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A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church (Anthropology of Christianity) (The Anthropology of Christianity) Paperback – 5 Jun 2007


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"An insightful inquiry into a fascinating ethnographic case." -- Thomas Kirsch Journal Of The Royal Anthropological Inst 20080301 "A rich and rewarding book, A Problem of Presence contributes to a number of fields and brings them into new alignments." Journal Of Religion In Africa 20071201 "An important contribution, not just to scholarship on the African Church, but also to an emerging anthropology of Christianity." -- David Maxwell Books & Culture 20090201 "Highly useful for readers interested in African studies, religious studies, the anthropology of Christianity, the history of African churches, and social movements in Africa." -- Erica Bornstein H-Safrica 20090101 "A remarkably insightful book." Gladys Ganiel 20100709

About the Author

Matthew Engelke is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at London School of Economics and Political Science.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Anthropology of Religion 6 April 2012
By Nate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While anthropologists can usually be counted on to empathize with local cultures and religions, they cannot in my opinion always be counted on to engage the underlying theologies at work in various religious movements, often focusing instead on the political and social aspects of religion. I find Engelke's book to be an exception to this characterization, however.

He shows evidence of solid anthropological work in his description of the history, prayer practices, and theologies of a group called the Friday Apostolics in modern day Zimbabwe, but also goes beyond this by placing their distinctive characteristic (rejection of the physical Bible) in conversation with a larger history of Christian reflection of what Engelke terms the "problem of presence" (Christ's simultaneous presence yet absence in the world). Thus instead of being left with the simple lesson that one's definitions of Christianity and Pentecostalism can be stretched, one is left with a good idea of how new forms of Christianity are wrestling with old questions and producing creative new answers. (even if the answers are heretical by the standards of historical Christian orthodoxy)

As always, the focus on particularity in anthropological methodology means if you are looking to just know more about African Christianity or Pentecostalism in Africa, then other books would probably be more useful. This book does, however, show how an examination of a specific form of Christianity can be used to bring new insights into discussions happening in other disciplines. In general, a thought-provoking, well researched, and recommended book.
A most interesting read 2 May 2014
By TCCAmadala - Published on Amazon.com
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The author is an anthropologist of religion at the London School of Economics, and this book won the 2009 Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing. Thus it is not so much a church history book as an anthropological analysis of a branch of the well-known Zimbabwean independent/indigenous church known as the Masowe apostles. The particular group he studied meets on Fridays, not on Saturdays as most of the other groups do, although most of these churches can be traced to Johane Masowe’s 1932 vision in what is now Zimbabwe (there is a helpful biographical section on Masowe). The other distinctive of the Friday Masowe group is that it they do not read the Bible, and that is an important aspect of this book. This church insists on having a “live and direct” faith, not one that depends on a material book, and claims that Jesus and the apostles did not have a Bible, either—so biblical truth is greater than the biblical text. They depend on the Holy Spirit alone, and healing is a major emphasis, as with other Masowe groups. The main focus of his concern is stated in the concluding chapter: “The problem of presence [i.e., the Holy Spirit] is a problem of representation—of how words, objects and actions get defined as such and, in the process, become significant.” The author provides helpful historical and cultural background, noting that early missionaries and colonialists sometimes used books to subjugate indigenous people, and that individual dependence on the written word can replace the African traditional emphasis on community. He contrasts the teachings of Henry Venn and Robert Moffat, both strong supporters of Bible translation, with that of the Friday Masowe group, and outlines how such positions relate to other Africans such as Desmond Tutu of South Africa and political leader Canaan Banana of Zimbabwe (the former said the Bible led to liberation; the latter to exploitation—because the missionaries gave Africans the Bible and took their land). The author also shows familiarity with Zimbabwe church historians Terence Ranger and Clive Dillon-Malone who have both written on the African Apostles. The book is carefully researched and includes long sections on the author’s contacts with individual leaders and other members. Because it is primarily an ethnographic study and sometimes relies on technical terminology, it is not a book that will have wide interest outside of southern Africa and cultural anthropologists. Readers in theological circles may be frustrated that, as an anthropologist, the author hesitates to make moral judgments on issues such as the possession of “other” spirits and a key contact/leader being convicted of raping the women who came for healing (“for me it is a sociological point, not a religious one”). Many Christians will also be troubled by the group’s avoidance of Scripture, for as John Stott aptly wrote, “The Spirit of God leads the people of God to submit to the Word of God.” This book shows how a group that considers itself Christian can leave Christian truth behind in their search for relevance to their context.
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