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Heritage and the Holy Spirit: Religious change and the politics of the past in postcolonial Nigeria

  • Borgvin-Weiss, Theodore
Publication Date
Nov 22, 2021
Apollo - University of Cambridge Repository
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This thesis considers how different valuations of the past coexist, converge and compete with one another in present-day Yorubaland, southwest Nigeria. Within this region, Born-Again Pentecostalism, a hugely popular and politically ascendant Christian movement has, in recent decades, called upon its members to enact a rupture from the past by renouncing the value of pre-conversion indigenous culture and by denouncing its extant remains. However, Yorubaland also contains several of Nigeria’s principal museums and sites of historic interest (including Nigeria’s National Museum in Lagos) and maintains an extensive heritage industry, which jointly affirm the continued value of the past by collecting, conserving and publicly exhibiting its surviving traces. Consequently, a profound and unresolved tension has emerged within Yorùbá society between those committed to the ongoing production and promotion of cultural heritage and those advancing a rupture-centred theology premised on the disruption and critical re-evaluation of that same heritage. That tension is examined by using grounded ethnographic methods to show its current forms (within public discourse but also in concrete settings such as museums) and by tracing its development over time from the mid nineteenth century onwards through archival and other primary sources. Woven into the analysis throughout is an interdisciplinary theoretical framework that positions the museum as an inherently political but also increasingly moral space within postcolonial Yorùbá society and which comprehends Pentecostalism as a fundamentally utopian programme of personal and collective transformation in which indigenous cultural heritage performs a vital but essentially agonistic function. In doing so, this thesis provides critical historical, theological and political context for the enduring relationship between heritage production and cultural rupture within Yorubaland while demonstrating that these processes are both historically entwined and consistently co-productive of one another. / AHRC

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