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The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in South Africa
A Church of Strangers


Part of The International African Library

  • Date Published: April 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107686250

£ 23.99

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About the Authors
  • The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), a church of Brazilian origin, has been enormously successful in establishing branches and attracting followers in post-apartheid South Africa. Unlike other Pentecostal Charismatic Churches (PCC), the UCKG insists that relationships with God be devoid of 'emotions', that socialisation between members be kept to a minimum and that charity and fellowship are 'useless' in materialising God's blessings. Instead, the UCKG urges members to sacrifice large sums of money to God for delivering wealth, health, social harmony and happiness. While outsiders condemn these rituals as empty or manipulative, this book shows that they are locally meaningful, demand sincerity to work, have limits and are informed by local ideas about human bodies, agency and ontological balance. As an ethnography of people rather than of institutions, this book offers fresh insights into the mass PCC movement that has swept across Africa since the early 1990s.

    • The first English-language book on the the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) outside of Brazil
    • Describes a new, antisocial form of Christianity in which the definitions of church and religious practice are fundamentally redefined
    • Illustrates how expectations of material efficacy shaped Christianity in this locale
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In what is by far the most profound and wide-ranging study of one of the world's most challenging and disconcerting religious phenomena, Ilana van Wyk has produced a truly engrossing work of ethnography. In its triumphant march out of Brazil and across the globe, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God attracts millions of followers, but also puzzlement, indignation and shock for its success with methods which seem at first sight to be utterly out of keeping with contemporary cultures. This book covers the controversial aspects one by one: money, demonic possession and exorcism; unbearable family tensions amidst poverty and AIDS; and the mysteries of the church's internal dynamics. Some of the case material is deeply distressing, but the analytical fruits will be with us for a long time to come.' David Lehmann, University of Cambridge

    'This excellent study not only offers a sound ethnography of the UCGK's actual pragmatics of faith and its amazing capacity to appear 'globally local' but also challenges established analytical frameworks and moves the study of global Pentecostalism to a new level. It is a truly groundbreaking work that uses the case of an exceptional church to challenge long-held assumptions in the study of religion in Africa at large.' Birgit Meyer, Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands

    'This book chronicles the historical process of mobility, adaptation and transformation of the UCKG in South Africa. Through a bottom-up approach, micro-level discourse, thick ethnographic description and concise elucidation of local internal dynamics, the book illumines another face of global Pentecostalism. Backtracking from grandiose macro-level assumptions about the UCKG, it grounds the Church's appeal, demographic mobility and phenomenal growth within epistemological, ontological and semiotic conditions, emphasising local impulses, agency, and symbolic and ritual repertoires of the local South African religious field.' Afe Adogame, University of Edinburgh

    'Van Wyk's superb analysis of a new kind of church teems with anthropological insight. Her monograph contributes significantly to the study of Christianity in South Africa, building on classical works such as Bengt Sundkler's Bantu Priests and Prophets and Jean Comaroff's Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance.' Isak Niehaus, Brunel University

    'The UCKG is one of the most astounding phenomena of the globalization of Christianity. The foreign country where this Brazilian church has done best is South Africa, representing one of the greatest success stories in south-south religious transnationalism. Ilana van Wyk does more than tell this story; she offers us a portrait of how this unique church functions at the local level in a South African city, and in doing so greatly expands our understanding of its international appeal.' Paul Freston, Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario

    '… offers a thorough (and often troubling) account of the UCKG in South Africa, and more specifically of one large congregation located in Durban … In one of the most insightful parts of her analysis, van Wyk argues that the UCKG's spiritually suspect status was in fact a key source of its power … She includes in her introduction a very nice discussion of the difficulties involved in studying people one does not like - a useful piece of writing that I plan to include in my research methods syllabus next year.' Naomi Haynes, Marginalia Review of Books

    'Every now and then a book is published that unsettles common-sense assumptions about a particular field of study. Ilana van Wyk's … is one such book. [It] is sure to surprise and promises to engender fruitful debates not only in the field of the anthropology of Christianity, but also among scholars interested in the role of religion in Africa more generally … This is an ethnographically rich, multifaceted and broadly contextualised book that not only provides new insights into the UCKG, but also allows us to acquire a better understanding of how impoverished sections of South African society struggle to come to grips religiously with what is experienced as a highly uncertain and threatening life situation … the book offers important and original thoughts that promise to inspire further debate in the anthropology of religion.' Thomas G. Kirsch, Anthropology Southern Africa

    'Most compelling about Ilana van Wyk's book is its anthropological attention to a decidedly un-anthropological topic: asociality. Similarly compelling is van Wyk's challenge to a foundational assumption sustained by scholars of African Christianity: the assumption that community and commensality are intrinsic to the tradition … Van Wyk sets for herself the immensely important task of exploring why so unsociable and, to many, so unsavoury a church has nevertheless found such popularity … Her intention is to document the particularities and peculiarities of the UCKG, and to find within them explanations for the church's appeal. In this, she succeeds wonderfully.' Devaka Premawardhana, Africa

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107686250
    • length: 306 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.5kg
    • contains: 9 b/w illus. 1 map
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Christian warriors and the spiritual warfare
    3. On the frontlines
    4. Women of God, love and marriage
    5. The leaking nature of things
    6. Gossiping demons, strong words and lies
    7. Profit prophets and God's money
    8. Family demons and the blessed life
    9. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Ilana van Wyk, University of Cape Town
    Ilana van Wyk is a researcher at the Institute for Humanities in Africa at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

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