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

  • Language: English
  • Vol. 14, 2023
  • ISBN 978-3-906927-37-4
  • eISBN 978-3-906927-38-1
  • ISSN 2296-6986
  • eISSN 2297-444X
Caroline Jeannerat

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


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.

Caroline Jeannerat holds a PhD in history and anthropology from the University of Michigan (2007). She worked as a postdoctoral researcher at WISER, University of the Witwatersrand, from 2007–2009 and at the Centre for Culture and Languages in Africa at the University of Johannesburg from 2009–2011. From 2011–2013 she was lecturer of history at the St Augustine College of South Africa. Since 2014 she is a freelance academic copy-editor and proofreader. She is also the copy-editor for the Anthropology Southern Africa journal and the South African Historical Journal.

1 Introduction 
2 The Mission and Its Archive
3 Capturing African Christianity
4 Defining the Venda
5 Teacher, Christian and Subject
6 A Mission Pastor and Faith
7 Being Faithful
8 Missionary Frustrations
9 Conclusion

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