An Ethnography of Faith. Personal Conceptions of Religiosity in the Soutpansberg, South Africa, in the Early 20th Century

  • Language: English
  • Vol. 14, 2022
  • ISBN 978-3-906927-37-4
  • eISBN 978-3-906927-38-1
Caroline Jeannerat

An Ethnography of Faith. Personal Conceptions of Religiosity in the Soutpansberg, South Africa, in the Early 20th Century

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Research into the history of Christian missions in the context of colonialism has focused primarily on missions as institutions and on the ways in which people were integrated into the economic, political and ideological spheres of imperial powers. Reduced to an experience occurring within a person, faith was deemed unapproachable by scientific methods. This has, in effect, constituted a silence regarding the everyday experience of religiosity among those drawn to Christianity.

The Ethnography of Faith is a detailed study of the ways in which people engage with and experience the religious in order to recognise and understand this suppressed voice of religiosity. In her analysis of the Lutheran church in the Soutpansberg of early 20th century South Africa, Caroline Jeannerat listens closely to how people describe their own faith and that of others in the archive: in accounts of work done, in texts written for mission publications, in songs composed for church services, in letters and newspaper articles, and in oral memories. A careful reading of this archive—for breaks, for misunderstandings and oppositions, for sentiments of agreement, praise, compatibility and claims of shared experiences—identifies negotiations of meaning which give indications of conceptualisations of faith that stand in distinction to those of the missionaries and their expectations.

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