Witchcraft and Pentecostalism Africa Melanesia AAA (7 December 2014)

Power Within: Witchcraft and Pentecostalism in Melanesia and Africa

American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting

Washington DC, USA

7 December 2014

Organizers: Ā 

Knut M. Rio (University of Bergen)

Michelle D MacCarthy (University of Bergen)


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 ā€˜spiritual warfareā€™, 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 egalitarian, 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 ā€˜other sameā€™ 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? And how is the body as the locus of power (spiritual or supernatural) implicated in conversion and in conflicts between those who are born again and those who are (or are thought to be) associated with ā€œevilā€ thought and deeds?

In this panel 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.


Resisting Equality: Pentecostalism and Witchcrat in Vanuatu

Annelin Eriksen (University of Bergen)

On the Materiality of the Compromised Body: Witchcraft in a South African Zionist Congregation

Rune Flikke (Department of Social anthropology, University of Oslo,)

German Pentecostal Witches: The Violence of Purity and Sameness

Bjorn E. Bertelsen (University of Bergen)


Aletta Biersack (University of Oregon)

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