Klaits “Asking as Giving”

Klaits, Frederick (2011) “Asking as Giving: Apostolic Prayers and the Aesthetics of Well-Being in Botswana” Journal of Religion in Africa 41(2):206-226

Abstract: Drawing on an ethnographic description of hymns, prayers, and requests for material goods among Apostolic Christians in Botswana, this article considers how styles of asking bring aspects of the person to the attention of divine and human others. Apostolic believers regard personal well-being under circumstances of vulnerability as hinging in part on styles of prayer and asking, which entail forms of both self-assertion and engagement with the personhood of others. Experiences of vulnerability compel Apostolics’ awareness of how partible aspects of their persons, including the voice, move among them so as ideally to build up well-being. Thus prayers to God as the ultimate source of well-being frame persons in aesthetic terms so that they may be well apprehended by divine and human others. In light of Mauss’s theory of the gift, the article considers how verbal requests can foster well-being by conveying aspects of the person to divine and human hearers in ways that assert personal standing while sustaining moral consideration. An avenue is presented for comparative inquiry into the ways in which asking opens spaces of agency and obligation in religious and humanitarian discourses.