Drawing on more than two years of participant observation in the American Midwest and in Madagascar among Lutheran clinicians, volunteer laborers, healers, evangelists, and former missionaries, Conversionary Sites investigates the role of religion in the globalization of medicine. Based on immersive research of a transnational Christian medical aid program, Britt Halvorson tells the story of a thirty-year-old initiative that aimed to professionalize and modernize colonial-era evangelism. Creatively blending perspectives on humanitarianism, global medicine, and the anthropology of Christianity, she argues that the cultural spaces created by these programs operate as multistranded “conversionary sites,” where questions of global inequality, transnational religious fellowship, and postcolonial cultural and economic forces are negotiated.
A nuanced critique of the ambivalent relationships among religion, capitalism, and humanitarian aid, Conversionary Sites draws important connections between religion and science, capitalism and charity, and the US and the Global South.
Why has Nevers Mumba, one of Zambia’s most famous Pentecostal leaders, been so unsuccessful in his two presidential bids? Previous analyses have blamed Mumba’s political woes on a presumed Pentecostal belief that politics is a lesser vocation than the pastorate. In contrast to these interpretations, I argue that Pentecostals in Zambia are very committed to the notion that, at least ideally, their leaders should be pastors, and more specifically that they should be effective mediators of the divine covenant established when Zambia was declared a “Christian nation.” The problem with Mumba is, therefore, not that pastors are not supposed to be politicians, but rather that he has failed to convince believers that he is a good mediator. This article opens up new horizons in the study of Pentecostal politics, suggesting that populism in countries with high Pentecostal populations is increasingly defined by the capacity for religious mediation.
Publisher’s Description: Anthropologist Devaka Premawardhana arrived in Africa to study the much reported “explosion” of Pentecostalism, the spread of which has indeed been massive. It is the continent’s fastest growing form of Christianity and one of the world’s fastest growing religious movements. Yet Premawardhana found no evidence for this in the province of Mozambique where he worked. His research suggests that much can be gained by including such places in the story of global Christianity, by shifting attention from the well-known places where Pentecostal churches flourish to the unfamiliar places where they fail.
In Faith in Flux, Premawardhana documents the ambivalence with which Pentecostalism has been received by the Makhuwa, an indigenous and historically mobile people of northern Mozambique. The Makhuwa are not averse to the newly arrived churches—many relate to them powerfully. Few, however, remain in them permanently. Pentecostalism has not firmly taken root because it is seen as one potential path among many—a pragmatic and pluralistic outlook befitting a people accustomed to life on the move.
This phenomenon parallels other historical developments, from responses to colonial and postcolonial intrusions to patterns of circular migration between rural villages and rising cities. But Premawardhana primarily attributes the religious fluidity he observed to an underlying existential mobility, an experimental disposition cultivated by the Makhuwa in their pre-Pentecostal pasts and carried by them into their post-Pentecostal futures. Faith in Flux aims not to downplay the influence of global forces on local worlds, but to recognize that such forces, “explosive” though they may be, never succeed in capturing the everyday intricacies of actual lives.
Publisher’s Description: The Stranger at the Feast is a pathbreaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.
Richard Werbner, “Grassroots Ecumenism in Conflict – Introduction” Journal of Southern African Studies, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2018.1416978Excerpt: This Special Issue of JSAS explores the little-recognised, shifting importance of grassroots ecumenism in religious experience and public life. The cases that we present come from across southern Africa, from Rwanda to Angola, to Zambia and Botswana, to South Africa and Swaziland. We match this breadth with arguments that also draw widely, for an emerging area of interest in popular religious change, with contributions from anthropology, social history, theology and religious studies. Among the ecumenical changes we discuss are, perhaps most surprisingly, ones in which counterpublics are anti-establishment, transgressive, even disruptive, as they bring strangers together, with religious motives and moral passion, and oppose dominant publics in the making of public cultures.
Other articles in the special issue are relevant to anthropologists of Christianity. Follow the link above.
Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.
Reviewed by: Emma Wild-Wood (University of Edinburgh)
Since its beginnings in the 1930s the East African Revival has had a lasting influence on the religious culture of the region. It began in Uganda and Rwanda as a lively, internal critique to the orderly and hierarchical Anglican Church of Uganda and spread into Kenya, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi. Revivalists sought to transform all aspects of society in conformity with their strict code of conduct and their expansive vision of Christianity. With this volume Jason Bruner makes a significant contribution to the study of the Revival. He takes the movement beyond the parameters of mission history, and beyond an interest in its leadership figures. He shows that the distinct spiritual culture of revivalists was a response to the late colonial social context. Continue reading →
Publisher’s Description: The remarkable expansion of Christianity in Africa amid massive social challenges has created unprecedented opportunities for Christian leadership. Thousands of young congregations now provide local platforms for spiritual and social direction. Schools and Universities provide a wide range of educational opportunities. African Christians also find themselves exercising leadership in a wide variety of business, educational, media, social service, and governmental venues. They have lacked verified research data to develop new opportunities and improve existing support structures for contextually relevant Christian leadership training and development.
Abstract: This article concerns the risky terrain of heritage management in Sierra Leone and its navigation by devout Born Again Pentecostal Christians. It engages with the ever-expanding Born Again movement and its narrative of rupture, on the one hand, and the increasingly visible heritage sector and its focus on cultural continuity, on the other. These positions appear irreconcilable: one experiences the past as a dangerous satanic realm, the other as a valuable resource. However, as this article explores, they frequently meet in the workplace as many heritage professionals are also Born Again believers. I am interested in this meeting-point as demonic channels and godly practices converge. I argue that Freetown’s Born Again heritage professionals do not succeed in their roles despite their religion, but because of it.
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.