The Moral Economy of AIDS in South Africa (Cambridge Africa Collections)

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Kenneth E. Hagin African Pentecostal theologising has captured centre-stage in present-day public spaces by a disputed language of desire. Commonly termed as Gospel of Prosperity it has popularised controversial claims of this-worldly success and material well-being as signs of divine grace. A rather undefined concept in systematic theological terms, Prosperity Gospel centres on a complex liaison of speech acts surrounding faith, wealth, health and victory, combined with ritual practices around secondary evidences of divine blessings.


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This broad description condenses several theological codes ingrained in Prosperity Gospel. The appeal of such reductionist definition lies in its focus on generic themes which in other words discloses the quality of prosperity theology as a transposable message. It encapsulates the global spread of prosperity theology and hints at local expressions of a specific religious economy. Csordas theorised the modalities of transnational religion and offered two characteristic aspects of successful religious mobility.

With Prosperity Gospel we are mapping an ideal-type of a religious complex comprising of the flows of theologies of hope within transnational networks, and the local shaping of prosperity promises and ritual practices. According to some core statistical findings, an almost canonised notion of Prosperity Gospel has spilled over from Pentecostal milieus to other forms of African Christianity within the last two decades.

Even more remarkably is the transmission of core Prosperity Gospel formulae into the wider relief of African religions. Recent observations indicate such trans-religious osmosis of Prosperity Gospel rhetoric, metaphors and practices into African folk-Islam as well as into some layers of traditional African religion. This new cartography of Prosperity Gospel in sub-Saharan Africa highlights the Pentecostalisation of African religious landscapes.

The genealogy of such a transposable message deserves some explanation. But before doing so, it is essential to realise the thoroughly decontextualised semantic offered by the Lausanne Theology Working Group on Prosperity Gospel. Its statement is emptied of any kind of social sensitivity and carries no traces of a political reading of prosperity theology. It is precisely the relation of Prosperity Gospel to scenarios of social change in Africa which has attracted a significant interdisciplinary attention.

Prosperity Gospel has made a steep career in academic discourse. Unparalleled in African postcolonial history a single theological imagery evolved as a potential motivational porter of social transformation. The debate, however, on the acclaimed Prosperity Gospel variant of African agency remains vital.

It is activated by uncertainties over the transformative character of African Pentecostal social capital that traditionally kept distance from worldly affairs. Therefore, in the following article I suggest first a historic reading of generic Prosperity Gospel themes which brings out profound resignifications within Pentecostal theology at large — and these are indeed functional in its societal effects today. Representing a contracted concept of faith, African prosperity theology thrives around ritual enactments of tithings and offerings.

The ritual texture of Prosperity Gospel has caused numerous interpretations of the character of Pentecostal social agency. This intense debate is followed up in a subsequent section. However, a generalised statement on Prosperity Gospel as the frame of a Pentecostal ethic of development cannot be supported; it needs to be supplemented in a final paragraph by an effort to contextualise the social praxis of prosperity-oriented churches in diverse empirical milieus.

The decisive historic point of reference is the post-war or cold war Pentecostal re-invention in America. In his study of transnational Pentecostal networks, Moritz Fischer identifies the s as the context of intensified efforts to globalise American versions of Pentecostalism. In the s and s this so-called faith gospel movement coined an explicit religious rhetoric focused on mind power. Pentecostal confidence in faith, thus, signified a double-blessed gospel of health and wealth.

Elaborated rituals of gift exchange with its postures on divine giving and tithing characterised the new style of Pentecostal worship. In its core, Prosperity Gospel theologises on the interplay between faith and action; it is practical theology, so to speak, with a strong call to enactment. Such faith in action is experimental.

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Yet, the experimental character of Prosperity Gospel cannot be limited to ritual inventions; its economy of faith action articulates in a quest of re-invention. Prosperity Gospel indicates a decisive, if not paradigmatic change in Pentecostal theologising. The paradigm consists of two radical breaks in Pentecostal theology: the first is connected to a reframing of being in the world; the second is connected to the discovery of the spiritual value of material substance and wealth.

In epic wording Kate Bowler indicates the potential relevance of Prosperity Gospel in American society. The second radical break from classical domains of Pentecostal theology refers to the characteristic material attributes of Prosperity Gospel. Prosperity Gospel undertakes grand efforts to theologise material richness, and to manifest and keep the spiritual control over money.

As an association of Pentecostal-minded businessmen, FGBMI can be considered an ideo-financial centre to delineate prosperity theology. FGBMI forms a strong actor in the global rise of the Pentecostal movement and experiences a virtual explosion in many parts of the African continent since around the s Kalu Otherwise speaking Prosperity Gospel de-spiritualises poverty Heuser a. The genealogy of prosperity theology in American immediate post-war religious history coincided with still another revolutionary concept in Pentecostal self-presentation and social organisation.

From the s onwards the new modes of communicating the gospel became characteristic features in groupings of individual prosperity preachers.

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Newly founded independent ministries formed alliances and spread Prosperity Gospel messages through invitation policies in exchange. The inspirational use of mass media climaxed in the setting up of joint conferences and in representative staging of mass-crusades. The establishment of independent, single ministries was backed up by the emergence of how-to-do manuals, authored by the new caste of prosperity preachers, and the rise of bible schools and fellowships.

These networks enabled the interchange of persons and the flow of ideas in North America. If mobility was already a key to the national spread of Prosperity Gospel imagery, the ever-expanding discursive networks helped to de-localise the movement. Prosperity ministries were setting up global network structures. From around the s Prosperity messages were made to travel internationally. Neither confined to the institutional history of a single body of Pentecostal churches nor restricted to influences from had a single theological tradition, prosperity preaching had experienced its breakthrough on international scale.


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  • The messages of Prosperity Gospel de-localised from its American background and re-localised in contexts of what is now termed the Global South Fischer — Classifying historical passages of prosperity theology in Africa it turned up in the eminent transition into a post-colony. In the first recognisable phase of prosperity preaching from the s to s, single individuals of the stature of Nigerian Benson Idahosa — or Ray McCauly b.

    Almost all of them had received their theological a few education in North American Faith Gospel milieus. Within a few years only the African recipients of American prosperity theology evolved as prosperity megastars of their own, visible in the international clusters of Prosperity Gospel conferences. And they mentored numerous African prosperity theologians themselves and in their own theological seminars.

    They were forming increasing clusters of international conferences, crusades and autonomous circuits of their own. After half a century Prosperity Gospel had been transposed into a diversity of globalised variants. The sub-Saharan Prosperity Gospel narrative endorses its transposability. As already mentioned the story unfolds transnational and cross-cultural passages and claims trans-religious reception, at least in parts. The historic review of paradigmatic transformations in Pentecostal theology correlates Prosperity Gospel to experiences of dispossession and disempowerment.

    However, only tacit indications of Pentecostal social agency are given thus far. If, as stated, Prosperity Gospel has found entry in discourses of diverse fields in African Studies, the answers to the question of how to identify Pentecostal religious economy are multiple. They are framed by theories of globalisation, or by modernisation and development theories, while others provide close-up interpretations of ritual dynamics in single African churches, or locate diverse theologies of prosperity adapted to different socio-cultural milieus.

    A considerable strand positions the rise of Prosperity Gospel within global neo-liberal market economies. To be more precise, the expectation of prosperity praises the immediacy of desire.

    Jean Comaroff has recently redirected the vector of analysis from millennial capitalism to post-secular religio-cultural traditionalism. For Jean Comaroff this is a post-secular Pentecostal return to a traditional African religious makeshift of life, which Pentecostalism otherwise tries to fiercely combat. Coleman too stresses the Pentecostal agency of ritual action within experiences of marginalisation. Whereas the Comaroffs do more or less refrain from examining the peculiar ritual praxis in Prosperity Gospel related Christianity, Coleman insists on ethnographic validity.

    He seeks to scrutinise the specific Prosperity Gospel orthopraxis, its articulations of faith and its prosperity concepts, and he looks at how these are theologised by Pentecostal believers. The productive factor of Prosperity Gospel may not be reduced to acts of sacrificing. Some of these critical issues relate to the Pentecostal theology of tithing. Prosperity preaching identifies tithing as a central dimension in Christian faith, and rituals of tithing occupy large and at times spectacular sections of services.

    But how to cope with frustrations over delayed gratification? Mauss identified gift exchange as a category to balance unequal social relations by reciprocal bindings of giver and receiver of gifts. It helps explaining the loyalty of believers to Prosperity Gospel promises even when experiencing loss and failure instead of material wealth. But it may engage with the wider society. Jeanne Rey exemplifies the adaptations in prosperity teachings in Pentecostal African migrant milieus in Europe and North America.

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    Despite the absence of material outward signs of divine grace the attraction of Prosperity Gospel stays intact due to a larger, moral economy of blessings. Within migrant milieus, subjective behavioural repositories of the self, attitudes and norms of faith such as trust, prayer or patience gain prominence and coexist with equal right alongside the lasting hopes in material blessings.

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    Karen Lauterbach examines the access to hierarchies in small- to medium-sized urban Pentecostal churches in Ghana. She ascribes the making of young, mostly male Pentecostal pastors to material investment in social relations. The aspiring Pentecostal pastors accept relations of apprenticeship and dependency for their clear ambition to ascend the ladder of religious and social status. They allocate capital in order to accumulate charismatic power, status and social mobility. The substantial personal sacrifice of money marks the beginning of pastoral careers.

    These religious entrepreneurs invest in a wide range of activities, from investment in their own higher education to self-organised church-planting events or the setting up of own media activities. All these sacrificial material engagements are part of a strategy to secure spiritual legitimacy and a loyal church membership.

    Moreover, they are deemed indispensable for ascending church and social hierarchies simultaneously.

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    Religious entrepreneurship and social mobility both draw on local categories of public recognition. Lauterbach , concludes that:. Lauterbach frames the Pentecostal access to ministry as a motivational form of religio-cultural entrepreneurship in Africa. A much more sceptical intervention on the use and management of Prosperity Gospel social capital comes from Nigerian sociologist, Asonzeh Ukah. Church hierarchies are dominated by founding leaders or their representatives. In organisational terms they lack accountability and financial transparency.