The Politics of Hope: Churches and the Weaving of Society in Post-War Angola

The Politics of Hope: Churches and the Weaving of Society in Post-War Angola

This project is a follow-up to a previous FCT one ("The Christian Atlantic: ethnographies of religious encounters", 2007-2010). That project focused on the encounters and dialogues between so called ‘Southernized' forms of Christian churches in Lisbon, namely churches of African and Brazilian origin. Both the PI and researcher R Blanes conducted research on the Kimbanguist and Tokoist churches, of Angolan/Congolese origin. Our project took us to Angola twice and once (for the PI) to Congo. In these trips we discovered that the diaspora studied in Lisbon was but the minuscule tip of an immense iceberg, and decided that once the project would finish, we would tackle research in Angola so as to fully understand the role of religion in the (re)making of this post-war nation. Our general framework on theories on Christian ‘southernisation' (see state of the art) also led us conclude that an in-depth study in contemporary form of Christianity in Africa had become of order if we were to fully understand the transnational alignments that we were analysing in Lisbon. Africans are today taking an active and creative role in the production of new forms of Christian faith that are not being geographically restricted but stemming ‘out of Africa' too (Palmié 2007). In this particular context, Angola is a paradigmatic yet much neglected case. Despite excellent research done on the role of religion during the war, as well as on the complex relationship between religion and the Marxist regime during 1975 and 2002 (Péclard 1998; Messiant 1998, 2008), very little has been done to map the religious situation in Angola after the 2002 cease-fire.

 Religion (especially Christian religion) in Angolan society has reached a centrality that would have been inconceivable just some years before the end of the war. Luanda is today one of the cities with more churches in the African continent, and religion is getting more and more present on the entire national territory. Despite the fact that some of these churches developed already in the 1990, recently they have ‘exploded' in the public sphere in such a massive way that even within this new project we cannot attempt but to scratch the surface. Yet, we are confident that we can do substantial research and reach some conclusions about the place religion has in creating a new society in Angola, but also (let us not be too naïve about it) in maintaining some structural fissures that lay underneath the healing process of the national community.

 We want to explore some of the tensions already sensed in our fieldwork by analyzing not only the sociological dynamics within religious groups, but also the temporal and national imaginations that religions put to work both in the making of modern subjectivities and in the level of citizenry making. Indeed, one of the epistemological pitfalls of both anthropology and religious study is that -for legitimate reasons, no doubt- they are very much ‘memory' oriented. In our project, we want to bring into the analysis of religion and of society the role of political and religious hope and expectation. Among many other things, religion is about imagining a possible (or maybe impossible? but in any case conceivable) future and this proves to be extremely important in postwar situations such as the one Angola is now experiencing.

 For almost tautological reasons, this imagination of the future is particularly relevant in the study of prophetic churches, such as the ones we studied (Tokoism and kimbanguism) which are very intimately linked to the historical memory of the kingdom of Kongo. This makes the case study of these (and other prophetic churches in Angola) particularly interesting: to what extent are these churches proposing alternative historical imaginations and ‘inconsistent temporalities' (Rowlands REF) vis-à-vis the modernizing project of the Nation State? What role does the recent UNESCO patrimonialization of Mbanza Kongo play into it? How does the state react to the presence of churches whose historical roots question the very essence of an Angolaness?

Churches in today's Angola collaborate in different ways in the making of a public sphere. Given the tension we already observed within our churches between Kongo vs. Angolan tendencies (whence our title ‘kingdom and nation'), we concluded that a productive way to tackle the issue would be to ethnographically compare Mbanza Kongo and Luanda, studying the role of several churches (prophetic, Pentecostal, and of course the mainstream Catholic) in these two settings. This also cuts our sample along a rural/urban divide, thus allowing (though very prudently) for some generalization about what goes on ‘in Angola'.

 

PTDC/CS-ANT/112897/2009 - Financed by FCT

 

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
Yes
Entidades: 
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Keywords: 

Religion,

Angola,

Hope,

Post-War

This project is a follow-up to a previous FCT one ("The Christian Atlantic: ethnographies of religious encounters", 2007-2010). That project focused on the encounters and dialogues between so called ‘Southernized' forms of Christian churches in Lisbon, namely churches of African and Brazilian origin. Both the PI and researcher R Blanes conducted research on the Kimbanguist and Tokoist churches, of Angolan/Congolese origin. Our project took us to Angola twice and once (for the PI) to Congo. In these trips we discovered that the diaspora studied in Lisbon was but the minuscule tip of an immense iceberg, and decided that once the project would finish, we would tackle research in Angola so as to fully understand the role of religion in the (re)making of this post-war nation. Our general framework on theories on Christian ‘southernisation' (see state of the art) also led us conclude that an in-depth study in contemporary form of Christianity in Africa had become of order if we were to fully understand the transnational alignments that we were analysing in Lisbon. Africans are today taking an active and creative role in the production of new forms of Christian faith that are not being geographically restricted but stemming ‘out of Africa' too (Palmié 2007). In this particular context, Angola is a paradigmatic yet much neglected case. Despite excellent research done on the role of religion during the war, as well as on the complex relationship between religion and the Marxist regime during 1975 and 2002 (Péclard 1998; Messiant 1998, 2008), very little has been done to map the religious situation in Angola after the 2002 cease-fire.

 Religion (especially Christian religion) in Angolan society has reached a centrality that would have been inconceivable just some years before the end of the war. Luanda is today one of the cities with more churches in the African continent, and religion is getting more and more present on the entire national territory. Despite the fact that some of these churches developed already in the 1990, recently they have ‘exploded' in the public sphere in such a massive way that even within this new project we cannot attempt but to scratch the surface. Yet, we are confident that we can do substantial research and reach some conclusions about the place religion has in creating a new society in Angola, but also (let us not be too naïve about it) in maintaining some structural fissures that lay underneath the healing process of the national community.

 We want to explore some of the tensions already sensed in our fieldwork by analyzing not only the sociological dynamics within religious groups, but also the temporal and national imaginations that religions put to work both in the making of modern subjectivities and in the level of citizenry making. Indeed, one of the epistemological pitfalls of both anthropology and religious study is that -for legitimate reasons, no doubt- they are very much ‘memory' oriented. In our project, we want to bring into the analysis of religion and of society the role of political and religious hope and expectation. Among many other things, religion is about imagining a possible (or maybe impossible? but in any case conceivable) future and this proves to be extremely important in postwar situations such as the one Angola is now experiencing.

 For almost tautological reasons, this imagination of the future is particularly relevant in the study of prophetic churches, such as the ones we studied (Tokoism and kimbanguism) which are very intimately linked to the historical memory of the kingdom of Kongo. This makes the case study of these (and other prophetic churches in Angola) particularly interesting: to what extent are these churches proposing alternative historical imaginations and ‘inconsistent temporalities' (Rowlands REF) vis-à-vis the modernizing project of the Nation State? What role does the recent UNESCO patrimonialization of Mbanza Kongo play into it? How does the state react to the presence of churches whose historical roots question the very essence of an Angolaness?

Churches in today's Angola collaborate in different ways in the making of a public sphere. Given the tension we already observed within our churches between Kongo vs. Angolan tendencies (whence our title ‘kingdom and nation'), we concluded that a productive way to tackle the issue would be to ethnographically compare Mbanza Kongo and Luanda, studying the role of several churches (prophetic, Pentecostal, and of course the mainstream Catholic) in these two settings. This also cuts our sample along a rural/urban divide, thus allowing (though very prudently) for some generalization about what goes on ‘in Angola'.

 

PTDC/CS-ANT/112897/2009 - Financed by FCT

 

Objectivos: 
<p>The objectives of this project are</p><p>1) to understand the role of churches post-war Angola</p><p>2) to explore the tensions between Northern Angola (the Kingdom of Congo) and Luanda (the Nation)</p><p>3) to explore the politics of expectation and of hope in a post-war setting and how religion impinges imaginations about the future</p><p>4) to gives a better understanding of what goes on in Angola today and why the Angolan diaspora is so anomalous in relationshi to other African diasporas (especially in terms of hope for their nation). </p>
State of the art: 
From a historical point of view, religion in Angola has been already object of fundamental and groundbreaking research - especially in what concerns colonial and postcolonial times (Santos 1969; Viegas 1999). In this literature, relevant themes have been tackled: from the role of missions in the Angolan territory (Henderson 1990; Freston 2001; P&eacute;clard 2001) to relationships between (Catholic) church and state in the colonial period (P&eacute;clard 1998), the arrival of Neopentecostal movements in this country (Freston 2005), the development of Angolan ethnic movements (Grenfell 1998; Messiant 2006) and even the active peace activism of religious movements in the years of conflict (Messiant 2003; Comerford 2005). <p>&nbsp;</p><p>Despite this existing bibliography, and despite the inevitable recognition of a current context of &quot;religious proliferation&quot; in Angola (especially since the armistice in 2002) very little has been done concerning religious affairs. A few exceptions should be mentioned, namely F&aacute;tima Viegas' survey of the religious situation in term of juridical status (2007), Luena Pereira's research on the problem of child witchcraft in post-war Angola (2008) or our own research on the situation of the Kimbanguist (Sarr&oacute;, Blanes and Viegas 2008) and Tokoist (Blanes 2009) churches in this country. Our research project intends to fill this important gap by bringing to the fore some of the most urgent issues in contemporary Angolan society.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>The proposal intends to bring Angola to the core of the main theoretical debates concerning religion, and Christianity in particular, in contemporary Africa. Namely, the recent approaches that are progressively concerned with the development of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in Africa, their public role in local society and politics (see e.g. Gifford 1998; Ellis and ter Haar 2001; Van Dijk and Gabar 2004; Ranger 2008; Sarr&oacute; 2009; Marshall 2009). The study of Christianity in Angola can offer an important counterpoint to these major theories, especially in what concerns the following themes:</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>1) Religious transnationalism in the what in our previous project we called the &quot;Christian Atlantic&quot;, where Christianity plays a fundamental role as a progressively &lsquo;southernised' phenomenon reaching &lsquo;the north'; following some preliminary proposals (Freston 2005) we want Angola to be fully introduced into the debates on the transnationalisation of African religion (Corten and Mary 2000; Fourchard, Mary and Otayek 2005).</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>2) Issues of religious place, mobility and consequent problems of identity and belonging. More specifically, we are thinking of recent debates on modernity, mobility and identity in Africa (Amselle 2000; de Bruijn, van Dijk and Foeken 2001; Ferguson 2006), and how they play in the religious context (Palmi&eacute; 2007).</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>3) Religion and politics - namely, the role of religious institutions in political life. In Angola, the problems of human displacement, welfare, social aid and civic action have been addressed by researchers, especially in what concerns the war period (Simon 2001; Brinkman 2006; Messiant 2008). In many of these approaches, the role of the churches in the promotion of peace talks and addressing human rights has been frequently invoked, yet it has not been framed in terms of religious institutions as social actors in the post-war period, as we propose here.</p>
Parceria: 
Unintegrated
Camila Sampaio
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
24/01/2011
End Date: 
24/01/2014
Duração: 
36 meses
Closed