Salvation before the Courts: Religion Freedom, Bodies and Law in South Africa
(University of Leipzig)
Paper short abstract:
This paper discusses contestations of religious citizenship in South Africa in the judicial realm. It offers an ethnographic account of the investigations in 2017/18 of a governmental commission into practices of Pentecostal churches deemed harmful for believers' health, and financial fraud.
Paper long abstract:
This paper discusses contestations of religious citizenship in South Africa in the judicial realm. Over the post-apartheid period, religious activism promoting the right to religious freedom has become increasingly vocal and institutionalized. This activism emerged as a response to the gradual expansion of liberal rights, in particular around gender and sexuality since 1994. At the same time, there have been repeated media scandals centering the presumably criminal practices of some religious groups, in particular Pentecostal churches and a growing sense that religious groups used the legal idiom of religious freedom to cover obscure activities. This paper follows on such allegations by exploring how they are discussed among Pentecostals in the South African city of Cape Town and among the members of a governmental commission (the so-called Commission on the Right of Cultural, Linguistic and Religious Communities) that was tasked to explore and adjudicate them in 2017. In particular, the commission assessed charges against several Pentecostal churches of engaging in practices that were deemed harmful for believers' health, and financial fraud. The paper provides an ethnographic account of these investigations and uses them as a prism to explore the paradoxes, aporia and limits of religious citizenship in a liberal postcolonial polity.
Religion, citizenship and everyday practices in Africa