African Gifts of the Spirit: Pentecostalism and the Rise of a Zimbabwean Transnational Religious Movement

By Kirsch, Thomas | African Studies Review, December 2007 | Go to article overview

African Gifts of the Spirit: Pentecostalism and the Rise of a Zimbabwean Transnational Religious Movement


Kirsch, Thomas, African Studies Review


David Maxwell. African Gifts of the Spirit: Pentecostalism and the Rise of a Zimbabwean Transnational Religious Movement. Athens: Ohio UniversityPress/ Oxford: James Currey, 2006. xv + 250 pp. Photographs. Maps. Tables. Notes. Sources and Refereces. Index. $26.95. Paper.

As has repeatedly been pointed out, the center of gravity of world Christianity in recent decades has shifted away from Europe and the United States to Latin America and Africa, a process that in an intriguing way coincides with an increase in importance of Charismatic and Pentecostal churches.

David Maxwell's African Gifts of the Spirit is a timely contribution to the study of these developments. At the most general level, the book starts out from the observation that "much of the recent research on African Pentecostalism gives the impression that it is new to Africa," and it rectifies this mistaken impression by situating Pentecostalism "within the broader sweep of Africa's Christian history" (13). More particularly, the book combines historical and ethnographic methodologies in order to address two issues: first, to reconstruct the transnational roots, local beginnings, and diversifications of the Pentecostal movement in colonial and postcolonial southern Africa; and second, to provide the reader with a case study of an African Pentecostal church, the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God, Africa (ZAOGA), which at present has a membership of more than one million with branches in a variety of African countries, the U.S., and Europe.

With regard to the history of Pentecostalism, Maxwell not only shows that from its (predominantly American) beginnings at the turn of the twentieth century Pentecostalism has been a spatially expansive project, involving the global dissemination of religious print media and the transnational movement of missionaries. Maxwell also makes clear that the early Pentecostal movement in southern Africa spread alongside existing Christian networks, where local people appropriated it in different and selective ways depending on sociocultural context and political situation. In retracing these developments, African Gifts of the Spirit elaborates how African Pentecostalists entered into complex and often ambiguous relationships with political agencies, "traditional" religionists, African Independent Churches, and other mission churches, in part distancing themselves from or competing with them, in part appropriating their symbolism for the purpose of self-legitimation. …

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