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.
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
Publisher’s description: This book argues that the runaway popularity of Pentecostal Christianity on the Zambian Copperbelt is a result of this religion’s capacity to produce novel forms of value realization. A close analysis of the relationships that form in Pentecostal churches reveals that Pentecostal social life is structured around an animating idea – a value – called ‘moving by the Spirit.’ Moving by the Spirit entails personal advancement both with regard to material prosperity and religious skill or charisma. While moving by the Spirit makes Pentecostalism attractive, it is difficult for Pentecostal believers to balance prosperity against charisma without reproducing divisions in economic status. These divisions undermine the social world of the church by limiting the access of poorer believers to the relationships with their leaders – relationships through which the value of moving by the Spirit is most effectively realized.
Naomi Haynes, 2016. “Learning to pray the Pentecostal way: language and personhood on the Zambian Copperbelt,” Religion, early online publication: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1225906
Abstract: This article examines the role of prayer in the production of the Pentecostal person on the Zambian Copperbelt. While Pentecostal prayer is partly focused on private concerns, and therefore reinforces a classic Protestant notion of bounded, individualised personhood, success in this practice depends on a believer’s ability to incorporate the language of the Pentecostal community. Prayer is also therefore dependent on a model of personhood in which permeability has an important part to play. One of the implications of this latter element of Pentecostal prayer is that it turns individual believers into iconic representations of their communities.
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: Building upon debates about the politics of nationalism and sexuality in post-colonial Africa, this article highlights the role of religion in shaping nationalist ideologies that seek to regulate homosexuality. It specifically focuses on Pentecostal Christianity in Zambia, where the constitutional declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation has given rise to a form of ‘Pentecostal nationalism’ in which homosexuality is considered to be a threat to the purity of the nation and is associated with the Devil. The article offers an analysis of recent Zambian public debates about homosexuality, focusing on the ways in which the ‘Christian nation’ argument is deployed, primarily in a discourse of anti-homonationalism, but also by a few recent dissident voices. The latter prevent Zambia, and Christianity, from accruing a monolithic depiction as homophobic. Showing that the Zambian case presents a mobilisation against homosexuality that is profoundly shaped by the local configuration in which Christianity defines national identity – and in which Pentecostal-Christian moral concerns and theo-political imaginations shape public debates and politics – the article nuances arguments that explain African controversies regarding homosexuality in terms of exported American culture wars, proposing an alternative reading of these controversies as emerging from conflicting visions of modernity in Africa.
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: This article contributes to the understanding of the role of religion in the public and political controversies about homosexuality in Africa. As a case study it investigates the heated public debate in Zambia following a February 2012 visit by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who emphasised the need for the country to recognise the human rights of homosexuals. The focus is on a particular Christian discourse in this debate, in which the international pressure to recognise gay rights is considered a sign of the end times, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN and other international organisations are associated with the Antichrist and the Devil. Here, the debate about homosexuality becomes eschatologically enchanted through millennialist thought. Building on discussions about public religion and religion and politics in Africa, this article avoids popular explanations in terms of fundamentalist religion and African homophobia, but rather highlights the political significance of this discourse in a postcolonial African context.