Nigerian missionaries in Europe: history repeating itself or a meeting of modernities?1

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Nigerian missionaries in Europe: history repeating itself or a meeting of modernities?1


This article discusses the question how to construct a vantage point from which to study the phenomenon of Nigerian missionaries in Europe. When theoretical frameworks extrapolating from the history of religion in Western Europe are used to understand a religious network that originated in Nigeria, Nigerian missionaries and missionaries from the Global South inevitably appear as a case of history repeating itself and even as ‘premodern’. In contrast, Africanist literature provides an understanding of the ways in which oppositions between tradition and modernity are constructed and used in Nigerian Pentecostalism that is very different. This literature however, does not provide ways to engage with the European contexts in which Nigerian missionaries operate. Therefore the article suggests that the encounter between Nigerian missionaries and European contexts might be most fruitfully conceptualized as a ‘meeting of modernities’ (inspired by Eisenstadts notion of ‘multiple modernities’), each implying a ‘denial of coevalness’.

Key words: Nigerian missionaries, Western Europe, multiple modernities, denial of coevalness

  1. Introduction

Three years ago, I started on a research project that takes place in 3 different European countries: Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands2. The project centred on the Redeemed Christian Church of God. The Redeemed Christian church of God is the largest Pentecostal church in Nigeria, and perhaps in the world3. It is present in more than 150 countries, including the Netherlands. In terms of their aspirations, the RCCG presents a challenge to European self-identity: it intends to win the world, and by extension Europe, for Christ.

Often, I felt I had to avoid falling into the trap of seeing ‘history repeating itself’: the 19th century missionary ambitions of Europe, including the language used to justify these ambitions, were uncomfortably easy to recognize in some of the rhetoric of Nigerian missionaries. For example, when reading this opening paragraph of a hagiography of the leader of the RCCG, Enoch Adejare Adeboye:

The lamp was lit in the dark heart of the African jungle, but before the environment could acknowledge its glow, strong winds were swirling around its flame to snuff it out. It took God to preserve this bright lamp4

The text continues with references to malaria, snapping crocodiles, analfabetism and extreme poverty, all building up to a glorious success story: Adeboye became the head of one of the largest Pentecostal churches worldwide, with millions of followers. While talking to Nigerian missionaries and Pentecostals in Nigeria they often referred to their perception of Europe as wealthy and comfortable, in contrast to Nigeria which they saw as ‘backward’. Against this background, this opening paragraph appeared as a refraction of a European ‘Heart of Darkness’ discourse that was already criticized by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe 50 years ago:

Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as "the other world," the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man's vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality. 5

Yet I knew that seeing this kind of language as evidence of an older, European mindset amounts to a ‘denial of coevalness’6 that is not realistic and ignores the historical trajectory and religious self understanding of the author and his intended public. Denial of coevalness is a term elaborated by Johannes Fabian as a critique of the conventions of writing about ‘others’ as if they live in a different time. Although the practice of ethnography is based on sharing time, and therefore coevalness, the style of writing and analysing within anthropology, according to him, imply a denial of coevalnes, projecting ‘the other’, the object of study in anthropology, into history, creating distance. But then, how can we understand this apparent mimicry? What scales from ‘backwardness’ towards ‘modernity’ are invoked in texts such as the one quoted above?

I will return to these questions later. First, it is important to note that these questions are intimately tied to the decision of how to frame the phenomenon of Nigerian missionaries in Europe. From the outset of the research-project, almost every framework that suggested itself, seemed to involve some kind of an evolutionary scale. For example, the parishes of the RCCG and other Nigerian initiated churches can be categorized as migrant churches, thus generating questions such as ‘do these churches help or hinder integration? Will these migrants eventually lose their ‘religious baggage’’? In the research proposal underlying the project, Nigerian Pentecostals in Europe were seen as an example of reverse mission. This refers to a very general trend that intends to describe the phenomenon that those who used to be conceptualized as the ‘targets’ of the European missionary enterprise, now conceptualize themselves as missionaries and have plans to re-evangelize Europe7. This generates questions such as: ‘are they successful in converting European ‘natives’8’? but also: ‘is this not a case of history repeating itself (and therefore doomed to fail)’? The literature on reverse mission in turn overlaps with an emerging body of literature on ‘Southern’ missionaries, usually Pentecostals9. Another body of literature that has bearing on this phenomenon is that on the ‘shift’ in the centre of gravity in Global Christianity which used to be located in the ‘North’ but has now shifted towards the global south; raising the question ‘who will determine the future of Christianity, the North or the South?’10.

At the same time, a body of literature about globalization11, multiple modernities12 and the study of Christianity in Western Africa13 is emerging that can provide a basis for much more complex and sensitive understanding of what Nigerian missionaries are doing in Western Europe. Literature on Pentecostalism and evangelicalism as global religious movements14 and in particular a recent study of ‘new mission’ churches in Europe furthermore puts this development in the broader context of the missionary ambitions of evangelical and Pentecostal movements from the Global South15.

The solution then, seemed simple: adopt the vocabulary from this literature that does more justice to the self-perception of Nigerian missionaries or, as the case may be, to missionaries from other countries and that avoids these evolutionary frameworks. This literature, however, does not really engage with the fact that these Nigerian missionaries were now in Europe at least geographically. I was interested in studying the intersections of different worlds that seem to come together, overlap, and interact in quite puzzling ways that often had very little to do with a real understanding of each other’s worlds.

Due to this focus on intersections, thinking through how to frame the research theoretically slid into an examination of how academic, political and popular ways of framing the topic of research interacted with the ways in which Nigerian missionaries framed themselves. These issues of framing thus threw up the pressing question how to construct a vantage point from which to study the encounter between Nigerian missionaries and western European contexts without myself becoming involved in the categories and ways of ‘othering’ that these encounters generate. Apparently, there are particular conceptions of history and the future, oppositions between tradition and modernity at stake that are radically different for all parties involved. In the case of Western European conceptions of modernity, the analysis is complicated because the social sciences are themselves intimately involved in constructing visions of the developments and place of religion in modernity, mainly through the large and influential body of literature on secularization that, in the Netherlands at least, has become firmly lodged in the popular mindset. As I noticed when reading the opening paragraph of the hagiography cited above, there are certain knee-jerk reactions towards the style in which Nigerian Pentecostals present themselves, observed in myself and in others, which are so deeply ingrained that it is often hard to trace where they are coming from.

Even though the literature on secularization has been repeatedly criticized, pointing to the rise of religion worldwide and arguing that Europe is an exceptional case, the central issue of how to re-conceptualize the relationship between religion and modernity in a way that does not necessarily imply that the one will cause the decline or irrelevance of the other, has not yet been resolved.16 This issue generates questions that run parallel to the ones generated by the encounter between Nigerian missionaries and other ‘new missionaries’ and western European conceptualisation of modernity and the place of religion in it: what is modernity, who is modern and who is ‘lagging behind’? Are some religions more adjusted to modernity than others? How is religion transformed by modernity? Are some religions just temporary reactions that will fade away17? Should religion be allowed to play a role in modern liberal democratic societies18?

Constructing a vantage point from which to study the encounter between Nigerian missionaries with European realities without falling into the trap of a denial of coevalness underpinned by Western European notions about religion and modernity therefore implicates the core questions concerning the sociological study of religion. I will argue that the challenge is not to answer these questions, but to analyse how and why they are generated and what assumptions underlie them.

In what follows I will first show how dominant ways of conceptualizing religious change in Europe can lead to the perception of Nigerian missionaries as a case of history repeating itself (2). I will then contrast this with the self-perceptions of the Nigerian missionaries in question, as well as with Africanist understandings of the relation between religion and modernity in Western Africa in general and Nigeria in particular (3). These self-perceptions and the literature on religion in West Africa all point out that ‘being religious’ involves quite different understandings of ‘modernity’. The fourth section will therefore discuss the concept of multiple modernities ($). Finally, this article will close with a general discussion of the implications for the study of globalizing religion (5). This article can do no more than point to some of the issues at stake here; many of the questions raised will have to be elaborated in more detail in another place.

  1. Conceptualising religious change in Europe

In 2007, when starting this research, I had just defended my PhD-thesis on religious change in the Netherlands and was regularly invited to give popular lectures on this topic. At the end of these lectures, people often asked me whether I would continue this research. When I told them that I was now involved in a project that looked at the spread of Nigerian Pentecostal churches in Europe that had ambitions to evangelize Europeans, the reactions of the audience were often quite indignant. They found this a marginal and unimportant topic (they had never met a Nigerian missionary) but also, they saw this as an attempt to ‘turn back the clock’ that was doomed to fail, and for this reason, not worth studying. These audiences felt that they had just ‘emancipated’ themselves from religion.

This response has to do with a particularly Dutch notion of the character of religion described also by Kennedy and Valenta: ‘the widespread assumption that all religions, whatever their divergences, essentially share in common inherent tendencies towards violence, irrationality, dogmatism and authoritarianism that need to be carefully monitored and controlled if modern egalitarian social relations and democracy are not to come under threat’ 19. Becoming modern, to the Dutch, meant overcoming these tendencies in religion or even overcoming religion altogether.

Until now, audiences of students react in a similarly incredulous and dismissive way. They do not deny that it is worth studying, but they often cannot conceal a smile when I tell them about the ambitions of the RCCG. The whole notion of being evangelized seems ridiculous to most students; they see evangelization and mission as something that belongs to a religious past that has been left behind.

A minority of Christian students react differently, and are often more knowledgeable about the different ways of being Christian in the contemporary world. The conviction and enthusiasm of Pentecostal churches, of which Nigerian Pentecostal churches seem to represent one of the most dynamic strands, fascinates them. This openness also characterized the ‘Dutch Dutch’ members of the RCCG I spoke to in the Netherlands, who often had previous experience in Pentecostal or evangelical circles before joining the RCCG. While accepting the missionary ambitions of the RCCG they criticized what they saw as a lack of contextualization, drawing a historical parallel20:

I always tell them, they are making the same mistake as we did. We used to go to Africa, and preach a European gospel to them. We insisted on wearing a three piece suit while going into the interior.  And now they are coming here, also wearing a three piece suit and we are not wearing that kind of thing anymore! (interview with a (white) Dutch member of a Nigerian Pentecostal church)

Nigerian missionaries coming to Europe and making ‘the same mistakes’ seems to be a reminder of civilising and missionary ambitions that many western Europeans do not want to be associated with anymore. It is associated, both for non Christians and for Christians, with a paternalistic religious history that Dutch people feel they have thankfully left behind.

Among academics, Verstraelen summarizes some of the discomfort of European Christians with southern missionaries in Europe and the general shift in gravity in the Christian world from the North to the South21. According to Verstraelen, European Christians have reached a ‘second naivety’ in their faith, through the confrontation with enlightenment, secularization and modernity. ‘Second naivety’ is seen as the last stage in a development of belief that moves from a first naivety, where people simply ‘believe’, through a trial of disbelief as a result of disenchantment, the progress of science and other secularizing forces, to a conscious decision to believe in spite of these pressures, in a way that does not go against the insights of modern science: “a critically tested childlikeness”22. According to Verstraelen “([t]he faith of most Southern Christians has not (yet) been tested as was the case with the faith of many European Christians. But that testing time will come also for Christians from the South, and it has already started”23.

In his contribution to an edited volume on migrant Pentecostalism, Cornelis van der Kooi explicitly calls the encounter between ‘Western’ churches and Pentecostal churches from the global South an encounter between ‘modern’ religion and ‘pre-modern’ religion: “the challenge lies in the fact that Western Christians are confronted at close quarters with a Christianity that does not bear the hallmarks of modernity and for that reason deviates in all sorts of ways from what is familiar in terms of ecclesiology and theology” 24. Both Van der Kooi and Verstraelen expect that the ‘literal’ ways of believing of ‘Southern Christians’ will transform through a confrontation with enlightenment, secularization and modernity in Europe.

On the local level, the term ‘migrant churches’ seemed to be one way in which the Dutch (from passersby in the street where a church is located, to local policy-makers, to diaconal workers with the mainline Christian churches in the Netherlands to scholars) construct African Christians ambiguously as people with ‘agency’ (to be celebrated!), and on the other hand, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, as marginal migrants in need of help25.

All of the reactions described above depart from an evolutionary framework that sees the relationship between ‘religion’ and ‘modernity’ as somehow problematic. This ties in not only with influential secularisation theories such as those developed by the early Berger26 and still defended by Bruce27, but also with attempts to redefine the field of the social scientific study of religion.

Most social scientists agree nowadays that religion has not disappeared in Europe; rather it has transformed considerably and it has changed location. Davie has summarized several of these transformations in catchy expressions such as ‘believing without belonging’ and ‘from obligation to consumption’. She has also argued, together with others, that secular Europe should not be seen as the ‘future’ of religion for other parts of the world, but rather as an exceptional case28. Furthermore, concepts such as ‘second naivety’ also referred to by Verstraelen, have been developed to show that religion can withstand the ‘corrosive force’ of secularisation.

Yet these reconceptualizations do not provide an adequate framework for understanding and analyzing Nigerian Pentecostals in Western Europe, unless we assume that they will, by virtue of their geographical location, begin to follow the same trajectory that these theories describe for European religion29. If these frameworks are nevertheless used to understand religious networks, practices and ambitions originating from another part of the globe, it seems inevitable that these come to represent an earlier stage of development, (rather than a future development of religion in Western Europe as they see themselves by the very fact of their missionary self-definition). Thus, applying these frameworks can only lead to a ‘denial of coevalness: the ‘others’ (i.e. Nigerian missionaries in Europe and other missionaries from the Global South) are located in a different time, are ‘not yet modern’, have not yet reached a ‘second naivety’, have not yet adjusted to secularized modern societies. Similarly, research agenda’s departing from the framing of Nigerian-initiated churches as migrant churches will inevitably ask questions using a parallel evolutionary scale: from segregation to integration or perhaps assimilation, seeing religion as ‘bagage’ from the home country that will eventually be either discarded or transformed. Whichever of these evolutionary frameworks is chosen, researchers will become entangled in the very questions that the encounter between Nigerian missionaries and European contexts generates, and will be tempted to answer these questions rather than study why and how they arise.

  1. A different modernity?

Generally, the ways in which missionaries from the Global South are framed through Western European perspectives does not tie in very well with how they frame themselves. This is shown exhaustively by Währisch Oblau in her study of ‘new missionaries’ and was also borne out during my research. Within the RCCG, the term ‘reverse mission’ is not used very often, and the term ‘migrant church’ is actively resisted 30. For example, the 2005 directory of the RCCG parishes abroad nowhere uses these terms in its introduction.31 Rather, there is an emphasis on the history of the RCCG itself as a ‘covenant church’ that has been tasked to plant churches all over the world. This covenant is already implied in the fact that the name of the church was ‘given’, in English, to the founder of the church, Akindayomi, who could neither read nor write and did not have a western education32. To Pentecostals the notion of reverse mission implies a sense of history that is not very relevant to their way of looking at things; they are oriented towards the future and furthermore do not see Christianity as something that originally came from Europe, but as the result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

In a quite different way, Nigerian Pentecostals and in particular the RCCG make very strong claims to be modern and global. The current leader, Adeboye, when he succeeded Akindayomi in the early eighties, instituted a number of significant changes such as a growing emphasis on prosperity gospel, and the institution of so-called ‘model parishes’ aimed at young, upwardly mobile and ‘modern’ Nigerians. These model parishes were usually initiated in hotel lobbies, have more relaxed rules about dressing, and English is the dominant language. At present, the style and strategies of the model parish is dominant within the global network of RCCG parishes33.

Much of the recent literature on Pentecostalism in Africa emphasizes how its appeal is entwined with the appeal of a certain notion of modern life. Generally, the popularity of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ has invited much academic attention: God has meant everyone to be rich, to have a modern, global, upwardly mobile lifestyle, with access to education and good healthcare and many opportunities for travel. This is contrasted with a local, limited lifestyle steeped in poverty, hindered by connections to local spiritual traditions.
Nevertheless, the way that this modernity is claimed can be quite puzzling to European eyes, as I showed in the introduction of this article. The description of the birth and life of ‘Daddy G.O’34 seems to invoke an evolutionary scale from ‘traditional’ to ‘modern’ that I have just criticized, although this scale seems to predate even the secularization theories but rather brings to mind 19th century European ‘civilization’ projects.
Two bodies of work in particular shed light on this puzzle: Marshalls publications and recent book on the ‘Pentecostal revolution’ in Nigeria and Meyer’s work on Pentecostalism in Ghana. For example, Meyer analyzes how converts are encouraged to make a ‘complete break with the past’ to launch themselves into a modern lifestyle, focused on the nuclear family rather than the extended family and on modern patterns of production, consumption and distribution 35. Local traditions are recast through Christianity in terms of the devil, as something to be left behind in order to be able to enter modernity. Needless to say, this is a thoroughly ‘enchanted’ modernity, filled with the promise that God has meant everybody to be prosperous, rather than the disenchanted modernity that Weber foresaw.
According to Marshall,

The Born Again ‘break with the past’ involves a deliberate engagement with the system of distinctions inherited from the colonial period. The movement find its central force through a constant, self conscious mediation between global Pentecostal forms and local practice36.

In this light, we can understand the ‘heart of darkness’ discourse reproduced in the hagiography of ‘daddy G.O.’ as a practice of remembering the past in a certain way. Through this narrative device, the bright and modern future can be shown to have arrived in the biography of Adeboye: he went to school, became a professor in applied mathematics and later a born-again Christian. Despite his uncertain beginnings ‘in the heart of the African jungle’, he is now the leader of a global church and owns a private jet to be able to visit all the different nations the RCCG wants to reach. The darkness of the past serves to show the brightness and modernity of the present.

The affinity between Pentecostalism, globalisation and mobility has been explored more often, for example in Coleman’s book on global Christianity 37 but also in the work of Rijk van Dijk 38 and in a recent edited volume entitled ‘Travelling Spirits’39. Recently, however, especially anthropological literature on African Christianity has come to be criticized for seeing religion too much as a function of underlying socio-economic processes. Van Dijk argues that rather than seeing Pentecostalism as a way of ‘coping with’ the dangerous global market, Pentecostalism in Africa is actually instrumental in launching individuals onto this market. He traces the notion of ‘coping with’ modernity to a paradigm influenced by Marxist thinking within African studies of the 1980-ies, reflecting on the effects of the incursion of the global capitalist economy on African societies. This paradigm analyzes religious transformations in Africa (which include the rise of African Christianities and Pentecostalism, but also the rise of beliefs in witchcraft) as a reaction to underlying economic transformations of local societies, visible especially in the work of for example Birgit Meyer and John and Jean Comaroff.40

In her recent book on the Nigerian ‘Pentecostal Revolution’, Marshall criticizes anthropological understandings of African Christianity even more sharply. She identifies a ‘domestication of modernity’ paradigm and identifies this with more or less the same authors (i.e. Meyer and the Comaroffs)41. According to her, this paradigm makes the mistake of always analyzing religion as if it is about something else, ultimately a form of ‘false consciousness’: “whether religion is seen as symbolic, metaphoric, or metonymic, or even in terms of an imaginary, it is more or less reduced to its function of signification, forgetting that it is, perhaps above all, a site of action, invested in and appropriated by believers”42. She accuses defenders of this paradigm of clinging to oppositions between tradition and modernity, reason and religion, smuggling in false notions of pre-colonial authenticity that only became a possibility through the encounter with colonialism and the missionary project.

Space does not allow for delving more deeply into this quite important discussion43. For now, it is sufficient to note that Meyer, Marshall and Van Dijk all agree that ‘becoming Born Again’ is a way of launching oneself into a globalized modern world.

  1. Multiple modernities in a globalizing world?

Evidently, the opposition between tradition and modernity constructed through these Born Again religious narratives and practices is very different from the opposition between tradition and modernity suggested by secularization and post-secularization theories based on extrapolating developments in Western Europe described earlier. However, just as we cannot assume that the cultural logic and historical trajectories of Western Europe will naturally model developments for Nigerian Pentecostals in Europe, we cannot assume that the globalized religiosity of Nigerian Pentecostals models the future for Western Europeans. Should we then understand modernity as a plurality of cultural programmes, as Eisenstadt has suggested?44

This seems an attractive solution, not least because it leaves the question open of what role religion has in these different programmes, thus leaving behind the problematic evolutionary framing of the secularization theories and the ones that followed. It avoids the Euro-centrism that seems inherent in a more fixed and socio-economic understanding of modernity, as well as the assumption that ‘others’ will inevitably follow the same steps when they complete the socio-economic process of modernization. Does this then provide us with the vantage point from where we can study the intersections and disjunctures of Western European realities with Nigerian religious networks? Can these be conceptualized as a ‘meeting of modernities’?

According to Geschiere, Meyer and Pels, the notion of multiple modernities is problematic because it seems to suggest an equality between different types of modernity that is contradicted by a characteristic that all these types have in common: they conceptualize an ‘us’ that is modern, against an ‘other’ that is not yet modern45. Modernity in whatever form, according to Geschiere et. al., is always a relational term that structures relationships of inequality. Even when we conceive of modernity in the plural, each of these ‘modernities’ sees itself as superseding someone else’s modernity. We might then ask questions such as: who is the ‘other’ in the ‘denial of coevalness’ implied in classifying oneself as modern for Nigerian Pentecostals in Europe? Is this still the African, unconverted local, or can this also be the European, lapsed Christian local?

  1. Discussion

The introduction stated that it is necessary to create a vantage point from which to take into account the ways in which the manners of framing the topic of research are part of the object of study. A critique of European based theories of religion shows that when these are applied to create a framework for reflection on the presence of Nigerian missionaries in European they inevitably result in a denial of co-evalness, and the assumption that ‘religious migrants’ will become ‘like us’. The secularization paradigm underlying these ways of framing has been criticized extensively, but these critiques do not help to develop a more appropriate framing. The popularization of the concept of modernity and the evolutionary framework it suggests is a strong example of the ways in which academic theories become part of the realities they study.

Similarly, Africanist understandings of African Christianity and its ‘modernity’ (whether seen as a ‘reaction’ to modern capitalism, way of coping with it or basis for action), while insightful in pointing out the completely different trajectories of religion in West Africa and Nigeria, do not help to develop a framework that also engages with European contexts. Finally, it seemed that the concept of ‘multiple modernities’, cultural programmes with different histories and trajectories can provide a way out, at least if we take into account the denial of coevalness that is always part of claims to be modern. Each of these claims can be seen to have different historical trajectories that are also intertwined in complex ways. These moments of intertwinement (colonialism, history of missions) are remembered in quite different ways by Western Europeans and by Nigerian Pentecostals, and indeed fulfil almost opposite roles in the production of oppositions between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’.

We might then tentatively conceive of Nigerian missionaries, or indeed other global missionaries from the Global South in Europe in terms of a meeting of modernities in the non-essentialist sense. The question no longer is whether a particular way of being religious is modern, anti-modern or a reaction to modernity. Rather, different notions of ‘modernity’ have become the object of study and the notion of ‘modernity’ is stripped of its theoretical and evolutionary characteristics in the academic sense.

To attempt to answer the question where to locate a particular way of being religious on a scale of traditional to modern is to become involved in teleological, reifying and functionalistic notions of modernity and religion that do not do justice to the complex realities they are supposed to make intelligible. Globalization has forced the awareness on us that many different developments take place simultaneously, interact and intersect in unpredictable ways. It has been suggested that transnationalism and globalization have problematized the location of ‘the field’ and should prompt an approach of more multi-sited fieldwork46. The notion of transnational social fields has been posited in an attempt to go beyond ‘methodological nationalism’47.

While important, these still do not get into focus the encounter and ways of interacting of different cultural trajectories that meet through migration and globalization. It is also necessary to develop a framework of research that analyses the ways in which social dynamics in particular localities are shaped through the multiple historical trajectories and cultural logics involved that allows for the possibility that something new will emerge through this, rather than one trajectory falling into step behind the other. This framework for research needs to be sensitive to history, without becoming evolutionist, as well as sensitive to the ways in which theories of religion and modernity are part of the questions generated by the encounters between multiple trajectories of modernity. This article has no pretention to have achieved this, but has hopefully prepared the ground to ask new kinds of questions.

1 The author would like to thank the editors of this special issue (Martha Frederiks and Ramon Sarró) and Ruy Blanes for their comments on an earlier, very different version of this article that led to the train of thought presented here.

2 This project was initiated by the GLOPENT network, and led by prof. dr. emeritus A.F. Droogers of the VU University in Amsterdam, in cooperation with Michael Bergunder from the University of Heidelberg, and Allan Anderson from the University of Birmingham. I was involved in this project as a post-doctoral researcher, together with Richard Burgess, and a PhD candidate, Anna Quaas. The project was funded by NORFACE and ran from April 2007 to September 2010.

3 Ruth Marshall, Political spiritualities: the Pentecostal revolution in Nigeria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Richard Burgess, Freedom from the Past and Faith for the Future: Nigerian Pentecostal Theology in Global Perspective (PentecoStudies, 2008); Richard Burgess, “African Pentecostal Spirituality and Civic Engagement: The Case of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Britain.,” Journal of Beliefs & Values 30, no. 3 (2009): 19; Richard Burgess, Kim Knibbe, and Anna Quaas, “Nigerian-initiated Pentecostal Churches as a Social Force in Europe: the Case of the Redeemed Christian Church of God,” PentecoStudies: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Research on the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements 9, no. 1 (2010): 97–121; Asonzeh F. K. Ukah, A new paradigm of Pentecostal power: a study of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2008).

4 Tony Ojo, Let Somebody Shout Hallelujah! The life and ministry of E. A Adeboye (Lagos: Honeycombs cards and prints, 2001) preface.

5 Chinua Achebe, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'",” in Heart of Darkness, An Authoritative Text, background and Sources Criticism (London: W. Norton and Co., 1961), 251-261.

6 Johannes Fabian, Culture, time and the Object of Anthropology (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1982).

7 This image is based on a simplified image of the history of missions that ignores the role of missionaries from ‘the global south’ in their own countries and other countries.

8 Paul Freston “Reverse Mission: A Discourse In Search Of Reality?” PentecoStudies: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Research on the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements 9, no. 2 (2010), 153-174.

9 André Droogers, Cornelis van der Laan and Wout van Laar, eds., Fruitful in this Land. (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2006); Claudia Währisch-Oblau, The Missionary Self-Perception of Pentecostal/Charismatic Church Leaders from the Global South in Europe: Bringing Back the Gospel (Leiden: Brill, 2008); Krause, K. “Cosmopolitan charismatics? Transnational ways of belonging and cosmopolitan moments in the religious practice of New Mission Churches”. Ethnic and Racial Studies 34, nr. 3 (2011): 419-435.


10 Notably Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: the coming of global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Frans Jozef Servaas Wijsen and Robert Schreiter (eds.), Global Christianity: contested claims (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007). Although Jenkins was by no means the first to point towards this shift in the centre of gravity, his book has had a big impact in setting the terms of the debate in a much wider circle than that of missiology, where this was already discussed in the 1980-ies as Martha Frederiks has pointed out: Frederiks, Martha. “World Christianity: A Training School for Multiculturalism.” Exchange 38 (January 2009): 3-20, page 6.)

11 e.g. Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at large: cultural dimensions of globalization (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1996).

12 Shmuel. N Eisenstadt, “Multiple modernities,” Daedalus 129, no. 1 (2000): 1–29.

13 Azonseh F. Ukah, A new paradigm of Pentecostal power; Birgit Meyer, “Christianity in Africa: From African Independent to Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches,” Annual Review of Anthropology 33 (January 1, 2004): 447-474; Birgit Meyer, “‘Make a Complete Break with the past.’Memory and Post-Colonial Modernity in Ghanaian Pentecostalist Discourse,” Journal of Religion in Africa 28, no. 3 (1998): 316–349; Ruth Marshall, Political spiritualities.

14 e.g. Ruth Marshall-Fratani, Between Babel and Pentecost: transnational Pentecostalism in Africa and Latin America (C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2001). See also the journal ‘Pentecostudies’ initiated by the GloPent network on

15 Claudia Währisch-Oblau, The Missionary Self-Perception of Pentecostal/Charismatic Church Leaders from the Global South in Europe: Bringing Back the Gospel (Leiden: Brill, 2008).

16 Grace Davie, The sociology of religion (London etc.: SAGE, 2007), 98-104.

17 Steve Bruce, God is dead: Secularization in the West (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002); Roy Wallis and Steve Bruce, “Secularization: the orthodox model,” Religion and modernization: Sociologists and historians debate the secularization thesis (1992): 8–30; Steve Bruce, “The curious case of the unnecessary recantation: Berger and secularization,” Peter Berger and the Study of Religion, London and New York: Routledge (2001);

18 José Casanova, Public religions in the modern world (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

19James Kennedy and Markha Valenta in Wim B.J.D. van de Donk et al., Geloven in het publieke domein: verkenningen van een dubbele transformatie, WRR verkenningen 13 (Amsterdam University Press, 2006), 23.

20 I used this quote also in a forthcoming publication titled ‘How to deal with the Dutch’ that analyses in more detail the struggles between Nigerian and Dutch notions of what is ‘religious’ and therefore ‘globally applicable’ and what is ‘local’ and therefore adjustable to context in Pentecostal religious practices. Kim Knibbe. “‘How to deal with the Dutch’: the local and the global in the habitus of the saved soul”. In Encounters of Body and Soul in Contemporary Religious Practices. Anthropological Reflections. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2011.

21 Verstraelen in Frans Jozef Servaas Wijsen, Global Christianity: contested claims (Rodopi, 2007), 95-116.

22 Verstraelen in Ibid., 112.

23 Verstraelen in Ibid.

24 Van der Kooi in André Droogers, Cornelis van der Laan, and Wout van Laar, Fruitful in this Land., 117.

25 See especially Marten van der Meulen, “The Continuing Importance of the Local. African Churches and the Search for Worship Space in Amsterdam”, African Diaspora 2, nr. 2 (2009): 159–181; Danielle Koning, “Place, Space, and Authority. The Mission and Reversed Mission of the Ghanaian Seventh-day Adventist Church in Amsterdam”, African Diaspora 2, nr. 2 (2009): 203–226.

26 Peter L. Berger, The sacred canopy: elements of a sociological theory of religion. (New York: Anchor Books, 1990.

27 e.g. Bruce, “The curious case of the unnecessary recantation.”

28 Grace Davie, Europe - the exceptional case: parameters of faith in the modern world (London: Darton Longman & Todd, 2002); “From Obligation to Consumption: A Framework for Reflection in Northern Europe | Davie | Political Theology”, n.d.,; Grace Davie, Religion in Britain since 1945: believing without belonging (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1994).

29 Although this history can be argued to be much more plural than is often assumed in mainstream sociological theories, see e.g. Kocku von Stuckrad, Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge (translation of Was ist Esoterik? Kleine Geschichte des geheimen Wissens) (London: Equinox, 2005).

30 Kim Knibbe, “‘We did not come here as tenants, but as landlords’: Nigerian Pentecostals and the Power of Maps,” African Diaspora 2, no. 2 (2009): 133–158.

31 International Directory 2005-2006 (The Redeemed Christian Church of God, 2005).

32 To African Christians of the former missionary churches, the term ‘reverse mission’ seems to be of more relevance, as Adogame described: conceptualizing themselves as missionaries to the West was part of a process of emancipation from the original sending countries. As Ogbu Kalu summarized: ‘reverse flow is post-colonial critique.’ Ogbu U. Kalu, “African Pentecostalism in Diaspora,” PentecoStudies: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Research on the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements 9, no. 1 (2010): 9-34

33 Ukah, A new paradigm of Pentecostal power.

34 Daddy G.O. is the way that the current leader of the RCCG, Enoch Adejare Adeboye is usually referred to.

35 Birgit Meyer, “'Make a Complete Break with the past.'Memory and Post-Colonial Modernity in Ghanaian Pentecostalist Discourse,” Journal of Religion in Africa 28, no. 3 (1998): 329.

36 Marshall, Political spiritualities, 6.

37 Simon Coleman, The globalisation of charismatic Christianity: spreading the gospel of prosperity (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2000).

38 e.g. Mirjam de Bruijn, Rijk van Dijk, and Dick Foeken, Mobile Africa: changing patterns of movement in Africa and beyond (Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2001); Rijk van Dijk, “From camp to encompassment: discourses of transsubjectivity in the Ghanaian Pentecostal diaspora,” Journal of Religion in Africa 27, no. 2 (1997): 135–159.

39 Gertrud Hüwelmeier, Traveling spirits: migrants, markets and mobilities (New York and London: Routledge, 2009).

40 Van Dijk in Ibid., 105.

41 Marshall, Political spiritualities especially chapter 1 .

42 Ibid., 22.

43 Some of the criticisms Marshall develops seem to be quite justified when looking at the European based views on religion discussed in paragraph two, and certainly when referring to some of the work of the Comaroffs, but it seems to me that the position she stakes out is actually quite close to that of, for example, Meyer.

44 Eisenstadt, “Multiple modernities.”

45 Peter Geschiere, Birgit Meyer and Peter Pels, Readings in modernity in Africa (Oxford: James Currey, 2008), 2.

46 E.g. George E Marcus, “Ethnography in/of the world system: the emergence of multi-sited ethnography,” Annual review of anthropology 24 (1995): 95–117; Simon Coleman and Peter Jeffrey Collins, Locating the field: space, place and context in anthropology (Oxford Berg Publishers, 2006).

47 Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller, “Methodological nationalism and beyond: nation-state building, migration and the social sciences,” Global Networks 2, no. 4 (2002): 301–334; Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller, “Methodological Nationalism, the Social Sciences, and the Study of Migration: An Essay in Historical Epistemology,” International Migration Review 37, no. 3 (2003): 576–610.

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