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Political Spiritualities

The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria

After an explosion of conversions to Pentecostalism over the past three decades, tens of millions of Nigerians now claim that “Jesus is the answer.” But if Jesus is the answer, what is the question? What led to the movement’s dramatic rise and how can we make sense of its social and political significance? In this ambitiously interdisciplinary study, Ruth Marshall draws on years of fieldwork and grapples with a host of important thinkers—including Foucault, Agamben, Arendt, and Benjamin—to answer these questions.

To account for the movement’s success, Marshall explores how Pentecostalism presents the experience of being born again as a chance for Nigerians to realize the promises of political and religious salvation made during the colonial and postcolonial eras. Her astute analysis of this religious trend sheds light on Nigeria’s contemporary politics, postcolonial statecraft, and the everyday struggles of ordinary citizens coping with poverty, corruption, and inequality.

Pentecostalism’s rise is truly global, and Political Spiritualities persuasively argues that Nigeria is a key case in this phenomenon while calling for new ways of thinking about the place of religion in contemporary politics.


“This is without question a significant and original contribution to ongoing debates on the enduring presence of religion in contemporary politics and culture. Stunningly creative, this book breaks new ground and yields a strong new approach to questions about the politics of faith in our post-secular age. In a rare combination of theoretical clarity and historical and anthropological concreteness, Ruth Marshall succeeds in rendering politically fruitful the critique of religion while taking ever more seriously religion itself as a critique of the political in our times.”

Achille Mbembe, author of On the Postcolony

“This is one of the most original works in the social sciences that I’ve read in several years. Much more than a simple monograph that will be vital for an understanding of religious and political life in Nigeria, this book addresses all those interested in the significance of contemporary religious phenomena. Through her energetic prose, exceptional fieldwork, and clear mastery of the theoretical and ethnographic literature, Marshall offers a new perspective on religious action and social and political transformations in sub-Saharan Africa, while also making a major contribution to the historical and comparative study of religion.”

Jean-François Bayart, author of The Illusion of Cultural Identity

"[Marshall] has done a significant intellectual service to all with an interest in African Christianity and its continuing evolution."

Literary Review of Canada

“Marshall’s analysis is an important addition to both social scientific and religious thought.”

Books & Culture

“In the six chapters, conclusion, and appendix which constitute this volume, the author exhaustively discusses the meaning and political context of Pentecostal practice— past and present—in Nigeria in theoretically rich and ethnographically informed ways.”

Elisha P. Renne | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"A major strength of this study is Marshall’s methodology of studying religion and politics in Africa not through formal institutions but rather through how Pentecostalism, as a Christian new religious movement, positions itself as an alternative to a failing state and a hopeless society in the midst of enormous human potential and material resources. This is a sociological study that takes the religious orientation of the new Pentecostals seriously."

J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu | Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Rethinking the Religious and the Political in Africa

Chapter 2. Rupture, Redemption, and the History of the Present

Chapter 3. Revival and the Postcolonial Crisis of Government

Chapter 4. God’s Subjects

Chapter 5. Born-Again Ethics and the Spirits of the Political Economy

Chapter 6. The Politics of Conviction






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