Faith in Flux: Book Review

Premawardhana, Devaka. 2018. Faith in Flux: Pentecostalism and Mobility in Rural Mozambique. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 

Reviewed by: Michael Lambek (University of Toronto Scarborough)

Faith in Flux combines limpid ethnography with a sustained and lively argument that is at once both about the Makhuwa, people who live in the interior of northern Mozambique, and about, or rather, against, certain assumptions associated with the anthropology of Christianity as espoused by Joel Robbins and his disciples. Despite the original and insightful anthropological work on Christianity by Fenella Cannell, Webb Keane, and others that stands outside this paradigm, it has become, says Premawardhana repeatedly, the dominant paradigm. It proposes an anthropology “of Christianity” rather than an anthropology of worlds that people who happen to be Christian inhabit and cohabit with others who are either not Christian or not the same kind of Christian, worlds that encompass more than can be encompassed under the label “Christianity.” Hence the anthropology of Christianity paradigm begins by reifying its object of study. By contrast, a phenomenological approach, as Premawardhana takes it up, renders Pentecostalism [or Christianity, religion, etc.] “less autonomous, distinctive, and determinative than it tends to appear in studies predefined as studies of Pentecostalism [Christianity, religion, etc.]” (p. 156).

Inevitably, Premawardhana overgeneralizes from the Makhuwa case, but along the way he makes a number of significant points. Rather than conducting a chapter by chapter synopsis as many of the reviews on this site do, I’ll begin with some of his reflections on religion, Christianity, Pentecostalism and the anthropology of those fields and then turn to a few words on the Makhuwa. Where Robbins (in Premawardhana’s depiction) argues that Christianity is premised on rupture, Premawardhana offers a more nuanced account in which, first, such rupture is not an inevitable feature or accompaniment of Christianity, and second, in which when looked at over a broader frame of time, each ostensible rupture is one of a sequence, followed by returns. Rupture, in other words, is temporally and experientially relative. Furthermore, the appreciation of change or rupture is not unique to modernity or to conversion to Christianity but may well have been an accepted feature of life in many precolonial and pre-missionized societies. Continue reading

Benyah, “Church Branding and Self-Packaging”

Benyah, Francis. 2018. “Church Branding and Self-Packaging: the Mass Media and African Pentecostal Missionary Strategy.” Journal of Religion in Africa 48(3): 231-254.

The use of the mass media has become a contemporary and fast-growing religious phenomenon within Pentecostal and charismatic churches. By drawing implications on the use of modern media technologies, this article presents a popular case of a Charismatic church in Ghana and shows how the idea of branding evolves around the use of the mass media. This article argues that the branding of the leaders’ personality and the church is a marketing strategy aimed at attracting more people into the church.

Rush, “Cross(ing) the Peace Walls in West Belfast”

Rush, Kayla. 2019. “Cross(ing) the Peace Walls in West Belfast: Imitation, Exemplarity, and Divine Power.” Religion 49(4): 592-613.

Abstract: This article examines a series of spatial practices called ‘cross walks’ and ‘cross vigils’ undertaken by a Pentecostal Christian church in West Belfast, Northern Ireland. It discusses the ways in which cross walk and vigil participants used imitative practices to bring divine power to bear on the urban spaces and place-specific issues of the church’s local area. The article begins by discussing the church itself, and the ways in which participants understand themselves as situated within the ethno-political designations of ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ in Northern Ireland. It studies the various exemplars set up for the spatial practices in official discourse, and the ways in which these exemplars created a gendered narrative. Finally, it examines the links to Northern Ireland’s parading tradition and the church pastor’s suggested response to a local dispute over parade routes.

Kirby, “Pentecostalism, Economics, Capitalism”

Kirby, Benjamin. 2019. “Pentecostalism, Economics, Capitalism: Putting The Protestant Ethic to Work.” Religion 49(4): 571-591.

Abstract: In recent years, academic interest in the nexus between Pentecostalism, economics, and capitalism has grown significantly. Notably, the vast majority of publications that have addressed this interface are to some degree conceptually framed by Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. In this article I consider what The Protestant Ethic might contribute to our understanding of the relationship between Pentecostalism and capitalism. First, I assess a particularly noteworthy attempt to draw Pentecostalism into Weber’s genealogical account which draws a series of parallels between Pentecostalism and ascetic Protestantism. Second, I discuss the merits of an approach that is not primarily genealogical but remains indebted to the concepts that Weber introduces, elaborating a new affinity between Pentecostalism and capitalism in its present iteration. With this article, I seek to comprehensively extend the scope and sharpen the conceptual underpinnings of future analysis and empirical work in this area.

Remme, “The Problem with Presence”

Remme, Jon Henrik Ziegle. (2019) “The Problem with Presence: The Ambiguity of Mediating Forms in Ifugao Pentecostal Rituals.” Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.16 50791.

Abstract: For members of the Pentecostal congregation Christ is the Answer Church in the highland province of Ifugao, the Philippines, Sunday services are important rituals with which they address societal and environmental problems. Through mediating forms such as testimony, singing praise and worship songs and praying, they attempt to make God present and thus bring about societal transformations. However, as I show in this article, these mediating forms contain also the possibility for the presence of Satan, and in many cases, the actual outcome of these mediating forms remains uncertain. While many have debated the ‘problem of presence’, this article draws on the ambiguity of mediating forms and demonstrates the problems that presence potentially creates. I use this case further for developing an approach to rituals that goes beyond the instrumental view on rituals that has often dominated anthropology and which emphasises their hazardous character.

Cooper, “Pentecostalism and the Peasantry”

Cooper, David. (2019) “Pentecostalism and the Peasantry: Domestic and Spiritual Economies in Rural Nicaragua.” Ethnos. 84(5): 867-890.

Abstract: With Pentecostalism frequently analysed as gaining traction in contexts of globalised individualisation and neoliberally-induced insecurity, scholars have paid less attention to the social purchase of the religion among the peasantry. This article draws on fieldwork in rural Nicaragua to argue that the distinctive relational form of campesinos – namely the rural household – should be central to the analysis of Pentecostal appeal. I argue that the Pentecostal demand to eliminate vicio (vice) – bound up with a dualistic conception of a world driven by either divine or malevolent power – speaks closely to an everyday project of domesticity which deals with the erratic forces associated with male and female bodies, and which revolves around problems of incorporation. Identifying male unreliability as vicio allows Pentecostal ritual, and the spiritual power afforded by faith, to address a domestic imperative focused upon containing inherently excessive vital force.

Fesenmyer, “Bringing the Kingdom to the City”

Fesenmyer, Leslie. 2019. “Bringing the Kingdom to the City: Mission as Placemaking Practice amongst Kenyan Pentecostals in London.” City and Society 31(1): 34-54. 

Abstract: Kenyan Pentecostals in London (re)frame their migration as a “mission” to bring the United Kingdom back into the Kingdom of God. Focusing on the case of one church founded in the diaspora, this article examines how the pastor and church members try to realize this mission by exploring the kind of place they imagine God’s Kingdom to be and their efforts to create it in London. The “spatial turn” in studies of religion has followed two general trajectories, broadly referred to as the politics and the poetics of space. Studies of Pentecostal placemaking in particular have examined how Pentecostals use church‐planting as a strategy of territorialization, by which they make their presence seen and felt in specific localities, as well as how they phenomenologically “do” space. This article contributes to these discussions by elucidating a particular form of sociality as an important aspect of religious placemaking. In doing so, I argue that Pentecostal projects of self‐making and placemaking converge in what I refer to as “socializing space.” At the same time, through its focus on an independent church, the article extends our understanding of African diasporic churches beyond the well‐studied and ‐resourced transnational African Pentecostal networks and megachurches.

Ikeuchi, “Jesus Loves Japan”

Ikeuchi, Suma. 2019. Jesus Loves Japan: Return Migration and Global Pentecostalism in a Brazilian Diaspora. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 

Abstract: After the introduction of the “long-term resident” visa, the mass-migration of Nikkeis (Japanese Brazilians) has led to roughly 190,000 Brazilian nationals living in Japan. While the ancestry-based visa confers Nikkeis’ right to settlement virtually as a right of blood, their ethnic ambiguity and working-class profile often prevent them from feeling at home in their supposed ethnic homeland. In response, many have converted to Pentecostalism, reflecting the explosive trend across Latin America since the 1970s. Jesus Loves Japan offers a rare window into lives at the crossroads of return migration and global Pentecostalism. Suma Ikeuchi argues that charismatic Christianity appeals to Nikkei migrants as a “third culture”—one that transcends ethno-national boundaries and offers a way out of a reality marked by stagnant national indifference. Jesus Loves Japan insightfully describes the political process of homecoming through the lens of religion, and the ubiquitous figure of the migrant as the pilgrim of a transnational future.


Haynes, “The Benefit of the Doubt”

Haynes, Naomi. (2019) ‘The Benefit of the Doubt: On the Relationship Between Doubt and Power’. Anthropological Quarterly. 92(1): 35-57.

Abstract: Anthropological studies of doubt have typically highlighted its productivity, pointing to the space that doubt opens to question established frameworks. This article builds on these observations by exploring an instance of doubt that I argue is unproductive. For Pentecostals on the Zambian Copperbelt, the fact that they do not receive the extravagant riches promised by the prosperity gospel—a Christian movement that is central to their faith—is not usually a problem. Most Pentecostal believers are able to reinterpret small gains in terms of a locally redefined prosperity, and therefore manage the doubts that their lack of wealth produces. For the poorest and most socially marginal believers, however, this kind of productive engagement with doubt is not possible. The productivity of doubt is therefore more an expression of structural factors than of the nature of doubt itself. This suggests that doubt—or at least the ability to mobilize doubt effectively—is a key index of power. This article provides an ethnographic exploration of the failure of the prosperity gospel while also expanding anthropological understanding of what makes doubt productive.

Hardin, “‘Father released me'”

Hardin, Jessica. 2019. “‘Father released me’: Accelerating Care, Temporal Repair, and Ritualized Friendship among Pentecostal Women in Samoa.” American Ethnologist 46(2).

Abstract: Samoan Pentecostal churches, ritualized friendships among women are an informal but essential relationship through which churches grow. The mentorship that women provide when a new convert is introduced to church life creates escalating forms of care and obligation, as well as an experience of urgency and acceleration. Converts learn how to construct rupture in their narratives and spiritual practices, which are modeled in peer socialization practices. This period of intense yet temporary mentorship creates a temporality of “repair”—embodied, linguistic, and social practices that restore the convert’s identity, which has been disrupted by conversion. This care work compels us to consider the temporalization of care as a future‐making endeavor.