Martin Lindhardt (ed.), Pentecostalism in Africa: Presence and Impact of Pneumatic Christianity in Postcolonial Societies. Leiden: Brill, 2015. vii, 387 pp. Reviewed by Denise Austin.
Christians now make up almost half of the African continent’s entire population, 17% of whom belong to some form of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity (PC/C). Whilst scholars such as Nimi Wariboko, Andre Corten and Ruth Marshall-Fratani have studied specific aspects of this rapidly growing phenomenon, Pentecostalism in Africa: Presence and Impact of Pneumatic Christianity in Postcolonial Societies provides a broader overview of its historical, theological, social, political and cultural impact. It is edited by Martin Lindhardt, associate professor of cultural sociology at the University of Southern Denmark, with contributions by distinguished scholars from a wide variety of disciplines. This is the third volume within this series of Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, which previously included research on South America (2010) and Europe (2011). As William K. Kay, the series co-editor notes, the book has been “stretched and enlarged” to incorporate more than a century of indigenous development, foreign engagement and wide-scale cultural incorporation of PC/C in Africa.
This work is divided into two main sections. Firstly, the origins, development and growth of PC/C in Africa are explored, including theological implications and ritual practice, with an emphasis on spiritual warfare, social lift and the role of mass media in elevating charismatic leaders. The second section provides an exploration of the movement’s engagement in the wider society, including gender issues, the various paradoxes of Pentecostal political engagement and community development, and the influence of popular culture across sub-Saharan African countries.
Anderson and Garrard examine the historical foundations of twentieth and early twenty-first century PC/C in Africa, notably the classical Pentecostals, African independent churches, mainstream charismatics and neo-Pentecostal/charismatic churches. Using case studies of prominent denominations and preachers, Asamoah-Gyadu, Gifford, van Wyk and Lindhardt explore the theological influence and impact of PC/C which seeks to increase spheres of influence through material and spiritual success, demonstrating how various aspects are in sympathy with traditional supernatural worldviews.
Soothill, Comaroff, Jones, Heuser and Burgess reveal how PC/C impacts everyday African life, simultaneously challenging and supporting gender roles, political power structures and community development projects. McCauley and Pype demonstrate how formal and informal networks, particularly in the rapidly transforming urban sector, serve to spread the movement, through redefining patronage structures and transnational popular culture.
The primary contribution of this volume is that it provides broad coverage and better understanding of the permeation of PC/C into every facet of African society. As much of this volume is written from an outsider perspective (both non-African and non-Pentecostal), some limitations and bias are inevitable. Nevertheless, through the use of church records, personal interviews and secondary sources, the authors conclude that PC/C has become an integral part of African religious, social, political and cultural landscape. By focusing on indigenous permeation, it has validated the need for further research, particularly regarding the state of the church in the upwardly mobile, urban sector. This book makes a very strong case for the growth and current strength of the African church. As such, it is a thoroughly commendable work on Pentecostalism in contemporary Africa.