Academic journal article African Studies Review

Yoruba in Diaspora: An African Church in London

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Yoruba in Diaspora: An African Church in London

Article excerpt

Hermione Harris. Yoruba in Diaspora: An African Church in London. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. vii + 294 pp. Charts. Glossary. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $69.95. Cloth.

This is a remarkable book for two reasons. First, because it was written fully thirty-five years after the initial research started, in 1969, to be resumed only in the 1990s. Second, because the book stands out for its sensitive discussion of an important but often neglected dimension of African religiosity, namely spiritual power. This is discussed through a case study of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church in London, as founded by Nigerian immigrants in the 1960s.

The issue of spiritual power runs as a thread through the book. After an introductory chapter, the study begins with an exposition of the social conditions of young Nigerians who had originally arrived in Britain as students, and who intended to return to join the elite in their home countries. The realities of life in Europe were as little anticipated then, it appears, as they are now. It is against this background that the founding of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church in London is situated in the following chapter. In subsequent chapters various aspects of spiritual power in this particular context are explored, such as divination, revelation, possession, and prayer. Unlike many authors, Hermione Harris takes Nigerian epistemologies seriously, taking as her point of departure not existing academic theories, but the personal experiences of individual believers. Hence she explains the concepts of spiritual power as they exist in the Yoruba language and the way these are used in atadura discourse. Harris leaves ample space for believers to express their own views of both the visible and the invisible worlds and the supposed relation between the two realms, basing her subtle argument on extensive quotations from her interviewees, as well as lengthy descriptions of ritual events.

The dynamic character of spiritual power is thus an important characteristic of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church that is highlighted in Harris's approach. This dynamism is also shown by the way in which spiritual power has been transformed over time and distance, in the physical move from Nigeria to Britain. …

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