AAR Review of Religion, Media, and Marginality in Modern Africa, by editors Felicitas Becker, Joel Cabrita, and Marie Rodet

In Religion, Media, and Marginality in Modern Africa, editors Felicitas Becker, Joel Cabrita, and Marie Rodet provide a timely intervention for media studies in the study of religion. This three-part, ten-chapter edited volume audaciously attempts (but only partially succeeds) in situating “media within a longer history of Muslims’ and Christians’ use of older media forms, including both print and penned manuscripts, not least among them their sacred scriptures” (1). Although the editors establish facts in abundance that “studies of religion and media in Africa typically treat new electronic and digital media in isolation from well-established scholarship on print and manuscript culture in Africa” (2), they fail to go beyond these kinds of orthodox religious studies arguments, which often restrict scriptures or “media” to otherized status, and thereby reify classical taxonomies of texts as scriptures.

The first chapter, Sean Hanrettta’s “Formal Care: Islam and Bureaucratic Paperwork in the Old Gold Cost/Ghana” (38-69), illuminates how imams in the Gold Coast found it necessary to co-opt British licensing, certifications, and “paperization” of weddings in order to be deemed authorized and qualified to perform such ceremonies. Jörg Haustein’s “Provincializing Representation: East African Islam in the German Colonial Press” (70-92), a good refresher on some significant antecedents for contemporary Islamophobia, is a powerful testament to the classical European gimmicks of “rescue” and the civilizing mission through the signing of treaties. Importantly, Haustein’s piece demonstrates both the “genius” of German conquest styles and the challenge that “a different historical logic” (87) ultimately presents to the invaders for the control of a multi-religious landscape such as East Africa. In “A Tin-Trunk Bible: The Written Word of an Oral Church” (93-111), David Gordon argues that “marginal texts hold special powers” (93) whereby imaginaries of marginality signify, and are made to become, proof of divine approbation. Questioning and contesting the use of photographic “figurative representations,” especially of women in Kenya, is the focus of Heike Behrend’s “Photography as Unveiling: Muslim Discourses and Practices on the Kenyan Coast” (112-32). Bruce S. Hall examines emergent forms of media in Mali in “Vernacular Media, Muslim Ethics, and ‘Conservative’ Critiques of Power in the Niger Bend, Mali” (133-53), but remains fixated on “self-consciously folkloric” negotiations of “‘traditional’ ideas” (134). Liz Gunner’s “‘The Angel of the Sabbath Is the Greatest Angel of All’: Media and the Struggle for Power and Purity in the Shembe Church, 2006-12” (154-74) reveals struggles over orthodoxy, contests for power, and the ensuing signifying practices within the community of faith represented by the Shembe Church founded by Isaiah Shembe in 1910.

Asonzeh Ukah takes on charismatism in “Charisma as Spectacle: Photography and the Construction of a Pentecostal Urban Piety in Nigeria” (175-201). Ukah advances a helpful method for the study of emergent media forms in Nigeria, stating that faith is seeing, and seeing is believing. The first piece to radically alter the volume’s overall bent toward orthodoxia  in religious studies scholarship, Kathrien Pype’s “Nzete Ekauka versus the Catholic Church: Religious Competition, Media Ban, and the Virgin Mary in Contemporary Kinshasa,” provokes thinking around the complexities and boundaries of religion and politics through meanderings from Brother Rapheal Minga Kwete to Nzete Ekauka to the pantheon of apparitions. Unlike Heike Behrend’s “Kenyan Coast,” where visibility is vehemently abhorred, André Chappatte’s “Exploring Youth, Media Practics, and Religious Allegiances in Contemporary Mali through the Controversy over the Zikiri” (229-55) offers renegotiations of both allegiance to “local elders” (236) and spiritualized morality, leaving an ever-expansive border interpretation in the use of new and social media. Last but not least, Maria Frahm-Arp admits that, despite Africa’s apparent lags in science and technology, Pentecostal Charismatic Christianity (PCC) manages to hold itself up through the deployment of “cutting-edge technology” (256). By ethnographically portraying the PCCs in South Africa, Frahm-Arp’s “Personal Charismatic Christianity and Social Media in South Africa: Mitigating Marginality, Prosperity Teachings, and the Emergence of a Black Middle Class” (256-79) offers a classic case study for contemporality, presence, and power within black congregations.

Religion, Media, and Marginality in Modern Africa is important because, according to the editors, “the fluidity of social borders as well as their sometimes quite sudden rigidity in situations of conflict, and the multitudes of people facing and seeking to mitigate one or another form of marginalization” (3). There is little to no doubt that the volume is a significant contribution to media and religious studies scholarship. Yet the disparity between the classic text-based study and the critically comparative “media” study, such as Kathrien Pype’s piece, is quite obvious for any serious scholar in that area. Not even “the editors’ specializations in Southern African Christianity, East African Islam, and West African postslavery societies” (3) could be used as justification for the wide gap.

The major drawback of this volume is the overemphasis placed on text-based “world” religions, but, on the whole, Felicitas Becker, Joel Cabrita, and Marie Rodet have done well for giving us even the slightest (additional) hint, through Religion, Media, and Marginality in Modern Africa, that Africa is neither a monolith nor a hopelessly static cadaver for Western examination. In sum, these various chapters weave an evidence-based web of media portraiture alongside a comparative analysis of religious practitioners._____________________________________________________________________________________________________About the Reviewer(s): David O. Olali directs multiple research projects including Comparative HeritageIjaw Project and Ijaw Journalamong others.Date of Review:July 11, 2018_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Details about the book: Cambridge Centre of African Studies, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, February 2018. 320 pages. $69.95. Hardcover. ISBN 9780821423035. 

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About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Felicitas Becker is Professor of African History at Ghent University, and a specialist in the history of Islam in East Africa. She is the author of Becoming Muslim in Mainland Tanzania and coeditor of AIDS and religious practice in Africa. Her current work focuses on Islamic preaching, the rhetoric of development and aetiologies of poverty in East Africa.

Joel Cabrita is Lecturer in World Christianities at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of Text and Authority in a South African Church. Her forthcoming book is a history of the transatlantic Zionist movement (The People’s Zion: South Africa, the USA and a Transatlantic Healing Movement).

Marie Rodet is Senior Lecturer in the history of Africa at SOAS. Her research interests lie in the field of modern migration history, gender studies and the history of slavery in francophone West Africa. She is the author of Les migrantes ignorées du Haut-Sénégal, 1900–1946 and coeditor of Children on the Move in Africa: Past and Present Experiences of Migration.

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Reviewed via Reading Religion, a project of the American Academy of Religion (AAR): http://readingreligion.org/books/religion-media-and-marginality-modern-africa

Reading Scriptures: Gender and Class in the “A Witch for Jesus’ Saga

According to René Girard (The Scapegoat), the unpalatability of evil finds expression through ritual establishment of a scapegoat. Yet, within evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, there is no lacking in biblical passage quotations to justify the need to destroy the power of witchcraft; the presence of evil in this world results in belief in witchcraft.

This paper examines the use of the theme of witchcraft tropes among selected evangelical Christian organizations in Nigeria. Thesis: cultural biases in gender and class relations play key roles in the interpretation of sacred scriptures.

Craft “Witch”: Interconnective Scripturalizations and Identity Economies

This paper uses frameworks from ethnographies of interconnection” to engage recent development theories as found in Kingsley C. Moghalu’s ‘Last Frontier in relation to interconnective constructions of “witch” in identity scripturalizations. In addition to textual and film analyses, the research uses ethnography work from two African Initiated (Pentecostal) Churches (AIPC): The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM), both located in Georgia, U.S.A.

Institute for Signifying Scriptures 

‘The Yoruba Sango and Jesus in Judgement’ explores tropes of power in human relations, especially as these help our understanding towards comparative scriptures—in the things that scriptures do, are made to do/are used to do, rather than what they mean à la Vincent L. Wimbush, scholar of Religion and Director Institute for Signifying Scriptures  (Theorizing Scriptures). Persons and communities often arm and equip themselves with what they consider to be divinely-inspired explanations of the supernatural origins and ownership of their “owned scripture.”

Subsequently, as psycho-political instruments, users of scriptures activate and deploy same in socio-cultural contexts in order to allow scriptures do stuff for them, not merely as conduits of hermeneutics; after all, messages from the gods require a messenger to deliver them.

This paper uses the theme of fury from two cultures—ancient-contemporary Yoruba and first-century Christianity, in juxtaposition with the deployment and use of anger, threat, and punishment in the US Presidency of Donald Trump—to examine scripture as an Anglo-freighted concept for the imaginaries of power and privilege, or as a response to both power and privilege.

First of all, who is Sango, and what is his connection with fury? How does establishment of a Sango-fury nexus help our definitions in Religious Studies? Does engaging these subjects—Sango, fury, and scripture—help us in understanding Donald Trump as a Christian and politician: a businessman sui generis? Therefore, this paper is preoccupied with providing responses to the above issues, questions, and concerns, in relation to the use of scripture in a power forge.

David Olali’s Review of Divining the Woman of Endor: African Culture, Postcolonial Hermeneutics, and the Politics of Biblical Translation by Jeanne Kabamba Kiboko

Biblical scholar Jeanne Kabamba Kiboko offers a compelling case for a postcolonial reading of the biblical woman of Endor. In Diving the Woman, a subversive reading of Eurocentric “conquest exegesis” (230), Kiboko successfully executes her proposition “to analyze, to resist, and to reconstruct the so-called canonical literature” (xxix) given that “I am now a biblical interpreter and translator for postcolonial Africa (xxx). While this book problematizes Kiboko’s interests in the subject of divinatory practices as it relates to “1 Sam 28 at the Disanga,” her insertion of an alternative reading of the translated texts—unto othered, colonized cultures such as her Kisanga in the Congo—her “disordering process” (xxix) breaks the “carefully and strictly controlled” (5) “penalty one endured” (85), with a valorization which eminently privileges philological legerdemain and exegetical prioritizations over the psychosocial determinants of “the practice evil of divination” (104).

Bookended by a “Prologue” and an “Epilogue,” the seven-chapter Woman of Endor lavishly excavates the demonization by translating indigenous ways of knowing, or mediumistically gaining access into the divine spheres of the supernatural world. As “the first female to be ordained in the Southern Congo Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church [SCAC]” (xxiv), Kiboko crosses the established hermeneutical boundaries with “freedom, power, and authority” (62). However, her “faith in the text” seems to exhibit, for a self-proclaimed African feminist (63) theorist, a partially—but equally troubling—obliviousness to the acute presence and agentiality in translation transactions; she could not emphasize enough the bane of the struggle in translation: power and knowledge claim. To translate is to arrogate knowledge and by so doing privilege a medium, a language, a text/textuality/literacy. Kiboko does the latter very profusely for, as a translator herself, she tells us that “translators control the inner-biblical debate by deciding to demonize the woman’s divinatory practice” (106).

Understandably, as a Western-trained priest resident in the United States, a ravenously modern exemplar in empire configurations and appurtenances, Kiboko recognizes “the most common impetuses to use divination” (84), including “prophylactically” (83), and in countering the dilemma of “suffering, both individual and corporate” (84).

Clearly, the woman of Endor is a witch, not only due to her divinatory powers, but also given that her “magical” practices fall outside of canonical ordering, and beyond the Yahwistic agenda, and the religious limitations on the Israelite monarchy. Even though Kiboko provides a strategically useful translation of 1 Sam 28 in the Hebrew-Kisanga flow, her suggestively, exclusivist mimicry of the English ideological assumptions about the need to be translated, first and foremost, reifies, and participates in, the dynamics and socio-politics of transatlantic mobility/mobilization and immobility/immobilization of meaning.

Over all, in terms of its critical inputs to biblical and religious studies, Woman of Endor unveils the broad ramifications of mistranslation; in the narrowest sense Kiboko— through the miscategorization, displacement, and silencing of alternative or subaltern voice(s) of the (wo)man of Endor— gives the field/practitioners/authorial a “periscopic” something which facilitates, rethinking, resisting, and renegotiating congealing attitudes about scripture(s) and what roles they play in our lives, and vice versa.

About the Reviewer: David Olali is founder and director of the Comparative Heritage project.

SOURCE: Reading Religion a project of American Academy of Religion

Interested in doing review? Email reviews to info@comparativeheritage.org