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Western modernity as culture, ii

Western modernity as culture, ii

Ryan Schram

Mills 169, A26

ryan (dot) schram (at) sydney.edu.au

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/8.2


Haynes, Naomi. 2015. “‘Zambia Shall Be Saved!’: Prosperity Gospel Politics in a Self-Proclaimed Christian Nation.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 19 (1): 5–24. doi:10.1525/nr.2015.19.1.5.

The idea of "modernity" is cultural

  • There is no such thing as modernity, but the idea of modernity is powerful.
  • Many cultures represent their own history as a linear movement.
  • Western cultures' concept of modernity is the liberation of the individual from constraints inherited from the past.
  • When Christianity is adopted by other societies, this idea of liberation can be one of its most powerful influences.

Christianity as site of conjuncture

Christianity is based on individualism

  • Personal, sincere confession
  • Equality of all believers qua moral subjects
  • Individual responsibility for one's relationship to God

Prosperity theology is individualism without asceticism

  • Prayers to God must be answered.
  • Health, success and wealth are what God wants for believers.

Decolonization and development


  • Decolonization of former colonial empires was supposed to create new, “modern” nations.
  • After WWII, European powers and the United Nations would intervene in postcolonial states and help them develop industrial economies.
  • People hoped that postcolonial societies would leave behind traditional identities and structures in favor of individual rights and a Western form of government.


  • Postcolonial societies have always needed to integrate themselves into global capitalism.
  • Even though they are independent, they still have to fit into a specific economic niche.

The Zambian Copperbelt

  • 1924: Copper mines begin operation in Northern Rhodesia
  • 1964: Northern Rhodesia becomes the independent nation of Zambia
  • 1969: 30% of the population lives in an urban area; 19% of people earn wages as their main income.
  • 1970-1986: Copper prices flatten out; the value of Zambian exports falls to one third of its 1970 value.

Zambia went from a success story to a very poor country. It is not underdeveloped; it was developed and then went into decline because of its position in a post-Fordist, global capitalist system (see Ferguson 1999).

The social context of prosperity theology

  • Pentecostal churches are start-up enterprises of Christianity
  • Pastors of prosperity churches often hold themselves up as examples of success, and thus as moral models.
  • The pastor's “charisma” (compelling message, not likeability or popularity) creates a congregation of fellow believers, i.e. a new social identity.
  • Haynes: Prosperity is “socially productive”–The blessed can bless others (Haynes 2013, 87).


Ferguson, James. 1999. Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Haynes, Naomi. 2013. “On the Potential and Problems of Pentecostal Exchange.” American Anthropologist 115 (1): 85–95. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2012.01537.x.

A guide to the unit

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