Research

I’m currently interested in the contemporary nexus between religion and politics and the challenge of clearing an analytical space in which the political productivity of religious discourse and practice may be recognized and analyzed non-reductively. I tentatively consider my response to this challenge as an inquiry into political theology, one which engages with recent critical inquiries in political philosophy and comparative political theory, the study of religion, anthropology, and post-colonial theory which aim to rethink the category of the secular and the future contours of the political in the light of the so-called ‘return of the religious’. These inquiries are being undertaken in the global space-time of the ‘post’ (post-9/11, post-national, post-colonial, post-secular, post-foundational, post-modern), a time of exception and uncertainty in which religious revival appears paradoxically as both a threat and a promise, underscoring the urgency of inquiries into the contemporary nexus of religion and politics. My interest in global religious revival intersects with my engagement with critical democratic theory and contemporary problems of justice, misery, exploitation, and freedom, whose gravity was profoundly reinforced by my thirteen years in Africa.

Projects

Moving Heaven and Earth: Prayer as Political Praxis in Global Pentecostalism
This project, funded by a major grant from the Social Science Research Council’s programme New Directions in the Study of Prayer, explores the empirical and theoretical implications of the Pentecostal claim that prayer is the “weapon of our warfare”. Focusing on African Pentecostals who see themselves as a new global vanguard with a redemptive mission, I ask what it means to speak of prayer as a weapon, and what are the ethical, political and theological implications of Pentecostal conceptions of warfare. For Pentecostals, prayer is not merely a technique for communicating with God, constructing the self or the community, but a direct form of action that transforms the world. When practiced collectively in the struggle against the “demonic”, prayer so imagined can make a significant contribution to the construction and transformation of political life. Through extensive ethnographic research and discursive analysis focusing on the prayer discourses and practices of four Nigerian global ministries and their leaders in Nigeria, the UK and the USA, I will explore how prayer is construed and collectively enacted as a form of political praxis, and analyze the political consequences of the increasing influence of African prayer practices on both local and national contexts and the global Pentecostal community. I focus on practices and discourses of what Pentecostals call “warfare prayer”, particularly in its public, collective forms. Beyond its empirical findings, my research will make an original contribution to theories of political action and the relationship between religion and politics, arguing that Pentecostal practices of prayer must be understood as forms of political practice in and of themselves. The analysis will engage with the work of Giorgio Agamben on the sacramental aspect of language, analyzing Pentecostal prayer as exemplary of the ethico-political thrust of language, as well as approaches of Jacques Rancière and Hannah Arendt to praxis and political speech. I seek to conduct an original reading, beyond the primitivizing paradigm of the anthropological ‘magico-religious’ or the psychologizing paradigms of cognitive approaches. My analysis will enable me to further develop my previous work on Pentecostal political theology, and will constitute a central part of my new book.

Spiritual Warfare: Nigerian Pentecostalism’s Mission to North America
This ongoing project, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Connaught Foundation, builds on my previous work on Nigerian Pentecostalism, examining the dramatic North American expansion of the Nigerian Pentecostal church, The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), since its increasingly publicized implantation in the United States and Canada a little over a decade ago. What is at stake when an African Pentecostal church claims it will plant a church within five minutes drive from every North American? This project will examine the real and not merely rhetorical effects of this African bid to reclaim North America for Jesus: is RCCG’s reverse mission really ‘changing the face of American Christianity’?
watch RCCG’s leader, Pastor Adeboye on CNN; RCCG in Newsweek, New York Times.

Theologico-Political Reflections
Central to the analysis of my empirical research on Pentecostalism is a theoretical examination of Pentecostal political theology, an examination of its theo-cratics, its political ontologies, or onto-theologies, its ‘theories’ and practices of the subject, and the ways in which these interact with contemporary political and economic processes. But beyond the specific empirical case of global Pentecostal or charismatic Christianity, I’m also interested in contributing to theoretical debates around the question of the secular, the status of critique and the future of democratic and emancipatory politics. If there is a nexus that binds the theological to the political, what forms does it take, and is there, or should there be, a way to sever it? In particular, through teaching and writing, I’m exploring the contributions of continental political thought, (Schmitt, Arendt, Benjamin, Derrida, Nancy, Badiou) as well as new directions in anthropology of religion (Talal Asad and others). A preliminary paper engaging with these issues is my The Sovereignty of Miracles (Constellations, 2010). I’ve also written a related blog for the SSRC’s The Immanent Frame, called Falling on the Sword of the Spirit.

The War of Who is Who: Youth, Belonging and the Crisis of Citizenship in the Ivory Coast
This project focused on the central dynamics underlying the politico-military crisis in the Ivory Coast. I traced the trajectory of the crisis of belonging and citizenship which gave rise to the current conflict, specifically the revitalisation and radicalisation of longstanding localised and territorialized notions of belonging (autochthony). Focusing on southern youth, organised into “patriotic” associations, militias and para-military groups, with material and symbolic links to the state and ruling party, I examine how these notions of autochthony are combined with ultra-nationalist and xenophobic discourses and their intersection with other, transnational forms of identification, in particular religious.
Research project funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

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