Spirits and Letters: Reading, Writing and Charisma in African Christianity

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Berghahn Books, 2008 - Religion - 274 pages

Studies of religion have a tendency to conceptualise 'the Spirit' and 'the Letter' as mutually exclusive and intrinsically antagonistic. However, the history of religions abounds in cases where charismatic leaders deliberately refer to and make use of writings. This book challenges prevailing scholarly notions of the relationship between 'charisma' and 'institution' by analysing reading and writing practices in contemporary Christianity. Taking up the continuing anthropological interest in Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity, and representing the first book-length treatment of literacy practices among African Christians, this volume explores how church leaders in Zambia refer to the Bible and other religious literature, and how they organise a church bureaucracy in the Pentecostal-charismatic mode. Thus, by examining social processes and conflicts that revolve around the conjunction of Pentecostal-charismatic and literacy practices in Africa, Spirits and Letters reconsiders influential conceptual dichotomies in the social sciences and the humanities and is therefore of interest not only to anthropologists but also to scholars working in the fields of African studies, religious studies, and the sociology of religion.

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List of Illustrations
Colonial Literacies
Passages Configurations Traces
Schooled Literacy Schooled Religion
Literate Cultures in a Material World
Indices to the Scriptural
The Fringes of Christianity
Thoughts about Religions of the Book
Setting Texts in Motion
Missions in Writing
Enablements to Literacy
Offices and the Dispersion of Charisma
Positions of Writers Positions in Writings
Outlines for the Future Documents of the Immediate
Bureaucracy Inbetween

Texts Readers Spirit
Evanescence and the Necessity of Intermediation

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About the author (2008)

Thomas G. Kirsch is professor for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Konstanz. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) in 2002 and taught at the Department of Anthropology and Philosophy in Halle (Saale) and at the Department of Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, before coming to the University of Konstanz in 2009. Between 1993 and 2001, he conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Zambia. He has published a book on African Christianity in Zambia and articles in some of the major refereed journals for anthropology and sociology in Germany. Other articles were published in the journals American Anthropologist (2004), Visual Anthropology (2006) and American Ethnologist (2007). Since 2003, he has also conducted fieldwork and published on issues of human safety, security and crime prevention in South Africa.

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