Spirits and Letters: Reading, Writing and Charisma in African Christianity

Spirits and Letters: Reading, Writing and Charisma in African Christianity

by Thomas G. Kirsch


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780857451422
Publisher: Berghahn Books, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/01/2011
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Thomas G. Kirsch is professor for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Konstanz. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) in 2002 and taught at the Department of Anthropology and Philosophy in Halle (Saale) and at the Department of Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, before coming to the University of Konstanz in 2009. Between 1993 and 2001, he conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Zambia. He has published a book on African Christianity in Zambia and articles in some of the major refereed journals for anthropology and sociology in Germany. Other articles were published in the journals American Anthropologist (2004), Visual Anthropology (2006) and American Ethnologist (2007). Since 2003, he has also conducted fieldwork and published on issues of human safety, security and crime prevention in South Africa.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Notes on Language


  • Charisma – Institution
  • Charisma/Spirit/Orality – Institution/Letter/Literacy
  • African Literate Religion
  • 'Spirit' and 'Letter' in African Christianity
  • Examining Literacy Practices
  • The Fieldwork
  • Outline of the Book


Chapter 1. Colonial Literacies

  • Mission, School and Printing Press
  • Steps towards Secularization
  • Counterforce in Writing
  • What is a School?
  • Resistance and Non-religious Literacies
  • Colonial Bureaucracy
  • Evangelists as Administrators

Chapter 2. Passages, Configurations, Traces

  • At the Edge of the Road
  • On the Road
  • Early Evangelisations
  • Christianity in the 1990s
  • Religious Intersections

Chapter 3. Schooled Literacy, Schooled Religion


  • Enrolment in School
  • After the Ringing of the Bell
  • Recitations of Syllabi
  • Experiences with Mission Schools
  • Contemporary Religious Education

Chapter 4. Literate Cultures in a Material World

  • The Bible as an Everyday Object
  • Literacy in Times of Paper Shortage
  • Getting Hold of Christian Publications
  • Publications as Property

Chapter 5. Indices to the Scriptural

  • Bible Talks
  • Programmatic Visibility
  • References to the Book

Chapter 6. The Fringes of Christianity

  • Blurrings and Criteria
  • Turning Letters Upside Down

Chapter 7. Thoughts about 'Religions of the Book'

  • Book People
  • Scriptural Inerrancy and Authority
  • Canonization and the Bridging of Realms


Chapter 8. Texts, Readers, Spirit

  • Bibles, Versions, Origins
  • Pamphlets and Eclecticism
  • Selections and Combinations
  • Private Readings, Implicit Influences
  • Bible Studies

Chapter 9. Evanescence and the Necessity of Intermediation

  • The Impossibility of Storing the Holy Spirit
  • Objects, Bodies and Spiritual Evanescence

Chapter 10. Setting Texts in Motion

  • Deciphering and Preaching
  • Sediments of the Spirit

Chapter 11. Missions in Writing

  • Literacy Networking
  • The Jehovah's Witnesses: Questions and Answers
  • The New Apostolic Church: Mediation via Circulars
  • Supplements as 'Obligatory Passage Points'
  • Enablement through Denominational Publications

Chapter 12. Enablements to Literacy

  • Rumination and Scholarship
  • Scripture and Enablement
  • Enabling Supplements


Chapter 13. Offices and the Dispersion of Charisma

  • Bureaucracy as Social Practice
  • Organizational Formalization as a Founding Myth
  • Dispersing Charisma, Allocating Offices
  • Charisma, Hierarchies, Variations
  • Ignorance and Mutual Recognition

Chapter 14. Positions of Writers, Positions in Writings

  • Certifications of Authority
  • God's Secretaries
  • Identifications and Registries
  • Fixing Polyvalent Rites of Passage
  • Portrayals of the Momentary

Chapter 15. Outlines for the Future, Documents of the Immediate

  • Agendas as Revelations
  • Reports of the Unpredictable
  • Agendas, Reports, and the Holy Spirit
  • Re-spiritualizing Bureaucracy

Chapter 16. Bureaucracy In-Between

  • Flows and Facades
  • African Christianity and the State
  • Formalizing Social Relations
  • Imagining the State
  • Legacies and Isomorphism
  • Presentations and Concealments
  • Bureaucracy as Pentecostal-charismatic Empowerment

Chapter 17. Epilogue



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