- Shades of Belonging: African Pentecostals in Twenty-First Century Ireland
In the last decade of the twentieth century Ireland underwent a radical transformation from what had long been a nation of emigrants to a society struggling with a new multiracial and multicultural identity. The economic boom of the 1990s encouraged an influx of immigrants from the new member states of the European Union as well as substantial numbers of students, workers, asylum seekers, and refugees from outside Europe, especially Africa. In an environment often characterized by hostility and racism, African immigrants have turned to religious associations more than any other institution in their struggle for economic and social survival. Abel Ugba's book looks at the role played by African-led Pentecostal churches in the fledgling African communities that have sprung up across the Greater Dublin area. Based on ethnographic research, in-depth interviews, and a quantitative survey of four prominent African-led Pentecostal churches, Ugba argues that African Pentecostal immigrants rely on the transformative experience of "rebirth" to transcend their identity as a racial minority and to reconceptualize themselves as agents of social and religious change. The God-given mission to reintroduce the gospel to Europeans and to regenerate Irish society frames their self-perceptions.
Ugba argues that the attraction of these churches for many African immigrants is the opportunities they present for self-definition, social empowerment, and modest economic mobility. Despite the proselytizing and transformative ambitions of African immigrant Pentecostals, however, the churches act primarily as refuges from the daily stresses and insecurities of immigrant life. Only to a far lesser extent are the African-led Pentecostal churches vehicles for promoting social and political integration. Drawing on comparative data from the rest of Europe and the United Kingdom, Ugba suggests there is little evidence that African-led Pentecostal churches in Ireland play a significant or overt role in social integration or political mobilization. Based on ethnographic encounters with the leaders and members of the Christ Apostolic Church, the Redeemed Christian Church [End Page 216] of God, the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministry, and the Gospel Faith Mission, Ugba calls into question the self-identity of African immigrant Pentecostals as worldwide evangelists and agents of moral regeneration. Through their use of indigenous languages and traditional songs, alongside other ethnic signifiers such as dress and food, the four churches maintain and strengthen African immigrants' attachment to their cultural and traditional values. Ireland's African-led Pentecostal churches, Ugba concludes, are really immigrant institutions on the fringes of Irish society. He sees little reason to be optimistic that African immigrant Pentecostals will break down the social and cultural boundaries that have been constructed by the churches and by Irish society.
This is a well-researched, thoughtful, and interesting account of a little-known population of African Pentecostals. Ugba's book makes a valuable contribution to the literature on Christianity in the Africa diaspora in Europe, which is still a relatively new field of inquiry. It is all the more welcome for the author's self-reflections in the book's postscript on the process of doing research as a non-born-again African Christian and scholar. This book will be of immense interest to scholars and students of religion, African culture, and diaspora and migration studies. [End Page 217]
University of London