Review of Martin Lindhardt (ed.), Pentecostalism in Africa

This book review was originally published in Journal of Religion in Africa 46:2-3 (2016), 339-341.

Lindhardt, Martin (ed.), Pentecostalism in Africa: Presence and Impact of Pneumatic Christianity in Postcolonial Societies (Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, volume 15), Leiden: Brill, 2015, x + 387pp, ISBN 978-9-0042-8186-8, €65/$84

The study of Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of Christianity in Africa is a thriving field of scholarship that has been very productive, especially over the past fifteen or so years. The emergence of this field followed the spectacular growth of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1970s and their innovative ways of presenting religion in public and political spheres. Martin Lindhardt’s edited volume aims to offer ‘an elaborate treatment of the social, cultural and political impact of PC/C in sub-Saharan Africa’ (1). He therefore brings together Africanist scholars, mainly from the Euro-American academy, from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds including theology and church history, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, political science, and development studies. This reflects the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary scholarship on African Pentecostalism. Indeed, the contributions to this volume reflect, to different extents, the fruits of an emerging interdisciplinary approach, though more could possibly have been done—in this volume and in the field of African Pentecostal studies generally—to bring different disciplines into conversation in order for them to mutually enrich each other.

Lindhardt’s introduction to the volume is truly interdisciplinary in nature; he does an excellent job in presenting a state-of-the-art picture of contemporary scholarship in the field, identifying the key critical issues and opening up new lines of thinking about them. I can highly recommend this over-fifty-page-long, very well-documented introductory chapter to anyone looking for an up-to-date, systematic, and critical overview of the study of Pentecostalism in Africa. The introduction discusses major issues such as Africanisation and continuity, gender and age, public spheres, politics, popular culture and modern media, development and social change. The volume has thirteen additional chapters. Although not divided into sections, the first part of the book mainly explores historical and theological dimensions relating to African Pentecostalism, while the second part focuses on the role of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity in the public life of African societies.

Both chapters 2 and 4, by Allan Anderson and Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu respectively, give broad accounts of the origins, developments, and characteristics of Pentecostalism in Africa. Both authors emphasise that the early-twentieth century AICs must be acknowledged as a form of indigenous Pentecostalism. Where Anderson mainly focuses on historical developments, Asamoah-Gyadu particularly highlights the theological innovations within African Pentecostalism. In chapter 3 David Garrard gives a detailed historical account of the birth of Pentecostalism in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country not often featured in African Pentecostal studies.

In chapter 5 Paul Gifford offers a comparative discussion of the leaders of two major, originally Nigerian but now truly international (neo)Pentecostal churches: Daniel Olukoya (Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries) and David Oyedepo (Living Faith World Outreach, or Winners’ Chapel). Identifying many similarities, in particular their shared concern with ‘victorious living’, Gifford also highlights some critical differences and warns against homogenising contemporary (neo)Pentecostalism. The relevance of this warning becomes clear in chapter 6, in which Ilana van Wyk discusses an ‘atypical Pentecostal church’ in post-Apartheid South Africa, the originally Brazilian United Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), which does not require its members to be born again, is antisocial, and highly individualistic. Van Wyk attributes its popularity to the convergence of UCKG teachings on prosperity and spiritual warfare with local ideas about witchcraft and wealth. This question of continuity is further explored in chapter 7 by Martin Lindhardt, who with reference to witchcraft beliefs in Tanzania makes an insightful argument for conceiving the relationship between Pentecostalism and traditional ontologies in terms of coevalness, intersection, and ongoing mutual influence. Chapter 9 by Jean Comaroff throws a new perspective on the questions raised by Gifford, van Wyk, and Lindhardt, not only by exploring the links between Pentecostalism and politico-economic liberalisation but also by sharing insightful reflections on public passion and the politics of affect.

The issues of Pentecostalism and gender, and Pentecostalism and development are explored in chapters 8 and 10 by Jane Soothill and Ben Jones respectively. Soothill offers a helpful survey of current debates about complex and paradoxical gender dynamics in contemporary African Pentecostal circles, focusing her discussion on transformations of masculinity and on the contribution to gender equality and women’s spiritual empowerment. Jones offers an equally helpful literature review of how the relationship between development and religion, particularly Pentecostalism, in Africa is often conceived as positive—an assumption he then questions with reference to a case study of a faith-based organisation in rural Uganda. He argues that the recent internal Pentecostalisation of this organisation had little effect on the development schemes it was implementing because of its embeddedness in existing structures of class, identity, and social difference. Following on this are three chapters on Pentecostalism and politics, understood as political culture more broadly, by Andreas Heuser, Richard Burgess, and John McCauley respectively. Heuser’s discussion of the politics of spiritual warfare is particularly insightful; he elucidates with reference to Nigeria, Ghana, and Ivory Coast how such spiritual politics are always embedded in concrete sociopolitical histories. Burgess provides a historical account of the emergence of a ‘politically-engaged Pentecostalism’ in two countries, Nigeria and Zambia, over the past two decades, and highlights the mixed Pentecostal record of contributing toward democratisation. McCauley provides a critical though somewhat general argument on Pentecostalism continuing in a new form the long-standing African institution of ‘big-man rule’ and its inherent patron-client relationship. In the book’s final chapter, chapter 14, Katrien Pype discusses Pentecostal influence on popular culture, particularly in music and film, introducing helpful analytical categories such as the visual and the acoustic, touch, and interactivity.

The raImage result for lindhardt "pentecostalism in africa"tionale behind the selection of the themes and chapters and consequently the composition of the book as a whole is not always completely clear. Why, for example, are there three chapters offering a more-or-less historical account, and three chapters on Pentecostalism and politics (with some overlap between some of these chapters, and with individual chapters not always adding much to earlier publications of their respective authors), while there is only a single chapter on the broad question of gender (covering both women and men/masculinities) and no chapter dedicated to critical issues such as sexuality, embodiment, health, human rights, or interreligious relations? Regardless of that criticism, many contributions to this volume succeed in offering state-of-the-art surveys of particular fields in African Pentecostal studies, presenting original research, and/or opening up new analytical and conceptual perspectives.


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