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date: 25 February 2021

The Politics of Pentecostalism in Africalocked

  • John F. McCauleyJohn F. McCauleyDepartment of Government and Politics, University of Maryland

Summary

Charismatic Pentecostalism constitutes perhaps the most important contemporary movement in sub-Saharan Africa, combining extremely rapid growth with an informal political presence. The movement has expanded in Africa by bringing traditional spirituality into a modern setting, offering social and economic hope to both the upwardly mobile and the destitute. Despite having minority status, its messages of pending prosperity and spiritual warfare, and its astute exploitation of mass media, have positioned the Charismatic Pentecostal movement to exert important if informal influence on politics in the region. It is reshaping the channels through which resources flow from Big Men to their followers; it is implicating new and different international actors; and it is allowing followers to live fully within the church through the provision of social services. Perhaps most importantly, the movement has introduced language of national identity—of good and evil, and Christian nations—that captivates just as it divides. Its potential to influence the formal politics of institutions and parties is limited by the absence of organizational hierarchy and a central focus on remaking the individual rather than addressing social injustices. Nevertheless, by informal means, the movement has “Pentecostalized” politics in many African countries.

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