Academic journal article Africa

Pentecostalism beyond Belief: Trust and Democracy in a Malawian Township

Academic journal article Africa

Pentecostalism beyond Belief: Trust and Democracy in a Malawian Township

Article excerpt


The concept of belief, when applied in its strong sense, assumes an inner state that sets believers apart from non-believers. This article suggests that a concept of trust is more appropriate for the study of the religious orientation among Pentecostal Christians in Chinsapo, an impoverished township in Malawi's capital city. Trust is a critical issue because even fellow members of Pentecostal congregations can turn out to have been sent by the Devil. Pastors also have to exercise considerable forbearance in order to encourage spiritual growth among backsliders. The boundaries of Pentecostal congregations are often permeable, with little emphasis on doctrinal differences. Pentecostal Christians also have frequent contact with kin, neighbours, customers and co-workers who do not share their religious orientation. Rather than being a matter of calculating risks, trust emerges in relation to the existential dangers of misfortune, hunger and disease that affect the lives of all township dwellers. Everyday contexts of township life are as important as proselytizing in generating trust between Pentecostals and those who are yet to experience the second birth in the Holy Spirit. In contrast to views that lament Africans' particularized trust relations as an obstacle to democracy, this article suggests that generalized trust can emerge from a particular religious orientation. The article draws attention to the actual sources of civility and trust in contemporary Africa.


Le concept de croyance, dans son sens le plus fort, suppose un etat interieur qui differencie les croyants des non-croyants. Cet article suggere qu'un concept de confiance est plus adapte a l'etude de l'orientation religieuse chez les chretiens pentecotistes de Chinsapo, cite defavorisee de la capitale du Malawi. La confiance est un point critique car meme au sein des congregations pentecotistes, tout membre peut etre l'envoye du diable. Les pasteurs doivent aussi faire preuve d'une grande indulgence pour encourager l'epanouissement spirituel des moins fervents. Les limites des congregations pentecotistes sont souvent permeables, et peu regardantes sur les differences doctrinaires. Les chretiens pentecotistes ont egalement des contacts frequents avec des membres de leur famille, voisins, clients et collegues qui ne partagent pas leur orientation religieuse. Plutot qu'une question de calcul de risque, la confiance nait par rapport aux dangers existentiels de malchance, de faim et de maladie qui touchent l'existence des habitants de la cite. Les contextes quotidiens de la vie dans la cite sont aussi importants que le proselytisme pour creer de la confiance entre les Pentecotistes et ceux qui n'ont pas encore vecu leur seconde naissance par le Saint Esprit. Contrairement aux opinions qui deplorent que les rapports de confiance particularises des Africains soient un obstacle a la democratie, cet article suggere que la confiance generalisee peut naOtre d'une orientation religieuse particuliere. L'article attire l'attention sur les sources reelles de civilite et de confiance en Afrique contemporaine.


Pentecostal Christians in Malawi sometimes uncover the intricate plots that the Devil, also known as Lucifer Satan, has woven to ruin their Christian lives. Testimonies giving insights into Satanic schemes are not only delivered by former witches and Satanists in churches, but also publicized by private evangelical radio stations and the audio tapes, letters and tracts that circulate among Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals alike. Items that are not meant to be seen by Christians are potentially the most disturbing evidence of Satanic machinations. The following excerpts are from a letter, allegedly signed by Lucifer Satan and written in Chichewa, intercepted by Pentecostal pastors in Lilongwe in 1999. (1)

Rulers of Darkness and All Demons of All Kinds, Universal Spirit of

   Attention please because true Christians are winning us day after
day. … 
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