Review: Practices and Narratives of Breakthrough,Pentecostal Representations, the Quest for Success and Liberation from Bondage

By Primus M. Tazanu*


The unprecedented surge in the number of Pentecostal churches across the African continent has triggered a wave of debates among scholars and researchers. The following is a short review of a recent article by Dr. Primus M. Tazanu published by the journal of Religion in Africa.

In contemporary African Pentecostal Christianity, instant healing, performance of miracles, public exorcism, provision of religious objects for protection and the ability to prophesy are increasingly taking mediatised forms. By mediatisation, I mean the increasing use of the media in mediating Christianity such that the media become an integral part of Pentecostal identity.

 In this article, I look at how T.B. Joshua, a renowned Nigerian televangelist, uses the TV to extend the boundaries of his religious practices and narratives of liberating the body from bondage.

T.B. Joshua, a renowned Nigerian televangelist.

Concrete examples of expectations of breakthrough are drawn from Cameroonians who aspire to liberate themselves from socioeconomic uncertainties by drawing inspirations from T.B. Joshua’s TV representations.

Aspects covered in the article include actors’ desire to embark on pilgrimage to T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations in Nigeria and the use of his blessed religious objects to neutralise, destroy or ward off invisible evil forces that could be retarding their socioeconomic advancement.

Research on the expansion of Pentecostalism in Africa nowadays is focusing on what is known as the prosperity gospel—the primary focus is on this-worldly riches with prosperity in health and wealth being the key.

It is a bustling religious market with an enormous economic base into which pastors are struggling to get a large clientele. As such, there is a huge competition for customers whose decision to join a church is for the most part influenced by their expectations but more importantly, the ability of the pastors to meet these expectations.

The media become important in this respect; the pastors use whatever media available to expand the capacity of their immediate audience and also to ‘market’ their special ability. Ownership of a TV channel has become a must for renowned Pentecostal churches. Even those churches that are unable to afford TV channels are having their activities recorded. These are eventually aired on religious channels.

And here is where my interest, as a media anthropologist, comes in. I focus on religious practices and discourses that are for the most part indebted to mass mediation of Pentecostal activities and worldview on television.

Empirical data for the article is based on fieldwork conducted in Buea and Loum in 2013. The analysis centres on the expectations of the research participants to exit poverty and to attract success. They wish to liberate their bodies from invisible spiritual bondages so as to guarantee upward socioeconomic mobility.

I am also interested in the nowness or instantaneity of displays such as the use of blessed water or sticker to immediately liberate someone from his infections or afflictions on the TV.

How these displays on the TV do not fit squarely into the material world of the research participants is also interesting. For example, someone still complaining of ‘spiritual attacks’ despite placing stickers all over his/her house. These are stickers that should have kept evil spirits at bay.

I draw my conclusion that the prosperity churches flourish in contemporary Africa partly because they tap into traditional African religion—they refer to traditional gods, shrines, ancestors, family ties, etc, to explain childlessness, accidents, joblessness, deaths, etc. In this way, they become complicit with neo-liberalism, which is mostly responsible for poverty and human suffering the world over.

Dr. Primus M. Tazanu

*Primus M. Tazanu is a social anthropologist based at the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has published on new media, transnationalism, urban youths, and Pentecostalism. His current project is on internet racism.
tazanu.primus@wits.ac.za

Admin

The Continental Radio Station (CRS) is an online radio station run by African media savvies targeting the African and world audience.

%d bloggers like this: