Political Spiritualities book cover

“Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria” by Ruth Marshall

Assistant Professor Ruth Marshall‘s 2009 book, pictured at right, has already received rave reviews. Jean-François Bayart, of the French National Center for Scientific Research, writes,

“This is one of the most original works in the social sciences that I’ve read in several years. Much more than a simple monograph that will be vital for an understanding of religious and political life in Nigeria, this book addresses all those interested in the significance of contemporary religious phenomena. Through her energetic prose, exceptional fieldwork, and clear mastery of the theoretical and ethnographic literature, Marshall offers a new perspective on religious action and social and political transformations in sub-Saharan Africa, while also making a major contribution to the historical and comparative study of religion.”

Professor Marshall is now working on a new research project, for which she was awarded a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Standard Research Grant in 2010. Entitled “Spiritual Warfare: Nigerian Pentecostalism’s Mission to North America,” this project brings a new perspective to the nexus of religion and politics by exploring a recent and significant manifestation of the so-called “return of the religious.”

The extraordinary global expansion of Pentecostal Christianity over the past three decades has been called the revolution that wasn’t supposed to happen. Professor Marshall’s new research is examining the political implications of this revolution by focusing on a recent and even more unexpected development: the re-evangelization of the north by Pentecostals from the post-colonial south. She will examine a specific case of this reverse mission, the dramatic North American expansion of the Nigerian Pentecostal church, The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), since its implantation in the United States and Canada a little over a decade ago. What is at stake when an African Pentecostal church claims it will plant a church within five minutes drive from every North American?

In April 2009, the New York Times Magazine published a feature article with this bold front-page headline: “Changing the Face of American Christianity?” (New York Times Magazine, 18.04.09). The subject of the article was the dramatic North American expansion of the RCCG, whose General Overseer, Pastor Enoch A. Adeboye, had been ranked 49th in Newsweek magazine’s 2008 list of the world’s “50 Most Powerful People” (Newsweek, 20.12.08). With 384 parishes in the United States and 58 in Canada, in little more than a decade Pastor Adeboye has made significant inroads in his increasingly publicized ambition to plant a church within five minutes drive of every North American. Professor Marshall’s contention is that Pentecostal practices cannot be fully recognized or understood from within the tacitly or explicitly functionalist paradigms of social science, but rather require a philosophical reframing. Indeed, the unexpectedness of the Pentecostal revolution should make us question the assumptions behind those theories that failed to see it coming, and which continue to treat religious revival as derivative, reactionary or as one of modernity’s unfortunate ‘effects’ which can be resolved by the full realization of its unfinished project.