Witchcraft and Pentecostalism (5 May 2014)

Witchcraft and Pentecostalism

University of Bergen, Department of Social Anthropology

5 June 2014


In recent ethnographic work on Pentecostal movements, anthropologists and other social scientists have posited that evangelical or charismatic Christian belief and practice can be linked to an increase/revival/transformation of witchcraft beliefs. It is supposed that in the contrast between belief in the Holy Spirit and belief in the supernatural and malevolent power of witches, there is a strengthening of Manichaean ways of thinking along good and evil, light and dark, and similar binaries. Often this is articulated in so-called ‘spiritual warfare’, in healing or in witch-killing raids. It seems Pentecostalism often depends on witchcraft as the localization of evil; and that its therapeutic cleansing operates through investigation, examination and torture of the individual as a site for evil. It seems this is also about investigating the body as a site for various forms of transgression, and Pentecostal movements become action-oriented in the search for the remedies for transgression.

Witches can also be central for the issue of conversion itself – since conversion is the radical break with evil tradition or culture in the pejorative sense. This plays into the relation between men and women and also patterns of hierarchy and equality. It might seem that Pentecostal movements are radically egualitarian, communitarian and even nation-like, with their focus on unity, close integration of members and egalitarian structures of leadership. A possible angle for analysis could also be about the integration/exclusion of foreignness: whereas the witch is an Other, an outside threat, it is also a foreignness of the same. Is witchcraft so potent and threatening in Pentecostalism especially because there is such an emphasis on sameness among participants? Perhaps the egalitarian ethos of sameness and togetherness also attracts the notion of the ‘other same’ as demonic? In what other ways can we think about the relationship between witchcraft/sorcery and Pentecostal or Pentecostal-like forms of Christianity? Might gendered analyses be useful here? What do conflicts and violence against witches from Pentecostal adherents tell us about ideas of the moral person, accountability, power, the individual and the collective, and so on?

In this two day workshop we will draw into the discussion new ethnographic materials from Melanesian and Africa, in order to highlight and interrogate the nature of religious globalization through this form of partial comparison around the concept of the person, of good and evil, equality and hierarchy and power and agency.

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