- Spirit-Filled World: Religious Dis/Continuity in African Pentecostalism by Allan Heaton Anderson
Africa, Pentecostalism, African Traditional Religions, spirits, ancestral worship, divination, witchcraft, exorcism
In recounting the growth of Pentecostalism in sub-Saharan Africa, with particular reference to South Africa, Anderson's book demonstrates that this process has been shaped both by Pentecostalism's continuity with African [End Page 122] cultural beliefs and its confrontation with and discontinuities from those beliefs. Most previous studies, conducted by scholars of anthropology, theology, and religious studies, stress the continuity of Pentecostalism with local traditional cultures. This book fills a research gap by highlighting discontinuities between Pentecostalism and the same traditional local cultures, without dismissing their interconnections.
Therefore, this book's main contribution is the exploration of tensions that exist within Pentecostalism due to its continuities and discontinuities with traditional local cultures, as the subtitle suggests. Pentecostalism, for example, stands in agreement with African Traditional Religions (ATR) in linking social problems like sickness, poverty, unemployment, inequality, and so forth to demon possession and to the spirit world. Thus, both ATR and Pentecostalism identify the causes of social problems in the same way; however, their approaches in dealing with such problems differ. While ATR uses African cultural practices and traditions to find solutions, Pentecostalism uses the power of the (Christian) Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts conferred by the Spirit to confront these issues in the spirit world.
This book presents a long-term empirical study that involves a South African township, Soshanguve, where the residents are confronted with social problems like poverty, unemployment, and inequality. Soshanguve offers a perfect case study for understanding how Pentecostals in South Africa deal with daily challenges. The author has a vast amount of experience working with this community, and, over the years, he has collected evidence from the township as both a pastor and a researcher. Therefore, the author is both an insider and an outsider, as he attended charismatic and Pentecostal churches in Soshanguve and participated in research conducted among these congregations.
One of the disconnections that this book highlights is between ancestral worship and Pentecostalism. Almost all the Pentecostals surveyed by the author argued that "they were opposed to the practice of offerings to ancestors; they did not reverence the ancestors and did not consult healers/ diviners" (60). This suggests that Pentecostals are opposed to the veneration of ancestors, and demonstrates the discontinuity between Pentecostal and ATR practice. Pentecostals have separated themselves from ancestral worship without, however, dis-integrating themselves from African society. Pentecostals do not dismiss the existence of ancestors, but they highlight their limitations as mediators between humankind and God, arguing that human beings can instead have a direct relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. [End Page 123]
Pentecostals do not dismiss the existence of witchcraft and the spirits through which witchcraft is understood to operate; however, they also acknowledge a power above witchcraft and demons. Pentecostals in Africa understand witchcraft as something caused by evil spirits in order to let bad things happen in people's lives, in what is normally recognized as "misfortune." The misfortune is sometimes considered to be caused by a curse, which Pentecostals believe to run from generation to generation. Accordingly, Pentecostalism grants help to and relieves the fears and anxieties of anyone who is afraid of the power of witchcraft, without engaging in traditional antimagical practice.
In recognising the presence of witchcraft, spirits, and misfortune in the African spirit world, Pentecostals see a need for deliverance by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, in interpreting problems like sickness, demon possession, curses, and so forth as caused by witchcraft, Pentecostalism stands in continuity with ATR. However, the difference is that instead of embracing the spirit as an ancestral one, Pentecostals seek to exorcize it in deliverance sessions. The methods of receiving deliverance vary from one Pentecostal church to the other, but "reading the Bible and praying, and by attending church" are among the common ones (136).
The power of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts are important to the works of deliverance...