Accepted Paper:

Born Again Identity and Self-Accomplishment in Contemporary Kenya  


Yonatan N. Gez (Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how Kenya's popular Born Again movement, with its promise of profound personal transformation, introduces new ideals for self-accomplishment.

Paper long abstract:

Among Kenyan Pentecostals, the emphasis on accepting Salvation and becoming Born Again is thought of as entailing, in a real—spiritual—sense, an experience of rebirth that is imagined in terms of discontinuity with the past and redemption from its sometimes-haunting qualities (Engelke, 2010; Meyer, 1998; 2004). For example, Pentecostals may turn away from traditional practices such as the payment of bride price. They are expected to embody values of wholesome living, including marital faithfulness, decency, non-violence and abstinence from alcohol (Maxwell, 1998). These values are especially appealing to women, who wish for reliable and faithful partners, while men are perceived as the heads of the household and the natural breadwinners. This conception of masculinity has been characterized as "soft patriarchy" by Wilcox (2004): "Pentecostalism makes a meaningful contribution by shaping 'soft masculinities', that is, concepts of manhood defined by values such as sexual abstinence, marital faithfulness, family involvement" (van Klinken, 2011, p. 111). For example, the new Kenyan Marriage Bill, which passed in March 2014 and which recognizes five different types of marriage, clearly identifies a "Christian marriage" as monogamous while allowing for polygamy within "customary marriage". In my paper, I will show how the Kenyan Born Again movement provides a space and cultural context that allow an alternative path towards adulthood, guided by values that are in tension with traditional ones (e.g. owning land, paying bridewealth, being a dominant polygamous male).

Panel P083
Coming of Age in a Time of Change: New Forms of Gendered Self-Accomplishment in (East) Africa and beyond