Occasional Paper: Daswani, “Christian Personhood in a Ghanaian Pentecostal Church”

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

Krause, “Orientations”

Krause, Kristine. 2015. “Orientations: Moral Geographies in Transnational Ghanaian Pentecostal Networks.” In The Anthropology of Global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism. Simon Coleman and Rosalind I.J. Hackett, eds. 75-93. New York: NYU Press.

Daswani, “Looking Back, Moving Forward: Transformation and Ethical Practice in the Ghanaian Church of Pentecost “

Daswani, GIrish. 2015. Looking Back, Moving Forward: Transformation and Ethical Practice in the Ghanaian Church of Pentecost. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Publisher’s Description: How do Ghanaian Pentecostals resolve the contradictions of their own faith while remaining faithful to their religious identity? Bringing together the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of ethics, Girish Daswani’s Looking Back, Moving Forward investigates the compromises with the past that members of Ghana’s Church of Pentecost make in order to remain committed Christians.

Even as church members embrace the break with the past that comes from being  “born-again,” many are less concerned with the boundaries of Christian practice than with interpersonal questions – the continuity of suffering after conversion, the causes of unhealthy relationships, the changes brought about by migration – and how to deal with them. By paying ethnographic attention to the embodied practices, interpersonal relationships, and moments of self-reflection in the lives of members of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana and amongst the Ghanaian diaspora in London, Looking Back, Moving Forwardexplores ethical practice as it emerges out of the questions that church members and other Ghanaian Pentecostals ask themselves.

Reinhardt, “Soaking in tapes: the haptic voice of global Pentecostal pedagogy in Ghana”

Reinhardt, Bruno. 2014. Soaking in tapes: the haptic voice of global Pentecostal pedagogy in Ghana. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20(2):315-336.

Abstract: Can a voice touch? This possibility is indeed what underlies ‘soaking in tapes’, a devotional practice performed in Anagkazo Bible and Ministry Training Center, a Pentecostal seminary based in Accra, Ghana. Soaking in tapes is a form of impartation, or grace transmission, homologous to the biblical method of laying on of hands. In this article, I explore the conditions of possibility of this transposition of touch into speaking and hearing, arguing that the haptic voice of soaking in tapes is predicated upon a cultivated receptivity and a specific bond connecting addresser and addressee. I situate the practice in the school’s broader pedagogical apparatus, where it operates simultaneously as a spiritual exercise, a method of discipleship, and a technology of church government. I conclude by showing how soaking in tapes gives a pedagogical inflection to the general tactility and flow-orientated materiality of global Pentecostal power.

Krause, “Space in Pentecostal Healing”

Krause, Kristine. 2014. Space in Pentecostal Healing Practices among Ghanian Migrants in London. Medical Anthropology 33(1): 37-51.

Abstract: In this article I analyze different spatial practices related to Pentecostal healing, drawing on fieldwork with Pentecostal believers who have migrated from Ghana to London, UK. I explore the relationship between space and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit by looking at how points of contact with the divine are created in the personal life of people and at the sites where the casting out of demons takes place. Unlike in other spirit-centered healing traditions, the Christian Holy Spirit is not conceived of as embodied in specific places, but rather is spatially unbound. To manifest, however, the Holy Spirit requires specific spatial qualities and esthetics.

Film, “Enlarging the Kingdom”

Butticci, Annalisa and Andrew Esiebo. 2013. Enlarging the Kingdom: African Pentecostals in Italy. 35 min.

Filmmaker’s Description: Enlarging the Kingdom explores the encounter, interactions, and conflicts between Catholicism and African Pentecostalism. By putting in conversation Nigerian and Ghanaian Pastors and Catholic Priests the documentary looks at their diverse understanding of evil forces, authorized and unauthorized forms of relating to the Divine, the making of idols and icons, religious leadership and authority, women access to the pulpit and religious politics of the Italian Nation State. Enlarging the Kingdom offers a unique insight into the challenges of African Pentecostals in Italy and the role of Pentecostal Churches for African immigrant communities.

Mohr, “Enchanted Calvinism”

Mohr, Adam. 2013. Enchanted Calvinism: Labor Migration, Afflicting Spirits, and Christian Therapy in the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

Release Date: November 15, 2013

Publisher’s Description: Enchanted Calvinism’s central proposition is that Ghanaian Presbyterian communities, both past and present, have become significantly more enchanted–that is, more attuned to spiritual explanations of and remedies for suffering–as they have become more integrated into capitalist modes of production. The author draws on a specific Weberian concept of religious enchantment to frame the discussion of spiritual affliction and spiritual healing within the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, particularly under the conditions of labor migration: first, in the early twentieth century during the cocoa boom in Ghana and second, at the turn of the twenty-first century in the context of the healthcare migration from Ghana to North America. Relying on extensive archival research, oral historical interviews, and participant-observation group interviews conducted in North America, Europe, and West Africa, the study provides evidence that the more these Ghanaian Calvinists became dependent on capitalist modes of production, the more enchanted their lives, and, subsequently, their church became, although in different ways within these two migrations. One striking pattern that has emerged among Ghanaian Presbyterian labor migrants in North America, for example, is a radical shift in gendered healing practices, where women have become prominent healers, while a significant number of men have become spirit-possessed.

Daswani, “On Christianity and Ethics”

Daswani, Girish. 2013. On Christianity and Ethics: Rupture as ethical practice in Ghanian Pentecostalism. American Ethnologist 40(3):467-479.

Abstract: Rupture, a common principle of the Pentecostal Christian faith, can also give rise to ethical disputes among believers. The study of such disputes provides insight into the ways ethical practice shapes the institutional continuities and the personal inconsistencies of a Christian life. All believers learn what Pentecostal rupture is, but they have different opinions about how it is achieved, and, once born again, they differ on what constitutes good or right religious observance. I suggest that approaching rupture as ethical practice allows for a better understanding of the religious subject’s response to an incommensurability of values and practices internal to Pentecostalism.

Ghana’s New Christianity: Book Review

Gifford, Paul. 2004. Ghana’s New Christianity: Pentecostalism in a Globalizing African Economy.  Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

By: Joel Robbins (Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego)

Paul Gifford is one of the most knowledgeable and prolific scholars of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa.  He has written both surveys on general topics, such as the public role of Christian churches in Africa, and monographs focused on specific countries, such as a previous one on Christianity and politics in Doe’s Liberia and this one on the charismatic scene in Ghana from 2000 to 2002.  One of the great advantages of Gifford’s breadth of knowledge is that he is able to track the kinds of rapid developments in doctrine that are very much a part of global Christianity today, and to pinpoint differences between churches that are often lumped together under homogenizing rubrics such as Pentecostal and charismatic.  In this book, he trains his eye on the contemporary charismatic mega-Churches of Accra and finds them for the most part very much taken up with the faith or prosperity gospel and its prophetic offshoots.  Over the course of the book, he places their doctrines in historical perspective, considers the reasons for their popularity, and evaluates their effects on Ghanaian political and economic life.

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Freeman, “Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa”

Freeman, Dena, ed.  (2012) Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa. New York: Palgrave McMillan. 

Publisher’s description: The practice and discipline of development was founded on the belief that religion was not important to development processes. As societies developed and modernised, it was assumed that they would also undergo a process of secularisation. However, the prominence of religion in many countries and its effects on people’s social, political and economic activities calls this assumption into question. Pentecostal Christianity has spread rapidly throughout Africa since the 1980s and has been a major force for change. This book explains why and shows how Pentecostalism articulates with local level development processes. As well as exploring the internal model of ‘development’ which drives Pentecostal organisations, contributors compare Pentecostal churches and secular NGOs as different types of contemporary development agents and discern the different ways in which they bring about change. At the heart of this book, then, is an exploration of processes of individual and social transformation, and their relevance to understandings of the successes and failures of development.