This project explores the empirical and theoretical implications of the Pentecostal claim that prayer is the “weapon of our warfare.” Focusing on African Pentecostals who see themselves as a new global vanguard with a redemptive mission, I ask what it means to speak of prayer as a weapon, and what are the ethical, political, and theological implications of Pentecostal conceptions of warfare. Prayer is central to a redemptive spiritual life based on a break with the past and conducted according to an ethics of submission to the Holy Spirit, but a politics of resistance to the devil and his works. Prayer is the performative mode in which both submission and resistance are enacted, and through which a political ontology of antagonistic spiritual forces takes specific historical shape and form. For Pentecostals, prayer is thus not merely a technique for communicating with God, constructing the self or the community, but a direct form of action that transforms the world. When practiced collectively in the struggle against the “demonic”, prayer so imagined can make a significant contribution to the construction and transformation of political life. Through extensive ethnographic research and discursive analysis, I explore how prayer is construed and collectively enacted as a form of political praxis, and analyze the political consequences of the increasing influence of African prayer practices on both local and national contexts and the global Pentecostal community. Beyond its empirical findings, my research will make an original contribution to theories of political action and the relationship between religion and politics, arguing that Pentecostal practices of prayer must be understood as forms of political practice in and of themselves.
The project will be based on ethnographic field work and extensive data collection, focusing on the prayer discourses and practices of four Nigerian global ministries and their leaders – Enoch Adeboye’s Redeemed Christian Church of God, Tunde Bakare’s Latter Rain Assembly, Tony Rapu’s This Present House, Matthew Ashimolowo’s Kingsway International Christian Centre—as well as the impact of Nigerian voices in global evangelical organizations like the Lausanne Movement and the US-based World Prayer Centre and their associated prayer networks. Building on my extensive past and current research and considerable expertise on Nigerian Pentecostalism in Nigeria and North America, I will study practices and discourses of what Pentecostals call “warfare prayer,” particularly in its public, collective forms. These practices range from general forms of intercessory prayer seeking the wellbeing of a given collectivity (congregation, city, nation, global community) and its protection against spiritual, economic, political, and social ills, to much more specific techniques of individual and collective intercessory and imprecatory prayer, targeting specific forms of evil and their spatial, cultural or territorial manifestations or implantations, such as the technique of “spiritual mapping” or “territorial warfare” prayers. Empirical methods will include participant observation, interviews, surveys; recordings of services and revival meetings; collection of both print and electronic media products; surveys of mainstream and Christian news media.
The originality of my work lies in its marriage of extensive empirical research and original inter-disciplinary theorizing. This new empirical research will contribute to my ongoing critical theoretical project which attempts to take religious faith seriously, clearing a new analytical and theoretical space in which to address in a non-reductive fashion a phenomenon which directly and explicitly challenges the “secular” forms of thought and knowledge underwriting social scientific understandings of politics and democratic life. My project thus undertakes not only a necessary political critique of religion, but explores the ways in which religious practices of faith may provide a critique of politics.