Since the emergence of COVID-19, a number of media commentators and academics have reflected on the spiritualisation of the pandemic among responses in different African settings.
Theres been particular interest in the influence of prominent Pentecostal pastors on public health messaging. Some have expressed concern about the possible consequences of their invocations of spiritual warfare.
Weve examined how idioms of (spiritual) warfare have been deployed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and wish to bring a broader perspective to recent debates about these dynamics. We consider examples from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, drawing on our ongoing research in these settings.
Many Pentecostal Christians, in Africa as well as other continents, portray the coronavirus as a spiritual force of evil rather than as a biomedical disease.
Through this lens, the world is presented as a battleground between God and the agents of Satan. For those who enlist to fight for Jesus, the most effective weapon is prayer.
Spiritual warfare provides a framework for explaining and responding to both mundane and extraordinary events from a cancelled flight to a global pandemic. But despite their close association with Pentecostals, these militarised idioms may also resonate with other groups.
In Zimbabwe, Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa has been criticised for reassuring his congregants that they will be spared from the virus. This will happen through prayer and the divine protection he mediates. You will not die, because the Son is involved in what we are doing, he says, calling it
the freedom that no medication can offer.
This declaration epitomises a sense of Pentecostal exceptionalism, embodied in the claim to be in this world but not of this world. It clearly risks instilling a level of complacency among his followers about the threat of the virus. It amplifies the possibility of noncompliance with government safety measures.
Prophet Makandiwa has also been accused of perpetuating conspiracy theories. Drawing Biblical allusions to the mark of the beast, he has warned followers about microchip implants. These, he predicts, will accompany future vaccination campaigns. This claim has also been made by pastors elsewhere in the African continent.
In Uganda, steps have already been taken to prosecute pastors spreading misinformation.
Efforts to spiritualise the virus have also been pursued by some African leaders. For example, Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli described COVID-19 as a demon (shetani). Through it Satan seeks to destroy Tanzanian citizens.
Despite the government promoting physical distancing, he declared that churches or mosques would not be closed because this is where God and true healing (uponyaji wa kweli) are found.
Invoking the idiom of spiritual warfare, Magufuli explained that COVID-19
cannot survive in the Body of Jesus (and) will be burned away.
Commentators have observed that Magufuli is himself a Roman Catholic (albeit with Pentecostal ties). Yet few have acknowledged his implication that God can also be found in mosques, nor his recommendation that Tanzanians also embrace indigenous medicinal practices for protection.
In a country where Christians dont constitute a clear religious majority, Magufuli invokes the rhetoric of spiritual warfare to articulate a sense of national religious identity.
These invocations mostly adopt a rhetorical style reminiscent of Pentecostal pastors but maintain a broad, inclusive focus on God (Mungu).
Tanzanians responded enthusiastically to Magufulis call for citizens of every faith to participate in three days of national prayer. Many took to social media to circulate photos and videos featuring the Tanzanian flag and words of prayer.
Yet a growing number of commentators have criticised Magufuli. As with Makandiwa, they argue that his use of spiritual warfare rhetoric generates a dangerous expectation of viral immunity.
Some commentators have taken Magufulis emphasis on prayer to be emblematic of the governments perceived failure to adequately address the pandemic.
The government, say critics, has fallen prey to superstitious thinking. Some draw allusions to the use of water-based medicine in the Maji Maji rebellion against German colonial rule.
As others have observed, the act of giving spiritual agency to the virus as a personal demon can also serve to downplay structural failures which have contributed to its spread. It divests responsibility to both COVID-19 as a sentient enemy and citizens.
There is a risk, however, that exaggerating the idiosyncrasy of the Tanzanian governments response to COVID-19 and indeed that of Prophet Makandiwa may perpetuate another myth of exceptionalism. One which echoes colonial depictions of African populations as singularly superstitious and incurably religious.
In truth, spiritual warfare idioms have been diversely invoked and unevenly received across the continent. They have prompted lively religion and science debates.
Moreover, the plausibility of spiritual warfare idioms should not be exclusively attributed to peoples religious sensibilities. After all, warfare is the signature trope with which global political figures, health experts, and media commentators have framed COVID-19.
Like Magufuli, world leaders like the UKs Boris Johnson, Frances Emmanuel Macron and the USs Donald Trump have all invoked warfare motifs against the single, identifiable enemy.
European governments have also been accused of using this framing to shift responsibility onto citizens as combatants, whether for failing to adhere to physical distancing or for their biomedical frailty. Narratives of individuals heroically winning their war against a decidedly personal demon are no less persuasive to some in Europe than to some in Africa.
None of this is intended to take away from the ambivalent and sometimes plainly harmful effects of attempts to spiritualise the pandemic. Nor is it to imply that religiously informed strategies of communication and implementation are incompatible with more temporal methods.
Religious groups like Pentecostal congregations may indeed constitute an important public health resource when it comes to delivering services and messaging. And they can cultivate a sense of hope and mutual care in the face of uncertainty.
Rather, we suggest as anthropologists and scholars of religion, this warfaring rhetoric might stem from a shared discomfort among Africans and Europeans alike at the prospect of an adversary without discernible self-will or conscience. An impersonal demon.
As literary critic Anders Engberg-Pederson articulates it:
We declare war on the virus, because we want it to be something that it is not.
See the article here:
- The Covid-19 pandemic tests everyone's spiritual wellbeing, atheists and believers alike - NBC News - September 21st, 2020
- Author Shares Journey of Spiritual Discovery and Healing in New Book - GlobeNewswire - September 21st, 2020
- Assemblies of God (USA) Official Web Site | Reaping a Spiritual Harvest - AG News - September 21st, 2020
- Autumn equinox spiritual meaning: What is the meaning behind the autumnal equinox? - Express - September 21st, 2020
- One Thing I Ask of YHWH: Humility and the Spiritual Search - jewishboston.com - September 21st, 2020
- Special Online Event: Being In The Now - A Spiritual Perspective - Patch.com - September 21st, 2020
- New priests will spark a 'spiritual pandemic' - The Catholic Weekly - September 21st, 2020
- From the Pulpit: God with us in time of spiritual warfare - The Daily Times - September 21st, 2020
- Owusu Bempah gives detailed account of how things work in the spiritual realm - GhanaWeb - September 21st, 2020
- This Life: Spiritual poverty is the real problem - Sight Magazine - September 21st, 2020
- FEC Chair Says There's No Separation of Church and State, Calls 2020 Election a 'Spiritual War' - Newsweek - September 21st, 2020
- Beatification cause opened for spiritual son of Padre Pio - Catholic News Agency - September 21st, 2020
- SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: Find your serenity in these crazy days - Wicked Local Georgetown - September 21st, 2020
- Faith matters: Awaken the spiritual artist within | Lifestyle - thereporteronline.com - September 21st, 2020
- Leaders in Peace Building, Science, Mindfulness and Spirituality to Transmit the Experience of Peace to 40 Million People Across the Globe on... - September 21st, 2020
- Sultan Hanfareh Ali Mirah, the spiritual chief of the Afars, passed away - ethiopiaobserver.com - September 21st, 2020
- 350km from Lucknow, 'Bhagwati Van' to be the spiritual tourism hub in UP - Knocksense - September 21st, 2020
- Free the Mass! A Call to Spiritual Arms for the Right to Worship - National Catholic Register - September 21st, 2020
- A Maltese artists quest for the spiritual - Times of Malta - September 21st, 2020
- Faith Matters: We are coming into an era of spiritual awakening - New Haven Register - September 4th, 2020
- SPIRIT MATTERS: In matters of the spirit, spirituality matters - LaSalle News Tribune - September 4th, 2020
- Science And Spirituality Sing Together - Wisconsin Public Radio News - September 4th, 2020
- Guiding Light: Spirituality and morality - Free Press Journal - September 4th, 2020
- Spiritual Resiliency Trips in the Holy Land - kacc.nrmc.amedd.army.mil - September 4th, 2020
- Uzbek TV Urges Battle Against 'Spiritual Viruses' (Homosexuality And Feminism) Threatening The Nation - Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty - September 4th, 2020
- Harvest Moon spiritual meaning: What does the September Full Moon mean for you? - Express - September 4th, 2020
- Spiritually Speaking: Lets hear it for our teachers - Wicked Local Norwood - September 4th, 2020
- Cardinal Parolin says there's a spiritual harmony between Francis and Benedict XVI - La Croix International - September 4th, 2020
- 'God Has Not Left Them': Operation Blessing and Others Offer Aid and Spiritual Hope for Laura Survivors - CBN News - September 4th, 2020
- Material and spiritual acts - Daily Pioneer - September 4th, 2020
- Serving those who serve others: behavioral health and spiritualitys role to encourage resiliency - United States Army - September 4th, 2020
- Reawakening Of Pagan India And The Challenge It Can Pose To Abrahamic Worldviews: Part I - Swarajya - September 4th, 2020
- Review: Essay collection Vesper Flights reveres beauty, birds and spirituality - San Francisco Chronicle - August 31st, 2020
- God Is Dead. So Is the Office. These People Want to Save Both - The New York Times - August 31st, 2020
- Safety and spirituality: Youth groups plan to meet in-person during pandemic - Roanoke Times - August 31st, 2020
- Spiritual Coffee and the Path toward Wokeness - Patheos - August 31st, 2020
- Republican National Convention kicks off with a near spiritual devotion to Trump - CNBC - August 31st, 2020
- Coronavirus Lockdowns Are Creating a Mental Health and Spiritual Crisis - The National Interest - August 31st, 2020
- They also serve who only stand and wait: Ethical and spiritual response to the covid-19 pandemic - The BMJ - The BMJ - August 31st, 2020
- Spiritual advisor says Keith Nelson is resigned to fact he will be executed Friday - WTHITV.com - August 31st, 2020
- Bushido Blade Spiritual Successor Die By The Blade Heads To Kickstarter For PS4, PS5 - PlayStation Universe - August 31st, 2020
- Korra's Spiritual Connection Goes Beyond Her Role as the Avatar - CBR - Comic Book Resources - August 31st, 2020
- Spiritual Side: Learn about services and events of local houses of worship - The West Volusia Beacon - August 31st, 2020
- Pope Francis spiritually united with pilgrims honouring Our Lady of Czestochowa - Vatican News - August 31st, 2020
- Remembering Richard The Rev Ricci: Pitt alum and spiritual force behind Night of the Living Dead - University of Pittsburgh The Pitt News - August 31st, 2020
- Without Reservation: Awakening to Native American Spirituality 08/25 by BITEradio me | Spirituality - BlogTalkRadio - August 31st, 2020
- OPINION/SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: Neither snow nor rain nor politics - Wicked Local Fall River - August 31st, 2020
- A Spiritual Walk: What is your perfect vision for healing the world? - New Baltimore Voice Newspapers - August 10th, 2020
- ISSUES OF FAITH: The spirituality of the ordinary - Peninsula Daily News - August 10th, 2020
- SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: It is our religious calling - News - Wicked Local Plymouth - August 10th, 2020
- The Orthodox Female Spiritual Leader Working with Converts - Jewish Journal - August 10th, 2020
- As coronavirus curtails travel, backyard pilgrimages become the way to a spiritual journey - The Conversation US - August 10th, 2020
- For Ottessa Moshfegh, Novel Writing Is a Spiritual Experience - The Nation - August 10th, 2020
- The role of kindness in the spiritual life - Aleteia IT - August 10th, 2020
- Why Mennonites, Lutherans and other say farming has a spiritual side - Deseret News - August 10th, 2020
- SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: A trip to the movies - Milford Daily News - August 10th, 2020
- The pandemic can be more than purgatory. It can be a time of deep spiritual formation. - The Dallas Morning News - August 10th, 2020
- Police violence meets spiritual resistance in the struggle over DAPL - NationofChange - August 10th, 2020
- Spiritually Speaking: Don't Throw Your Own Pity Party and Attend - Dallasweekly - August 10th, 2020
- Spiritual Reflections: It has been a season of humility - SW News Media - August 10th, 2020
- Live: Raising Emotionally and Spiritually Healthy Bochurim - Anash.org - Good News - August 10th, 2020
- KATHIE DEASY Ironclad sparks ideas of being armed in spiritual iron - Port Arthur News - The Port Arthur News - August 10th, 2020
- '90 Day Fianc': Kalani and Asuelu Reveal Their Rare, Unconventional Shared Spiritual Belief in New Sneak Peek - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - August 10th, 2020
- Adult faith formation thriving although different due to COVID - Baptist News Global - August 10th, 2020
- As coronavirus curtails travel, backyard pilgrimages become the way to a spiritual journey - The Wilton Bulletin - August 10th, 2020
- New Book Offers Much Needed Spiritual Nourishment to Caregivers - PRNewswire - August 10th, 2020
- National webinar on "How to manage stress through science and spirituality" organized - Nagpur News - August 10th, 2020
- Ayala: San Antonios little-known spiritual forest will be preserved in perpetuity - San Antonio Express-News - August 10th, 2020
- Health First's Pastoral Care Teams Turn to Technology to Deliver Spiritual Care and Compassion - SpaceCoastDaily.com - August 10th, 2020
- Katy Perry said she and Orlando Bloom bound by 'spiritual evolution' - Insider - INSIDER - August 10th, 2020
- Global Spiritual Forum The Island - The Island.lk - August 10th, 2020
- From the Archive: Going to a spiritual place in Barry - Barry and District News - August 10th, 2020
- Suikoden Creators On Making A Spiritual Follow-Up To The Classic JRPG - GameSpot - August 10th, 2020
- Why Irans highest spiritual chief Khamenei began a Twitter account in Hindi, know the motive - Pledge Times - August 10th, 2020
- City Lights: Sit with Yuri Schwebler's Spiritual Art or Probe Your Psyche with Project Implicit - Washington City Paper - August 10th, 2020
- SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: A trip to the movies - Wicked Local Sharon - August 9th, 2020
- World Music Innovators Turning Jewels Into Water Fuse The Spiritual With Digital On Their New Album - Recording Academy | Grammys - August 9th, 2020
- Ram Temple a great place to take plunge into the pool of spirituality, will promote spiritual tourism, says Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel - New... - August 9th, 2020
- Small Changes Can Lead to Big Results | Spiritual and Physical Wellness - ChicagoNow - August 9th, 2020
- Life and Death Meet in Spiritual Arrog Adventure - GameIndustry.com - August 9th, 2020