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Pentecostalism Beyond Belief: Trust and Democracy in a Malawian Township

  • Harri Englund

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 état intérieur qui différencie les croyants des non-croyants. Cet article suggère qu'un concept de confiance est plus adapté à l'étude de l'orientation religieuse chez les chrétiens pentecôtistes de Chinsapo, cité défavorisée de la capitale du Malawi. La confiance est un point critique car même au sein des congrégations pentecôtistes, tout membre peut être l'envoyé du diable. Les pasteurs doivent aussi faire preuve d'une grande indulgence pour encourager l'épanouissement spirituel des moins fervents. Les limites des congrégations pentecôtistes sont souvent perméables, et peu regardantes sur les différences doctrinaires. Les chrétiens pentecôtistes ont également des contacts fréquents avec des membres de leur famille, voisins, clients et collègues qui ne partagent pas leur orientation religieuse. Plutôt 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 cité. Les contextes quotidiens de la vie dans la cité sont aussi importants que le prosélytisme pour créer de la confiance entre les Pentecôtistes et ceux qui n'ont pas encore vécu leur seconde naissance par le Saint Esprit. Contrairement aux opinions qui déplorent que les rapports de confiance particularisés des Africains soient un obstacle à la démocratie, cet article suggère que la confiance généralisée peut naître d'une orientation religieuse particulière. L'article attire l'attention sur les sources réelles de civilité et de confiance en Afrique contemporaine.

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