my doctoral fieldwork in 2004, I related to my ethnographic material. While I purposefully moved at the time beyond the public rhetoric of rupture to, instead, reflect on how different groups of Ghanaian Pentecostal believers selectively drew from and struggled with the discourse of discontinuity (Daswani 2007; see also Engelke 2010), the underlying question of what Ghanaian culture brought to Pentecostalism eventually fell – at least for a while – out of focus (Daswani 2015).

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Lauterbach, “Christianity, Wealth, and Spiritual Power”

Lauterbach, Karen.  2017.  Christianity, Wealth, and Spiritual Power in Ghana.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Publisher’s Description: This book centers around mid-level charismatic pastors in Ghana. Karen Lauterbach analyzes pastorship as a pathway to becoming small “big men” and achieving status, wealth, and power in the country. The volume investigates both the social processes of becoming a pastor and the spiritual dimensions of how power and wealth are conceptualized, achieved, and legitimized in the particular context of Asante in Ghana. Lauterbach integrates her analysis of charismatic Christianity with a historically informed examination of social mobility—how people in subordinate positions seek to join up with power. She explores how the ideas and experiences surrounding the achievement of wealth and performance of power are shaped and re-shaped. In this way, the book historicizes current expressions of charismatic Christianity in Ghana while also bringing the role of religion and belief to bear on our understanding of wealth and power as they function more broadly in African societies.

Lauterbach, “Religious Entrepreneurs in Ghana”

Lauterbach, Karen.  2015.  Religious Entrepreneurs in Ghana.  In Cultural Entrepreneurship in Africa, Ute Röschenthaler and Dorothea Schulz, eds.  New York: Routledge.

Excerpt: This chapter is concerned with the relationship between entrepreneurship and religion.  It examines the making of Pentecostal churches and pastoral careers as a form of entrepreneurship and discusses what the religious dimension adds to our understanding of how entrepreneurship unfolds in Africa today.  The chapter analyzes in particular how striving for and attaining social and economic aspirations can be fulfilled through a pastoral career in Pentecostal churches in Ghana.  What is remarkable is that young men and women are able to ‘become someone’ in society, achieve status, and accumulate wealth through the making of pastoral careers in a general context where the possibilities for social climbing are constrained.

Lauterbach, “Religion and Displacement in Africa”

Lauterbach, Karen.  2014.  Religion and Displacement in Africa: Compassion and Sacrifice in Congolese Churches in Kampala, Uganda.  Religion and Theology 21: 290-308.

Abstract: This article is about the role of religion in contexts of displacement. The article looks at the role churches and church leaders play in the lives of refugees and more particularly the assistance that these actors provide. The analytical approach is to take into consideration both religious ideas and experiences as well as the everyday practices of people and the socio-economic structures within which they live. The empirical focus is on Congolese Christian congregations in Kampala, Uganda that for the most are founded and attended by refugees. I analyse the forms of assistance that are provided to refugees, how this is conceptualised as well as the practices in a perspective that includes the intersection between religious ideas (compassion and sacrifice) and ideas around social relationships, gift-giving and reciprocity.