Abstract: This study is an ethnographic and conceptual analysis of religious objects, their uses, and mediation of authority within the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Universal Church) in Brazil. Drawing on scholarship within media studies, religion and media, and material religion, I distinguish between artifacts used to cement implicit contracts between Universal Church followers and their church community, which I call contractual media, or swag, and those that followers bring to meetings to be blessed and then take home to mediate both good and evil forces in family, work, and social life—these I call portable media. While portable object media are seen by their owners as powerful tools, contractual media, on the other hand, create implicit power relations that keep followers tied to the institutional church in a reciprocal exchange predicated upon expected prosperity as evidence of faithful attendance, fidelity, and personal sacrifice. The physical exchange of material goods in religious spaces constitutes a perpetuation rather than a disruption of institutional religious authority. As infrastructure, contractual object media establish and maintain conditions for otherwise mundane materials to mediate power on a daily basis. Through attention toward portable and contract object media, as part of what I am calling material microstructure, we can further complicate religious authority as it is mediated through objects, not just in one-way flows but as dynamic exchanges and trade-offs between personal empowerment and institutional control.
Publisher’s Description: There has been an extraordinary growth in Pentecostalism in Africa, with Brazilian Pentecostals establishing new transnational Christian connections, initiating widespread changes not only in religious practice but in society. This book describes its rise in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, and the sometimes dramatic impact of Pentecostalism on women. Here large numbers of urban women are taking advantage of the opportunities Pentecostalism offers to overcome restrictions at home, pioneer new life spaces and change their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, conversion can also mean a violent rupturing with tradition, with family and with social networks. As the pastors encourage women to cut their ties with the past, including ancestral spirits, they come to see their kin and husbands as imbued with evil powers, and many leave their families. Conquering spheres that used to be forbidden to them, they often live alone as unmarried women, sometimes earning more than men of a similar age. They are also expected to donate huge sums to the churches, often money that they can ill afford, bringing new hardships.
Abstract: In 1905, Weber contended that uncertainty about their eternal fate forced Protestants to find secular signs of their destiny in their vocations, their frugality and in their ability to work hard and accumulate capital. More than a century later, the ‘Protestant ethic’ has changed irrevocably. Today, the phenomenal rise of Pentecostal–Charismatic Churches has largely displaced the doctrine of predestination and firmly entrenched the prosperity gospel at the very heart of popular Protestantism. In many African PCCs, the pursuit of ‘blessings’ now trumps older concerns over secular vocations and hard work. Indeed, in churches such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), Christians are urged to demand ‘miracle jobs’ from God and to reject humble vocations and small salaries, regardless of their qualifications, skills or experience. Based on long-term fieldwork with members of the UCKG in South Africa, this paper examines the work of luck (good and bad) in the lives of ordinary believers, how this new ‘work’ attempts to regulate the flow of money and how it participates in older notions of prosperity, fate and good fortune.
Publisher’s Description: The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), a church of Brazilian origin, has been enormously successful in establishing branches and attracting followers in post-apartheid South Africa. Unlike other Pentecostal Charismatic Churches (PCC), the UCKG insists that relationships with God be devoid of ’emotions’, that socialisation between members be kept to a minimum and that charity and fellowship are ‘useless’ in materialising God’s blessings. Instead, the UCKG urges members to sacrifice large sums of money to God for delivering wealth, health, social harmony and happiness. While outsiders condemn these rituals as empty or manipulative, this book shows that they are locally meaningful, demand sincerity to work, have limits and are informed by local ideas about human bodies, agency and ontological balance. As an ethnography of people rather than of institutions, this book offers fresh insights into the mass PCC movement that has swept across Africa since the early 1990s.
Selka, Stephen. 2014. Demons and Money: Possessions in Brazilian Pentecostalism. In Spirited Things: The Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions, Paul Christopher Johnson, ed. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Excerpt: “…this chapter explores interrelated understandings of spiritual and material possession – “possession by” and “possession of” – in the [Universal Church of the Kingdom of God] and similar neo-Pentecostal churches. Spirit possession is central to Afro-Brazilia religions such as Candombé and Umbanda. yet many Pentecostal Christians believe that the spirits that possess the practitioners of these religions are demons, and the practices of the [Universal church] in particular focus on liberating people from demonic influence. This influence is seen as the cause of afflictions ranging from physcial illness to depression and of misfortunes such as divorce or unemployment.
In addition, some Pentecostal churches, especially third-wave or neo-Pentecostal ones, espouse what is often referred to derisively as the “theology of prosperity.” Also know as the “health and wealth” gospel in North America, its proponents preach that the acquisition of material possessions is possible through faith. The [Universal church] and similar neo-Pentecostal churches combine their promises of prosperity with an emphasis on deliverance from demons. At first glance the relationship between these two kinds of possession might seem spurious, but they are closely connected. In the most explicit formulation of this connection, as we see in the [Universal church], liberation from spiritual possession opens the way for the accumulation of material possessions. That is, demonic control (possession by) impedes our realization of the prosperity (possession of) that God desires for human beings.”
Abstract: Analysing the public character of Brazilian Pentecostal counselling sessions in urban Mozambique, this paper aims to examine the configurations of exposure through which counselling acquires and produces sociocultural forms of intimacy. During ‘therapy of love’ sessions held by the Brazilian Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, strict bodily acts need to be performed publicly to authorise love. Drawing on the notion of religious habitus, the paper focuses on how the performativity of Brazilian Pentecostal counselling practices responds to and shapes a public culture of love and intimacy among upwardly mobile women in urban Mozambique, and how the performative scripts converts carry out during therapy result in ambiguous relationships.