Abstract: Lighthouse Chapel International (LCI) is a Ghanaian Pentecostal-charismatic organization with a transnational reach. In this article, I analyze the pedagogical system whereby this denomination has introduced converts into its ‘church planting’ mission. LCI leaders are keenly aware of both the necessity and the perils of discipline to the Christian life, exemplifying two stances of Pentecostal-charismatic ethics and politics: its quantitative concern with accessibility, and its qualitative concern with piety. Attempts to balance these relatively autonomous trends engender a gradational and distributive approach to discipline and leniency in LCI, which calibrates disciplinary demands according to converts’ level of ‘spiritual maturity’. This article takes the dialectics of discipline and lenience that characterizes LCI’s ecclesiology as an opportunity to reconsider religious subject formation beyond the dominant problem of ‘self-fashioning’.
Kpobi, Lily, Anokyewaa Sarfo, Elizabeth, and Joana Salifu Yendork. 2017. “I’m Here Because of Christ and Worshipping God . . .”: actors Influencing Religious Switching Among Ghanaian Charismatic/Neo-Pentecostal Christians. Archive for the Psychology of Religion 39 (3). 295-311.
Abstract: Many people like to identify as belonging to one church or another. Previous studies have explored the process of switching from one religious group to another, and this process has identified various factors that determine the likelihood and reasons for switching. Although this has been explored, little is known about the factors that influence switching among charismatic Christians in Ghana, and the potential implications of such switching on mental well-being. Our study therefore explored the reasons given by members of selected neo-Pentecostal/charismatic churches in Ghana for their decision to switch to these churches. The study was conducted in six neo-Pentecostal churches in Accra and Kumasi through the use of individual and focus group interviews as well as observations of church activities. A total of 86 respondents cited reasons such as geographic mobility, marriage, answers to prayer, as well as miracles and prophecies as their determining factors. These are discussed with emphasis on the potential implications for mental health such as psychological distress, blind faith, and individual agency.
Bruno Reinhardt, “Praying until Jesus returns: commitment and prayerfulness among charismatic Christians in Ghana” Religion, published online 14 November 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1225907
Abstract: Charismatic Christians in Ghana display heterogeneous intensities of personal piety, often mapped out by believers to levels of ‘spiritual maturation’. In this article, I examine the devotional routines of ‘committed’ Christians, individuals recognized as ‘prayerful’ subjects. Through Marcel Mauss’ incidental definition of prayer as an ‘expenditure of physical and moral energy’, I investigate ethnographically the methods whereby prayerfulness comes about. I argue that charismatic prayer is not a discernible object of inquiry, but an ongoing field of ethical problematization driven forward by two modes of physical and moral expenditure: habit and anticipation. From this angle, spiritual maturity indicates not a durable ethical asset, but a continuous effort to produce homeostatic balance between these embodied temporal forces. I conclude by stressing how attention to the internal goods of prayer allow us to integrate vulnerability within religious projects, instead of reducing it to an external causal force, as in most deprivation theories of religion.
Marleen de Witte, “Encountering Religion through Accra’s Urban Soundscape” in Jonathan Darling and Helen Wilson (eds.), 2016, Encountering the City: Urban Encounters from Accra to New York. London and New York: Routledge. Pp. 133-150.
Excerpt: Encountering the bustling West-African city of Accra is an intense sonic experience. The metropolis is alive with sounds. Everywhere music is in the air, pulsating from portable radios, car speakers, and open-air drinking spots. Taxis honk their way through traffic jams; street hawkers market their wares; markets and transport hubs are cacophonies of voices: talking, calling, shouting, hissing, bargaining, quarrelling, laughing, singing, preaching. Amidst the fullness of sounds in the city, religious sounds claim a prominent place, day and night. Roaming evangelists on street corners, markets and in buses try to persuade their audiences of the word of God with raucous voices or loudspeakers at full volume. Charismatic radio preachers and Ghanaian gospel hits enter urban space on the airwaves, while singing and praying voices of devout Christians escape private rooms and church buildings through open louver windows…This chapter explores how religious diversity is encountered and negotiated through the urban soundscape.
By John Durham Peters and Gavin Feller (University of Iowa)
One of the most exciting things about the anthropology of Christianity is the way it uses the minutiae of practices in out of the way cultures to cast light on ancient and deep philosophical and religious questions. To think about will and personhood, one can turn equally to St. Augustine and to Joel Robbins’ Urapmin. To think about translation and denominational schism, one can turn equally to Martin Luther and to Courtney Handman’s Guhu-Samane Christians. (Like the Urapmin, they live in New Guinea.) The anthropology of Christianity likes to coax theologizing from its armchair and show it at work in the wild, in the field, in vernacular forms.
Birgit Meyer’s Sensational Movies is a worthy contribution in this project. Amassing and integrating over two decades of her research, the book shows, as we will see, how richly the film culture of south Ghana treats the theological problem of necessary but productive evil and the theoretical problem of the ontology of the photographic or cinematic image. The producers, actors, and audiences she has worked with over the years may not be trained religious thinkers or media theorists, but their constant meditations about the occult, about the nature of acting, the power of the image, and the willing suspension of disbelief show them to have rich ideas about how media can form entities in this world and the world beyond. The resulting book is a major contribution to the interdisciplinary sweet spot where religion, media, and cultural anthropology converge. Continue reading
Abstract: Once a matter of beliefs, symbols, values and worldviews, religion has progressively appeared in recent anthropological works as material religion, a highly concrete phenomenon based on affects, senses, substances, places, artifacts, and technologies. But what happened to transcendence, the dimension of religious worldmaking that remains beyond – hidden, untouched, unseen, unheard or unfulfilled? Is it necessarily the ‘other’ of material religion, a residual category that carries no ethnographic value? Retaining an emic concern with authority and a reflexive awareness about processes of boundary-making, in this article I approach material religion as a field of problematization inhabited by anthropologists and religious subjects alike. I examine some of the protocols whereby Pentecostal Christians in Ghana engage critically with the problem of materiality in their own religion, and argue that this operation lends ethnographic access to the role of transcendence in material religion’s everyday.
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).
Daswani, Girish. 2013. The Globalization of Pentecostalism and the Limits of Globalization. In Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek, A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion. Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley and Sons.
Abstract: Globalization and Pentecostalism are intimately connected in a double sense. On the one hand, it is globalization that makes possible the rise of Pentecostalism and offers it the means to spread. On the other hand, “globalization” summarizes what Pentecostals find wrong with the world and what they hope to transform. I illustrate this interconnection and the dilemmas to which it gives rise by forcing on a particular denominator whose members I followed for years.
The Church of Pentecost (CoP) is a global church with over eighty branches located outside of its headquarters in Ghana. At the time of writing, the home page of its website displayed a list of its eighty-four member countries, scrolling across the screen from right to left like flashing news bulletins or stock prices. The names are indexical of a divine commitment to, and financial investment in, countries such as Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, India, Lebanon, United Kingdom, United States, and Zimbabwe (the list continues). The phrase “Bringing the world to the saving knowledge of Christ” underpins the title of the church, elucidating the imagined reality summoned up by the list. While the information does not change as frequently or rapidly as international news or stock markets, it affirms the missionary presence of the church and the international flows of its leaders and members. The website is an apt artifact of our globalized age, electronically capturing its urgency, continuous movement, and fluctuations. For viewers, the website also helps to thicken social relations by enabling the virtual participation of church members living in different parts of the world. One of the news items from 2011, for example, informed CoP members about the chairman’s public lecture at the Global Christian Forum in Manado, Indonesia. Another, from 2012, shared a blog post from the immediate past-chairman, who writes about the failure of the church in Europe to live up to expectations. While residing in hamburg, Germany, he invited CoP members to pray for the European branches of its church. “now, while the fastest growing churches are in Africa and Asia, Christianity has taken a nose-dive in most parts of Europe. We are the fruit of their missionary sacrifices. Our presence in Europe at this time is divine . . . REVERSE MISSIOLOGY.”
Publisher’s Description: Tracing the rise and development of the Ghanaian video film industry between 1985 and 2010, Sensational Movies examines video movies as seismographic devices recording a culture and society in turmoil. This book captures the dynamic process of popular filmmaking in Ghana as a new medium for the imagination and tracks the interlacing of the medium’s technological, economic, social, cultural, and religious aspects. Stepping into the void left by the defunct state film industry, video movies negotiate the imaginaries deployed by state cinema on the one hand and Christianity on the other.
Birgit Meyer analyzes Ghanaian video as a powerful, sensational form. Colliding with the state film industry’s representations of culture, these movies are indebted to religious notions of divination and revelation. Exploring the format of “film as revelation,” Meyer unpacks the affinity between cinematic and popular Christian modes of looking and showcases the transgressive potential haunting figurations of the occult. In this brilliant study, Meyer offers a deep, conceptually innovative analysis of the role of visual culture within the politics and aesthetics of religious world making.
Christian Personhood in a Ghanaian Pentecostal Church
Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)
Abstract: The question ‘what is Christian personhood?’ has been on the anthropological radar for some time now. Most of these debates around Christian personhood have engaged with ideas of ‘individuality’ and ‘dividuality’ and have considered whether Christians are individual or dividual first. By looking at how relationships are organized differently within one Pentecostal church in Ghana, I argue that both individuality and dividuality should be considered as intrinsic to any notion of Christian personhood. I examine how church leaders and prophets from the Church of Pentecost reveal the different social arrangements through which a Pentecostal identity and its relations are constituted, managed, and brought into being in Ghana. Ultimately this paper argues that the qualities of how church leaders and prophets of this church come together, and come apart, as individual or dividual, can also be studied through a better understanding of kinship and the social structures that people cohabit.
In early 2015 I met up with Albert, a friend and interlocutor, someone who introduced me to The Church of Pentecost (CoP) when I was in Ghana between 2003 and 2004. It was Albert who in 2004 said to a prayer congregation that Pentecostalism in Ghana was not about a ‘belief in God’ but about ‘relationships’, that God worked through people to help those in need (Daswani 2015). My attempts to make sense of what he meant by relationships helped frame my first impressions of Pentecostalism and in understanding how CoP members were related to God through their shared spiritual practices and through the networks of care and support that were a part of. Back then Albert spent much of his time visiting and assisting several prophets from CoP. Through prayer and prophecies they helped build his hopes for the future and provided him with a sense of security in the world. Albert eventually left CoP and in 2014 formed his own prayer fellowship, which quickly turned into a small but vibrant church. He now had others, followers of his own, who clung to his every word as he gave them advice, predicted their future and spoke demons out of their bodies. His new role as a prophet of his own church allowed him to take on a special position in Ghanaian society as a spiritual guide and mentor. Albert told me that one could convert, become born-again, speak in tongues and learn from others as to how to be a good Pentecostal but the gifts of the prophet were something that one could not cultivate over time. Instead the prophetic gifts were given by God to a chosen few and within different degrees of intensity, either present or absent in the Christian person. When Albert emphasised ‘relationships’ as central to his understanding of Pentecostalism in Ghana, I came to understand that he was referring to the relationships of support and spiritual protection he had received from prophets and from other church members who attended these special prayer services. Over time I realized that there were different types of relationships in CoP and different understandings of ‘relationships’ that informed a Pentecostal identity in Ghana.
The two groups that best represented the different types of relationships in CoP were (1) the church leaders who included pastors that held administrative positions and who provided guidelines for how Pentecostal relations ought to play out practice, and (2) the prophets who held spiritual power and who operated out of prayer camps and prayer centres. The former provided specific theologically based guidelines for how church members were related to God and to each other, paying particular attention to how Pentecostals should come together as individuals-in-Christ. The latter were subject to the same criteria of biblical relatedness but were also described as specially chosen vectors of divine power. Because of their special relationship with the Holy Spirit, prophets were described as more spiritually powerful than ordinary Christians and even CoP leaders. They were known to be able to see what lies behind people’s intentions and to mediate on behalf of others with God and the spirits causing them harm. Church leaders and prophets represented two models of ‘intersubjectivity’ (see Hamberger 2013; Course 2013) that co-existed but that were in tension with one another. They also informed my understanding of the divisions within CoP and within Pentecostalism in Ghana more generally – between more hierarchical-institutionalized forms of Pentecostalism and more charismatic forms that centre around individual personalities and their ability to transmit spiritual power.
In this paper I pay special attention to church leaders and prophets in CoP in order to demonstrate how they help form Pentecostal ‘relationships’ differently. I argue that while interconnected as members of a single institution these two groups reveal the different social arrangements through which a Pentecostal Christian identity and its relations are constituted, managed, and brought into being in Ghana. This distinction between groups speaks to the interconnected but different ways of conceiving Christian persons and their relations – one that can be chosen and cultivated over time and another that is simply gifted to a select few. If the acceptable forms of socialization and the constituent parameters of individual selfhood within the church community are prescribed by CoP leaders, and as premised on the cultivation of certain Christian virtues, prophets provide another way of imagining social relations, acting as channels of and for a divine power that not every Christian possesses. These two groups are not representative of different types of “Ghanaian Pentecostal” but tokens of a single type, moral characters that are identifiable in many Christian churches in Ghana including CoP. In CoP church leaders and prophets operate alongside each other and criticize each other but their interactions also help us consider the structure of relations that frame personhood and to reconsider an important theme in an anthropology of Christianity to which I now turn. Continue reading