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People of Adam: Divine Healing and Racial Cosmopolitanism in the Early Twentieth-Century Transvaal, South Africa

  • Joel Cabrita (a1)

This article analyses the intersection between cosmopolitanism and racist ideologies in the faith healing practices of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion. Originally from Illinois, USA, this organization was the period's most influential divine healing group. Black and white members, under the leadership of the charismatic John Alexander Dowie, eschewed medical assistance and proclaimed God's power to heal physical affliction. In affirming the deity's capacity to remake human bodies, church members also insisted that God could refashion biological race into a capacious spiritual ethnicity: a global human race they referred to as the “Adamic” race. Zionist universalist teachings were adopted by dispossessed and newly urbanized Boer ex-farmers in Johannesburg, Transvaal, before spreading to the soldiers of the British regiments recently arrived to fight the Boer states in the war of 1899–1902. Zionism equipped these estranged white “races” with a vocabulary to articulate political reconciliation and a precarious unity. But divine healing was most enthusiastically received among the Transvaal's rural Africans. Amidst the period's hardening segregation, Africans seized upon divine healing's innovative racial teachings, but both Boers and Africans found disappointment amid Zion's cosmopolitan promises. Boers were marginalized within the new racial regimes of the Edwardian empire in South Africa, and white South Africans had always been ambivalent about divine healing's incorporations of black Africans into a unitary race. This early history of Zionism in the Transvaal reveals the constriction of cosmopolitan aspirations amidst fast-narrowing horizons of race, nation, and empire in early twentieth-century South Africa.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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