May 1, 2014

Taking It to the Streets

Ter-Tech's BMW 3 Series Drift Car at PBIR During Sunset | via flickr user Kim Seng

Ever since NDSP fellow Ebenezer Obadare wrote his delightful piece about Africans praying in their cars, I’ve wanted to reference it in a blog about “auto prayers.” When I started writing that post at “Pray for Me,” my Psychology Today blog, I realized that the practice is one I’ve heard a lot about in the United States too.

People often talk and write about praying in their houses or in the house of God, or at hospital beds or over meals. But one of the places people pray the most and talk about the least is in the car. In fact, lots of miracles center on cars.

Read the full post, “Taking It To The Streets.”

June 27, 2013

Thoughts on People, Spirits, and Things

Professor Ebenezer Obadare’s article provides a welcome addition to social science discussions on materiality, mobility, and religiosity. These discussions come in many forms, move in different directions, and weave their way through many recent concerns and theoretical turns. His proposal—vehicular religiosities—promises much, and usefully highlights one arena of material-religiosity-on-the-move that has received surprisingly little attention in Africa. Surprisingly, I say, because “vehicular religiosities” are some of the most striking features of African urbanity today. Obadare is clearly onto something, and not just in West Africa.

In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where I have worked for many years, one cannot but be struck—seduced, actually—by the constant swarm of brightly-painted, smoke-billowing, decibel-generating minibuses called daladala. These vehicles are often adorned with religious icons inside and out; bear banners like “In God we Trust”; and are heavily-loaded not just with passengers and goods, but also with manifold spiritual rules and prayers that (hopefully) keep them on the road and turning a tidy profit. All the more so for long-haul buses, which move people and their stuff at breathtaking speeds between Tanzania’s urban centres and far-flung villages across the nation. These buses are marvelous, baroque creations, vested with hyper-excesses of air horns and flashing lights, blaring music and shimmering logos—”God Bless Us,” “Over the Top,” “Praise the Lord,” “Voice of Allah”—all exquisitely-painted, top to bottom, with everything from ocean scenery to Tanzanian shillings to Jesus.


April 30, 2013

Vehicular Religiosities: Importuning God Behind (and Concerning) the Automobile

Fueled by Faith: Driven by Prayer

The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, once told his congregation about an extraordinary event that happened to him while on a road trip in Nigeria. He had left the city of Onitsha in the eastern Nigerian state of Anambra, and, as is frequently the case these days, the region and the rest of the country was in the grip of an acute petrol shortage. Because of this, he was unable to buy petrol for the car he was traveling in, as was his intention, in the adjoining city of Asaba, a short six miles away. By the time he arrived in Ore, about 134 miles from Asaba, his fuel indicator was firmly leaning toward “empty,” meaning that he had to get petrol for the car immediately. But then, something out of this world happened. According to Pastor Adeboye, it was at that juncture (junction?) that God, apparently seeing his dilemma, instructed him to proceed without looking at his fuel gauge. From that point onward, pastor Adeboye, so the account went, drove his car straight on to his residence in Surulere, Lagos (an additional 103 miles), without bothering to stop for—and apparently not needing—petrol.

Some will argue, and correctly too, that this account strains credulity. But in the context of comparable testimonies of super-ordinary “divine interventions” (the gold standard here being the Sorcery-to-Salvation accounts of Emmanuel Eni and Kaniaki Mukendi respectively), the truth is that it is by no means unique. In the world of African Pentecostals in fact, there is actually a correlation between the spectacularity of the specific “tribulation” that a believer, often through prayer and fasting, purports to have “overcome,’ and his or her perceived spiritual bona fides. Pastor Adeboye’s testimony did his halo no harm at all. Yet, while a Waoh!-eliciting testimony certainly benefits the testimonier, it would seem to benefit their congregation or church even more. At the very least, it is a certificate of apostolic authenticity; proof that the congregation—if not the pastor who is in charge of it—is on good terms with God. In West Africa, certainly in Ghana and Nigeria, testimonies are thus powerful drivers of inter-congregational mobility.