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Members Only: Creating Commitment in the Context of Religiously Diverse Societies in Africa

Panel Chair: Eva Spies | Thursday, August 27, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

In religiously diverse contexts, individuals tend to move between different religious communities and seek support from different religious experts. These individuals do not feel the need to affiliate with one group or another, they may adhere to several. The religious groups on the other hand need a solid body of adherents to survive as communities, and the religious leaders need followers to be recognized as such. This panel explores the different ways of how religious communities in Africa try to commit individuals to their group and establish a more or less solid membership in contexts of religious mobility and competition. The panel assembles papers dealing with different religious communities in Africa (Christian, “traditional”) to discuss how they define religious belonging, generate loyalty and deference or create commitment to their religious tradition: Whereas some groups emphasise the importance of collective rituals, others may restrict access to religious knowledge or material advantages.

Serawit Bekele

How loyal are members? Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Indigenous religions

In general, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church defines indigenous religions as evil while depicting itself as holy. It also asserts that all Christians should abandon indigenous religions and become faithful to the Church. However, some members of the Church undermine this dichotomy by subscribing to both religious traditions. Notwithstanding their characterization as agents of malevolent spirits, these members succeed in reconciling both traditions. Referring to Bourdieu’s theory of field and Bhabha’s concept of hybridity the paper argues that in the religious field, the double allegiance of members has resulted in religious identities that challenge the church’s self-representation of uniformity and expectation of unadulterated loyalty. This again has led to aggressive moves by the church to dissociate its members from the 'evil religion' and to fight for the symbolic/social capital of membership. The contribution is based on data gathered in 2008 and 2012 in North Shewa Zone of Oromia regional state.

Justice Anquandah Arthur

‘Loyalty and disloyalty’: Building a church through membership drive

The multiplicity of religions in Ghana engenders a competitive religious landscape, where religious leaders go to great lengths to keep group membership. Dag Heward-Mills, the founder of the Lighthouse Chapel International (LCI), is a pastor noted for his teachings on loyalty and disloyalty, which many observers believe has been a major tool for membership drive in this charismatic church. Conversely, some of his opponents accuse him of using these ideas to build a cult. Nevertheless, the enormous growth of membership that has been achieved within two decades of its existence calls for the need to find out how the church generates commitment among its members. The paper explores the question how LCI maintains and increases its membership in the face of fierce religious competition. The theories of community of practice and the religious markets theory will be employed in analyzing data generated from the fieldwork conducted in Ghana in 2013.

Magnus Echtler

Thief of women, friend of chiefs. Membership dynamics in the Nazareth Baptist Church, South Africa

When Isaiah Shembe founded the Nazareth Baptist Church in 1910, he tended to the marginalised people in Natal, South Africa. Representatives of both the colonial and pre-colonial authorities regarded him as a threat to the social order and charged him with the stealing women from fathers, husbands, and missionaries. 20 years later, his relation to the wider society had changed significantly. He supported the patriarchal authority of Zulu chiefs and lineage heads, who in turn joined his church and acknowledged his spiritual leadership. As a consequence, representatives of the emerging apartheid state considered him as a stabilising factor. His success in acquiring and retaining a steadily increasing body of adherents points to the routinization of his charisma through traditionalization (Weber), and to his success in combining church membership with the social capital of the Zulu descent groups (Bourdieu), processes further modified through the social transformations in post-apartheid South Africa.

Afe Adogame


Afe Adogame will respond to the issues raised in the previous papers.


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A  B  C  D 
E  F  G  H 
I  J  K  L 
M  N  O  P 
Q  R  S  T 
U      V      W     XYZ 


Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

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