Werbner, “The Charismatic Dividual and the Sacred Self”

October 6, 2011

Werbner, Richard (2011) “The Charismatic Dividual and the Sacred Self” Journal of Religion in Africa 41(2):180-205

Abstract: The notion of `a break with the past’ foregrounds the individual as the new person reborn in Christian churches. Against that, across southern Africa Apostolic churches still face moral and metaphysical predicaments of the person being individual and, alternatively, dividual. The dividual is here taken to be someone who is composite or partible and permeated by others’ emotions and shared substances, including body dirt or sexual and other fluids. These personal predicaments are often experienced as dangerously unsettling—in need of careful spiritual regard, guidance and inspired remedy lest the person suffer ill-being, perhaps even occult harm. Dividuality opens the vulnerable person both to witchcraft attack (enemies may use organic bits for occult purposes, with malicious intent) and to pollution in contact with birth and death. In response, Apostolic church services constitute reformation. They reject indigenous tradition in forms of occult practice with charms and organic medicines—it is a sinful tradition, against God’s commandments and not Christian—but they do not deny the existence of witchcraft; nor do they start wholly afresh, even with the baptised. Apostolics find themselves earthly beings needing help and protection from God in heaven. As faithful Christians and hopeful of temporary relief, they confront the predicaments of alternative personhood within an ongoing war of good and evil. To get closer to God, if only vicariously, Apostolics turn to charismatic prophets as mediators through whom the Word of God can be heard, effectively and powerfully, and whose very bodies speak revealingly, in the gestures and postures of trance, to the needy condition of the faithful. Following a comparison with Catholic Charismatics in New England, this article addresses linguistic and phenomenological questions of Word, self and other with evidence from observed prophetic mediation by young men in séances of Eloyi, a transnational Apostolic church, and its offshoot church, Connolius, at Botswana’s capital. Included are issues of awesome narration, vicarious suffering, empathy with others, sacred cosmetics, and visionary realization.

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