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Hans Olsson

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Location: Malmö, Sweden

Institution: Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen

Contact: E-Mail

PhD, Global Christianity and Interreligious Relations, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University.

Area interests: Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity in Africa, Christian-Muslim relations, politics of belonging, religion and migration

PhD thesis: Jesus for Zanzibar: Narratives of Pentecostal Belonging, Islam, and Nation



In many of Africa’s multi-religious contexts religious belonging matters and religious identities are at times politicized, making religion part of wider social conflicts. This study addresses a case where the presence of religious difference influences the Muslim-dominated cultural setting of Zanzibar, a context in which Christian minorities recently have become targets in violent events directed against what in the islands was seen as representations of a politically contested Union with Mainland Tanzania. With the attacked churches primarily made up by labor migrants from Mainland Tanzania and the attacks blamed on local Muslim revival groups the events posed questions on the political significance produced in the intersection of religious belonging, ethnonational origins, and Union politics. Based on ethnographic research carried out in Zanzibar 2012 the study addresses the relationship between religious belonging and sociopolitical contestations through the lens of a relatively new, but growing, religious agent; Zanzibar’s largest Pentecostal denomination, the City Christian Center (CCC). A value-based theoretical approached has been used to situate the church in relation to different ethnonational ideological standpoints where Zanzibar’s current role and future part in the United Republic of Tanzania are at the fore. After situating current tensions in the historical production of Zanzibar as formed in distinction to Mainland Tanzania, Chapter Three deals with the relationship between mainland migrants and Zanzibar society from the perspective of Pentecostal Christians’ search for a better life and places Christian belonging as a discursive practice in a context where tensions between opportunities and potential pitfalls. It situates Christianity as a process of an ongoing rupture with the Zanzibar setting that at the same time set salvation in relation to the homeland. Chapter Four looks more closely at the relation between member and church and the role communal ties played in order to maintain a life in salvation and stresses, that contrary to much earlier research on Pentecostal Christianity, the CCC displays a case where salvation is framed as a social value rather than an individual one. However, the chapter also concludes that the value placed on social ties is altered in relation the island / mainland divide, which sustain tensions vis-à-vis the Zanzibar sociocultural sphere meanwhile helps construct the mainland as a coherent category in which Christianity finds common ground. Chapter Five addresses the context of violence in 2012 more deeply by examining how the CCC “goes” and “makes” itself heard and visible in the public sphere, stresses the important role of spiritual activities, and how engagements in a war against evil help produce meaning to violence. Contrasted against some Muslim views on Christian’s public discourse, the aim of creating new social order inherent in the spiritual politics argues for the CCC’s role in social tensions. Chapter Six demonstrates further the political significance of such engagements by discussing the CCC’s relation to the contested political structure of the Union. This shifts the perspective from seeing the CCC as an example of a Christian minority in a Muslim social setting to that of a representative of Zanzibar’s senior, and increasingly Christian, mainland partner in the Union. From the perspective of the CCC, the chapter analyses how views of Christian expansion conflates with the presence of the Union as a joint force for liberating Zanzibar from its Arab and Muslim past and argues that a political responsibility inherent in the CCC’s practices helps understand how Christian belonging merges with notions of national citizenship and the duties to uphold the nation. It suggests that CCC members engage in reproducing already present distinctions between the Zanzibar islands and Mainland Tanzania through their Christian belonging. Consequently, they share lines of demarcations with Muslim revivalists that new and growing Christian churches were signifiers of social change in Zanzibar, although, in contrast to local Muslim politics of belonging which see this negative terms, the CCC viewed it as a positive development. The case of the CCC thus reveals an example where Christian belonging in a highly contextual way capitalizes on and creates meaning out of political tensions. By doing so, they also make the process of becoming a Christian an act of consolidating distinctions between, what in the islands also increasingly is seen as, a Muslim Zanzibar and a Christian Mainland.

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