This article explores the theoretical and political potential of ethnographic research for World Christianity by focusing on the “subversive power” of this methodology. Through a discussion of four aspects of ethnographic research: the use of the term “informants,” a commitment to holism, the political power of participant-observation, and the “double location” of ethnographic practice, I argue that the primary objective of ethnography is to decenter a scholar’s view of the world, often by taken the position of those at society’s margins. The political potential of this move is clear, and World Christianity as a discipline is perhaps especially well positioned to make good on its possibilities, given its capacity to draw on social scientific and theological models in equal measure.
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.
Reviewed by: Casey Golomski (University of New Hampshire)
The key values Haynes describes in her innovative book about Pentecostals in a Zambian town are “moving” (ukusela in Bemba) and “moving by the spirit.” Moving means to be visibly, recognizably improving one’s lot, and it can be materialized or realized in growing up, having children, gaining weight, getting an education, or advancing professionally. Things move in a positive sense, and stagnate or regress in a negative sense. “Moving by the spirit” is the newer, Pentecostalized version of ukusela, with the religion offering new evaluative metrics and modalities of relating to others in the Copperbelt. Haynes’s use of vernacular concepts to illuminate anthropological theory was one of my favorite things about the book overall. I can easily envision, when teaching this book, writing the different concepts of “moving” and “moving by the spirit” on the board to illustrate Bantu (Bemba) grammatical structures and show students how local values are religiously reframed. Continue reading →
Abstract: This article explores the increasingly common argument that Pentecostal Christianity, far from being apolitical, is very politically engaged. I make two contributions to this discussion. First, my analysis provides a detailed account of how Pentecostal religious life serves as political engagement in an especially significant ethnographic context: Zambia, the only African country to make a constitutional declaration that it is a “Christian nation.” For Zambian Pentecostals, “the declaration” is a covenant with God made according to the principles of the prosperity gospel. By regularly reaffirming that covenant through prayer, believers do political work. My treatment of the prosperity gospel represents the second contribution of this article. Whereas others have argued that the prosperity gospel undermines public engagement, I show how its practices inform the political efforts of Zambian believers. I conclude by reflecting on how changes in the prosperity gospel may shape the future political actions of African Pentecostals.
Abstract: This article offers an analysis of Pentecostal ritual life focused on a core tension in this religion, namely that between the egalitarianism associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers and the hierarchy that follows from the charismatic authority of church leaders. Drawing on ethnographic material from the Zambian Copperbelt, the author traces out the egalitarian and hierarchical aspects of Pentecostal ritual in order to demonstrate the importance of both of these elements to the social relationships that Pentecostal adherence produces. While the tension between egalitarianism and hierarchy is evident in all Pentecostal groups, on the Copperbelt their interaction produces social results which build on extant cultural models, and which have particular significance in the light of Zambia’s recent economic history. These local resonances in turn allow us to address discontinuity, a central topic in analyses of Pentecostalism, as well as the role of creativity in ritual practice.
Abstract: The wide-ranging contributions to this special issue point to the extraordinary variety of Christian adherence around the world. In the light of this multiplicity, it has become increasingly important to develop frameworks that will allow us to conceptualize Christianity as a multifaceted, labile, but nevertheless identifiable object. Drawing together the concept of affordances, as used by Webb Keane in his contribution to this issue, as well as what I call “audiences,” this afterword outlines a comparative framework for the study of Christianity. This framework is focused on Christian adherence as a form of value creation, worked out in contested social space. I begin by applying this model to some of my own material from the Zambian Copperbelt, showing how Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel afford claims on audiences that include God, the state, and the wider social world. I then turn my attention to the affordances and audiences that emerge in the articles collected in this special issue. I conclude by suggesting that the framework of affordances and audiences I have developed here helps to address one of the most vexing problems in the anthropology of Christianity, namely, how the subfield defines its object of study.
Abstract: Anthropology has two tasks: the scientific task of studying human beings and the instrumental task of promoting human flourishing. To date, the scientific task has been constrained by secularism, and the instrumental task by the philosophy and values of liberalism. These constraints have caused religiously based scholarship to be excluded from anthropology’s discourse, to the detriment of both tasks. The call for papers for the 2009 meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) recognized the need to “push the field’s epistemological and presentational conventions” in order to reach anthropology’s various publics. Religious thought has much to say about the human condition. It can expand the discourse in ways that provide explanatory value as well as moral purpose and hope. We propose an epistemology of witness for dialogue between anthropologists and theologians, and we demonstrate the value added with an example: the problem of violence.
Abstract: Through an examination of amafunde – a Bemba word meaning ‘instruction’, which refers to the training given to a young woman before her marriage – this article explores the social changes that have followed widespread HIV infection on the Zambian Copperbelt. Amafunde today are marked by openness between senior women and those they train for marriage, an openness that they encourage their charges to adopt in married life. This emphasis on direct or ‘straight’ speech stands in stark contrast to earlier accounts of female initiation in Zambia, which highlight ‘obscure’ modes of communication. An analysis of this change reveals the increased importance of both secrecy and disclosure in Zambia’s time of AIDS, as well as the influence of Pentecostal Christianity. Most importantly, it indexes changes in the social forms that the interplay of secrecy and disclosure has traditionally produced.
As part of the ongoing expansion of AnthroCyBib, we aim to engage work that is not self-consciously focused on the anthropology of Christianity. It goes without saying that such work often has something to say to the sub-discipline, and in particular may challenge its paradigms in ways that might not be possible for those of us who swim in the center of its intellectual currents. It is along these lines that I offer the following analysis of Arjun Appadurai’s recent collection of essays, The Future as Cultural Fact. In it Appadurai expands on some of the key arguments he has made over the past twenty-five years, beginning with The Social Life of Things, and including Modernity at Large and Fear of Small Numbers. While he rarely addresses religion, much less Christianity (although the latter does receive some nods throughout the text), this collection engages territory that connects to the anthropology of Christianity at a number of points, which I outline below. First, though, a few quibbles.
Abstract: In this article, I draw on ethnography from the Zambian Copperbelt to examine the social productivity of the Pentecostal prosperity gospel, a Christian movement centered on the idea that it is God’s will for believers to be wealthy. In the light of the challenges that recent economic history has posed to Copperbelt relational life, Pentecostalism has become an important source of hierarchy—and, therefore, of social organization. This social productivity is evident in the complex patterns of exchange that emerge as believers make gifts to God and religious leaders. An analysis of Pentecostal exchange reveals that the hierarchical relationships forged through religious adherence are often in danger of being undermined by economic concerns, and prosperity gospel practice is therefore continually mobilized to protect these ties. In this discussion, I foreground the position of Pentecostalism among the repertoire of ideas, practices, and beliefs involved in negotiating social life in times of economic uncertainty.