Violent Conversion

Brazilian Pentecostalism and Urban Women in Mozambique

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Linda Van de Kamp
Religion in Transforming Africa
  • Suffolk, UK: 
    Boydell & Brewer
    , October
     248 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In Violent Conversion, Linda van de Kamp shares her anthropological field work, unveiling the complicated dynamics of Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel among urban Mozambican woman. She begins by examining the relationship between Brazilian Pentecostalism and southern Africa, which mainly began in the late 1990s through intense missionary activity. Many Brazilian Pentecostals maintain that evil spirits were brought to South America through the slave trade. For them, Africa is the root of evil, and thus, must be evangelized. In comparison to other Pentecostal churches, Brazilian Pentecostal denominations, such as the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, present greater appeal to Mozambican worldviews. Their application of expressive passion and direct dealings with black magic make a stronger cultural connection with Mozambicans, especially women, who seek independence, egalitarian relationships, and financial success.

Van de Kamp describes Pentecostal churches in Mozambique as “spiritual war zones.” According to its adherents, spirits prevent a variety of life events, including financial well-being, marriage, and the conception of children. In church services, Pentecostals combat demonic powers by screaming and stomping—to crush demons—and engaging in exorcisms. Evil spirits are also blamed for attaching themselves to individuals and engaging in sexual intercourse with their hosts—a relatively common phenomenon in Mozambique. In these cases, church leadership teaches that an in-filling of the Holy Spirit helps to prevent these sexual violations. Regardless of how demons attack, pastors encourage the afflicted to supplement corporate spiritual warfare with individual practices, including prayer, offerings, and fasting.

Van de Kamp discerns that many attendees of Pentecostal churches convert from Catholic or mainline Protestant denominations. Most claim that their previous churches are ill-equipped to deal with life’s problems. This complaint is especially true of women who endure domestic violence and struggle with polygamous husbands; they hope for a break from the past, which is one reason for not attending a traditional church. Pentecostal churches facilitate this break by encouraging its members to obey God rather than to be beholden to their families’ expectations. Moreover, church-sponsored workshops on love, sexuality, and marriage provide attendees additional support and guidance. Typically, these sorts of topics are taboo in Mozambique, but Brazilian influences encourage and facilitate such conversations. Their teachings enable independence and give Mozambican women tools to deal with daily struggles.

Van de Kamp’s research reveals that Brazilian-influenced Pentecostalism generates both positive and negative byproducts. She recounts, “In Mozambique, I observed how Pentecostalism stimulates people’s agency, self-worth and upward socio-economic mobility” (23). It empowers them to be independent and to seek egalitarian relationships. Women, who are looking for success—both educationally and financially—are particularly drawn to these features (26), and some find it. On the other hand, many women fail to achieve success or are unable to sustain it.

Van de Kamp encountered several individuals, mostly women, who had achieved financial success, only to lose it. These people had given most of their money to the church because Pentecostal pastors routinely encourage a radical donation from their members when routine tithing is not effective in battling evil spirits. Van de Kamp writes, “I witnessed how many converts ultimately lose substantial amounts of money and sometimes even their businesses as a result of the financial demands placed on them by the church” (23). She also recalls a member who was pressured by the pastor to sell his house and to donate this money to the church. Ultimately, a significant number of individuals leave Pentecostal churches as a result of the financial stress placed upon them there.

The challenges produced by Pentecostal churches extend beyond the financial domain. Van de Kamp argues that conversion is “an ongoing process of fighting the impact of negative powers on women’s lives” (129). She adds that it can be “rewarding and promising for upwardly mobile women, but it can also increase stress and hardship” (130). Church teachings give women a sense of power over men, but they also put women in difficult situations. Solving one problem seems to generate another. For instance, many upwardly mobile women from Pentecostal churches struggle to find a suitable partner, and Mozambican culture views marriage as superior to being single. Family members generally become suspect of women who break with tradition and question the established churches’ teachings. Relationships, as a result, are commonly severed. In some instances, church teachings cause hardships in marriages because they perceive promiscuous husbands as having evil spirits. As women make changes to their lives, churches regularly fail to integrate men. Consequently, some women experience “increased loneliness, distrust and loss” (160).

Van de Kamp’s book provides a valuable insight into the multifaceted nature of religion, economics, and social relations in Mozambique. Moreover, it demonstrates the complicated dynamics produced by the forces of globalization. Her text shows that Christianity in the global South, particularly Pentecostalism, not only experiences shifts due to missionary activity from Western churches, but it also reveals increasing missionary activity from “South-South transnational ties.” Ultimately, these relationships may influence the shape of global Christianity in the twenty-first century more than any other factor. Van de Kamp’s research initiates the conversation about this South-South dynamic and is likely one case study of many more to come. For this reason, her text is not only an indispensable resource for scholars studying religion in Africa, but also for those researching global Christianity and Pentecostalism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David Bradnick is Instructor in Philosophy at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Date of Review: 
January 29, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Linda van de Kamp is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


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