St. Clair, “‘God Even Blessed Me with Less Money’”

St. Clair, George.  2017. ‘God Even Blessed Me with Less Money’: Disappointment, Pentecostalism and the Middle Classes in Brazil.  Journal of Latin American Studies.  Early online publication.

 Abstract: Through shedding light on traditional Pentecostalism in Brazil this article reveals how middle-class people in São Paulo, Brazil, manage disappointment relating to current socio-economic conditions. Ethnographic research on Brazil’s oldest Pentecostal church, which preserves an anachronistic style of practice, shows how people embrace a marginal identity and thereby critique social conditions in the country. In stark contrast to newer forms of Pentecostalism, people featured in this paper respond to an ‘anti-prosperity gospel’, in which failures and setbacks are construed as signs of spiritual purity and development. In a country where a ‘new middle class’ is supposedly finding prosperity, this study shows a religiously-oriented way in which people confront the disappointing gap between the promises of neoliberalism and the realities of jobless growth.

Haynes, “Moving by the Spirit”

Haynes, Naomi. 2017. Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Oakland: University of California Press. 

Publisher’s description: This book argues that the runaway popularity of Pentecostal Christianity on the Zambian Copperbelt is a result of this religion’s capacity to produce novel forms of value realization. A close analysis of the relationships that form in Pentecostal churches reveals that Pentecostal social life is structured around an animating idea – a value – called ‘moving by the Spirit.’ Moving by the Spirit entails personal advancement both with regard to material prosperity and religious skill or charisma. While moving by the Spirit makes Pentecostalism attractive, it is difficult for Pentecostal believers to balance prosperity against charisma without reproducing divisions in economic status. These divisions undermine the social world of the church by limiting the access of poorer believers to the relationships with their leaders – relationships through which the value of moving by the Spirit is most effectively realized.

McGee, “Brand New Theology”

McGee, Paula L.  2016. Brand® New Theology: The Wal-Martization of T.D. Jakes and the New Black Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Publisher’s Description: T.D. Jakes is a pastor and entrepreneur who presides over a vast megachurch and business operation. He has turned the gospel into his own successful brand—particularly through product lines such as “Woman Thou Art Loosed.”

According to author Paula McGee, Jakes is representative of a rising phenomenon, the New Black Church, a new form of prosperity gospel that signifies what she calls the “Wal-Martization” of religion. Her ideological critique is a vital tool for all who wish to understand the relation between religion and culture—especially those committed to the transformative power of the Gospel.

Pastures of Plenty: Book Review

Heuser, Andreas, ed. 2015. Pastures of Plenty: Tracing Religio-Scapes of Prosperity Gospel in Africa and Beyond. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

By: Hans Olsson (Lund University)

This multidisciplinary volume adds to a growing body of scholarly work focusing on the highly debated topic of Pentecostal-Charismatic prosperity teachings (a.k.a., the faith gospel or health and wealth gospel). The book has a broad scope (21 contributions plus an Introduction) which enables the exemplification and comparison of the many different contemporary strands of prosperity teachings. Divided into six subsections, Pastures of Plenty deals with prosperity teachings in relation to (i) political and social contexts (Tetzlaff, Köhrsen, Maltese); (ii) its theological foundations and place in current ecumenical debates (Gifford, Kahl, von Sinner, Biehl); (iii) its significance and influence in current public debates across religious denominations and traditions (Heuser, Zakaria, Langenwiesche, Nrenzah, Opare Kwakye, Hasu); (iv) its relation to the Protestant work ethic and entrepreneurship (Sundnes Drønen, Daniels, Zapf); (v) exchange and gift economies (Droz & Gez, Lindhardt); and (vi) migratory contexts (Fröchtling, Rey, Frei). While the majority of the contributions are case studies drawn from African contexts such as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso, there are also some cases from other parts of the world such as the Philippines (Maltese), Brazil (von Sinner), Switzerland (Frei), and the US (Daniels). The anthology’s thorough collection of research offers deep insights into contextual differences but also provides a multifaceted and multidisciplinary analysis of the phenomenon of the prosperity gospel at large. Continue reading

Coleman, “The Prosperity Gospel: Debating Charisma, Controversy and Capitalism”

Coleman, Simon. 2016. The Prosperity Gospel: Debating Charisma, Controversy and Capitalism. In Stephen J. Hunt, ed., Handbook of Global Contemporary Christianity: Movements, Institutions, and Allegiance. Leiden: Brill, p. 276-296.

Excerpt: ‘In this chapter, I provide a brief characterisation of the Propserity Gospel, covering its history and manifestations in different parts of the globe. I compare some of the ways in which analysts have tried to explain its spread, and explore reasons why it has attracted so much critque, and even anger. However, I also question the idea that we can regard ‘it’ as a fully unified movement or internally consistent theological positoin …. Ultimately, I suggest that we might think of such Prosperity discourse as manifested less in a single Gospel per se, and more as a set of ethical practices…”

Cezula, “Reading the Bible in an African Context”

Cezula, Ntozakhe. 2015. Reading the Bible in the African context: Assessing Africa’s love affair with prosperity Gospel. Stellenbosch Theological Journal 1(2): 131–153.

Abstract: The aim of this article is to examine Bible reading in the African context and the willingness and enthusiasm to embrace prosperity gospel in Africa. To achieve this objective, a discussion on the developments in biblical interpretation in Africa will first be presented. This will be done by examining three historical periods: colonial, independence and democratisation periods. This will be followed by an outline of migrations that have taken place from traditional religions to different versions of Christianity in different times in Africa. These migrations will be examined in connection with Bible translation. The relationship between prosperity gospel and African people in Africa will be discussed by considering the tools prosperity gospel uses to appeal to African people, namely the religio-cultural and socio-economic factors. The article will then provide its assessment of contextual reading in the prosperity gospel and a conclusion will follow.

Blessed – A History of the American Prosperity Gospel: Book Review

Bowler, Kate.  2013.  Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

By: Martin Lindhardt (University of Southern Denmark)

Kate Bowler’s book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel is an important and highly readable contribution to our understanding of the history and significance of the so-called prosperity gospel, a Christian message of physical, financial and spiritual mastery that has become an increasingly dominating force within North American popular religion. The prosperity gospel has been successfully exported across the world, especially to the global south. It seems safe to say that this version of Christianity, which not only emphasizes the material blessings to which true believers are supposedly entitled, but also the duty to pay tithes and make donations, is as controversial as it is popular, with many (mainline theologian and other) observers wondering why people buy into it and expressing criticism of the excesses of prosperity pastors who have become media celebrities. Bowler’s agenda is not to provide any kind of theological or biblical evaluation of prosperity teaching and its main proponents, but the question of why it appeals to a large number of ordinary North Americans  (17 percent of all American Christians openly identify with the movement, she informs us at one point) is a central one in her study. The argument, which she carefully develops throughout the book, is that the Prosperity Gospel, as exotic and un-familiar as it may seem at first glance, is in fact intimately entangled with different aspects of North American popular culture such as optimism, individualism, consumer culture and a firm belief in the transformative power of one’s personal will. The prosperity gospel, in other words, is presented by Bowler as a quintessentially American movement. At the end of the book, we do get brief nods to the Prosperity Gospel’s global expansion and different local appropriations, but Bowler’s main project is to unravel the history of the movement as it has unfolded in the US.

The prosperity movement as we know it took shape in the last half of the twentieth century, but Bowler provides a much longer history and traces its origin back to the late nineteenth century and the interweaving of three important streams: Pentecostalism with its emphasis on divine healing, an offshoot of Christian Science called New Thought, and finally a widespread popular belief in individualism and upward mobility. What New Thought added to this cocktail was an understanding of the power of mind to actually shape material reality. In the early history of the prosperity movement, the Holiness Pastor E.W. Kenyon was a particularly important figure in combining existing religious and cultural streams into an instrumental vision of faith as an activator of world transforming spiritual forces. In Kenyon´s vision it was in particular the spoken word such as positive confessions and prayers, sometimes framed more as demands than as petitions, that served as the template for activating spiritual power.

The development and growth of the Prosperity movement were further triggered by post Second World War healing revivals and, a decade later, by a charismatic revival that brought Pentecostal themes into mainstream churches. In this period, the theology of mind power and the electrified view of faith went from being minor to major themes. At the same time a number of preachers began to enlarge their vision of the miraculous results that faith and Christian speech could be expected to achieve. Key figures in popularizing the word of faith theology beyond denominational boundaries (in part through television ministries) included Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, William Branham Kenneth Copeland, and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

The prosperity movement of the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by what Bowler calls “hard prosperity” preaching and teaching, which made financial miracles an everyday prospect and involved straightforward assertions of hard causality between acts of faith such as tithing and prayers and blessings. Bowler describes how formulas for receiving financial blessings from God grew increasingly specific, with some believers whispering their desires as they placed their envelope with tithes in the offering and others scribbling confessions on dollar bills. However, by the 1990s, a softer version of the prosperity message had become increasingly dominant.  The “soft prosperity” message has a more therapeutic touch with prominent preachers such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer offering tools in the form of relationship guides and focusing on emotional healing, self-esteem as well as fitness and weight loss.  This gradual transformation enabled the prosperity message to broaden its appeal and establish more points of contact and overlap with popular secular culture. Bowler provides interesting examples of such overlap as she explores how America´s diet and fitness culture captured the religious imagination of Christians who evaluated obesity on spiritual terms and started to look to the fitness of their own bodies as evidence of faith and spiritual progress. She further notes how the language of deliverance from demonic forces commonly held responsible for physical conditions was supplemented by nutritional and fitness advice.

All in all, Bowler’s book offers a comprehensive and very helpful exploration of the prosperity movement and the way it has shaped the religious imagination of many North Americans. Bowler’s project is mainly a historical one, but an ethnographic analysis based on her own field work in North American prosperity oriented ministries adds significant nuances to the study. In particular, ethnography enables Bowler to shed some light on how ordinary lay members interpret their experiences and life situations within a prosperity framework and, interestingly, how they sometimes question church authorities and come up with interpretations, for instance of illness and the absence of healing, that are contrary to official church teachings.  The prosperity movement, in other words, is portrayed it its empirical complexity.  As such the book is valuable reading for scholars and students with an interest in the Prosperity Movement, in Pentecostalism/charismatic Christianity in general, and in the history of Christianity and popular culture in North America.

Aechtner, “Health, Wealth, and Power”

Aechtner, Thomas. 2015. Health, Wealth, and Power in an African Diaspora Church in Canada. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Publisher’s Description: This book investigates an African diaspora Christian community in Calgary, Alberta, and explores the ways in which the church’s beliefs and practices impact the lives of its migrant congregation. Importantly, it details the expressed utility of two central ideas: the Prosperity Gospel and Holy Spirit Power. As congregants and church materials persistently maintained, these two aspects of African Pentecostalism supply operative spiritual machinery to overcome the difficulties of living in Canada, as well as the means to thrive in a foreign land. Additionally, the connection between these elements and the democratization of power is explored, and Tom Aechtner provides an analysis of how the church cultivates a form of Christian Pan-Africanism among its multiethnic and multinational population. The book assesses the roles that African Pentecostalism plays in ameliorating longings for home and promoting the need to spiritually reform Canada. Aechtner also describes how African Pentecostalism relates to the mediation of responses to racism in the nation’s officially multicultural society.

 

Daswani, “A prophet but not for profit”

Daswani, Girish. 2015. “A prophet but not for profit: ethical value and character in Ghanaian Pentecostalism.” JRAI DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12336 [Pre-publication release].

Abstract: The anthropological study of value has gained much currency in recent years. This article speaks to the importance of Pentecostal practices in understanding the qualitative aspects of value in Ghana. It demonstrates how practices relating to wealth accumulation and redistribution are in interaction with ethical evaluations about the character of charismatic Christian prophets. The moral evaluation of wealth of certain prophets, and the links perceived between their use of wealth and their character, tell us something about the moral climate in contemporary Ghanaian society, where wealth cannot simply be measured quantitatively (through acquiring riches), but also ought to be assessed qualitatively (discerned through the quality of one’s acts).

Deacon, “Driving the Devil Out”

Deacon, Gregory.  2015. Driving the Devil Out: Kenya’s Born-Again Election.  Journal of Religion in Africa 45(2): 200-220.

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.