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Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria
University of Chicago Press, 2009
360 pp., 34.0
Nigeria's Pentecostal Revolution
Walk down the street in any city in sub-Saharan Africa and the influence of Pentecostal Christianity is unmistakable. Women plait hair on the porch of the Divine Favor Hair Salon while a minibus with "When God Says
Yes … ( … no man can say no!)" emblazoned across the windshield drives slowly past, the conductor's voice reaching over the strains of a gospel tune denouncing the powers of Satan. The recent efflorescence of anthropological interest in Christianity is due in part to this ubiquity; throughout the Global South, it is increasingly difficult to avoid Christianity in general and Pentecostalism in particular. It is within this context of revival, both religious and academic, that Ruth Marshall offers her rich analysis of the "Pentecostal revolution" in Nigeria.
Marshall makes it clear that her book is not a standard anthropological study (i.e., an ethnography) but rather a social and political analysis informed by critical theory. However, she engages a number of the tacit assumptions about religious belief and conversion that have marked anthropological discussions of Christianity over the past decade. In particular, she offers her book as an attempt to "take religion seriously," something she claims that other social scientists rarely do. The failure to do so, Marshall argues, is at least in part attributable to scholars' need to make sense of and defend those behaviors that appear least rational from their own perspective, including religious belief. Within this framework, the significance of conversion for believers is toned down, often understood by social scientists as a syncretic continuation of pre- or non-Christian practices rather than a radical personal transformation. Alternatively, religion may be framed primarily as a mode of meaning-making, a space within which converts attempt to make sense of the mystifying forces of late capitalism by translating them into a supernatural idiom, since perceived exclusion from the neoliberal economy ...