Offerings in a Time of Wait: Giving, Receiving, and Prophesying Prosperity in Togolese Charismatic Churches

Kauffman, Kayla, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hoehler-Fatton, Cynthia, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the moral, theological, and social motivations for monetary offerings in Togolese Charismatic churches. I argue that donations reflect quotidian patterns of reciprocity, and that Togolese Christians apply pervasive, moral criteria to determine whether their pastors are legitimate, efficacious conduits of the Holy Spirit, or sorcerous pretenders. Charismatic churches have proliferated dramatically in West Africa in the 21st century, contributing to an unprecedented, southern “shift in the center of gravity" of worldwide Christianity (Aechtner 2015, Anderson 2000, Jenkins 2002). A cornerstone of Charismatic Christianity is the idea that in exchange for prosperity, the faithful must offer prayers and money to God. They often speak of offerings as a means to “force God’s hand,” or “provoke” God to bequeath wealth, healing, and/or well-being. Charismatic Christians understand monetary gifts to God as gestures of gratitude that circularly oblige God to respond with further benedictions.
I argue that this exchange is an intensified version of Togolese people’s quotidian and historical interactions with one another and with local deities. Through these alliances, Togolese people attained personhood as well as familial, political and religious belonging. History and economic realities have therefore normalized exchange as moral approaches to relating to one another. Today, Togolese people constantly deliberate upon, and speak about, moral modes of exchange. In a context where material need can be dire, giving and receiving are highly, albeit informally, regulated behaviors. People of limited means often give to others at the expense of their own immediate needs and then wait to see what unknown future need will be met as a result of their gifts. Others accept help without concrete assurance that they will ever escape their debt to the giver. Giving and receiving are thus forward-thinking acts that necessitate ignoring the needs of the present to focus on the possibility of a better future. Charismatic Christians intuitively understand the importance of offering gifts to ally one’s self with God because they do so in daily interactions with loved ones and neighbors. The mentality behind quotidian exchange is akin to the future-oriented “faith” that motivates Christians to make offerings to God and wait for subsequent blessings.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Charismatic Christianity, Africa, Togo, Exchange, Power, Esoteric Knowledge, Modernity, Sorcery
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