Accepted Paper:

'Tradition in disguise': struggles over continuity and change in urban Tanzania  

Author:

Hansjörg Dilger (Freie Universität Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper highlights processes of continuity and change in a Neo-Pentecostal church in urban Tanzania. I discuss how notions of the past and the present are contested in the FGBFC in Dar es Salaam with regard to Neo-Pentecostal healing and the revival of 'traditional medicine' in the era of AIDS.

Paper long abstract:

Neo-Pentecostalism in sub-Saharan Africa often takes an ambiguous stance towards the past. Thus in urban Tanzania, as elsewhere in Africa, followers of Neo-Pentecostal churches emphasize that through salvation they made a "break" with their individual and collective histories; correspondingly, they denounce traditional and ritual practices associated with ethnicity and rural kinship networks as "backward" and "superstitious." At the same time, however, Neo-Pentecostal churches in urban Tanzania are - often implicitly only - embracing the past by making it an integral part of their spiritual and moral worlds. This becomes most obvious in the field of healing where supernatural forces that are rooted in possession cults of the Swahili coast have become acknowledged elements of the field of evil powers against which church members are struggling in their everyday lives.

In this paper, I will draw on my fieldwork in the Full Gospel Bible Fellowship Church in Dar es Salaam and show that the church's stance towards the past and the presence is embedded in the wider histories of (Neo-)Pentecostalism and healing in Eastern Africa, as well as in struggles over continuity and change in urban Tanzania. I will argue that perceptions and practices prevailing in the FGBFC cannot be understood by reference to simplistic oppositions like tradition/modernity, religion/science or rural/urban - but are embedded in historical and moral ruptures and continuities which lead to a seemingly paradoxical negotiation of "the past" and "the presence" through Neo-Pentecostal churches in Dar es Salaam.

Panel W017
Problems of continuity and change