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COVID-19 and Church Attendance Behaviour Trends: Evidence from Ghanaian Pentecostal ChurchesHide

by Justice Arthur

The COVID-19 pandemic and the various policies implemented to manage it have exacted a toll on the economic, social, and cultural conditions all over the world. The pandemic has particularly affected religious practice in Africa in significant ways, including changes to religious services, prohibition of group interactions during religious festivals and celebrations as well as changes in religious attendances. Framed as consumers within the religious landscape, adherents have reacted quickly to the changing circumstances as their preferences are linked with the goods and services the religious organisations offer. Accordingly, the changes wrought by the pandemic have engendered significant adjustments in consumer behaviour with regards to church attendance within the Ghanaian religious field. Using data set from two Pentecostal-Charismatic churches in Ghana, this paper examines the changes and trends in church attendance behaviour exhibited by members because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It argues that church attendance behaviour has been affected immensely due the pandemic and its attendant disruption to many facets of life.

“No Evil Shall Befall Me and No Disease Shall Come Near My Homestead”: Religious Construction of Disease and Aladura Response to COVID-19 in NigeriaHide

by Timothy Baiyewu

The study presents empirical analysis of the totality of the early and current response of the Aladura to COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria within the frame of their beliefs and practices. The strange respiratory disease broke out in Wuhan, China in December, 2019, spread across countries and continents, caused human deaths and led to design and enforcement of safety measures and the production of vaccines. Aside its effects on various sectors of the country, the shutdown of worship centers and the harrowing experiences members went through inspired spiritual and nonspiritual response from religious groups. This called for an investigation into Aladura conception of the relationship between human health and disease and their spiritual practices as response to the pandemic. Three major strands of Aladura-Celestial Church of Christ, Cherubim and Seraphim and the Church of the Lord Aladura, and minor strands were randomly selected and visited.  The study adopted qualitative research method and deployed interview and observation instruments. Significant informants were interviewed, religious ceremonies were observed, and print and electronic media were searched through. The study relied on data generated from the various sources for analysis and conclusion on the spirituality of the Aladura against COVID-19 disease. The study revealed that like the outbreak of the influenza epidemic of 1918, which led to the emergence of the Aladura Christianity Nigeria, the current outbreak of the COVID-19 has prompted the Aladura churches into multifaceted response. The study revealed that a combination of spiritual commodities and social packages has been deployed to mitigate the challenges that the pandemic has brought on worshippers and the larger society. Within Aladura construction of disease and healing practices, the study also revealed strong compliance to government policies on safety measures, though with considerable reservation for the COVID-19 vaccines.

Finding COVID-19 Cure: The Orisa Devotees’ Response to a Global Pandemic in Yoruba SocietyHide

by Adeyemi Balogun

1n 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to an urgent search for preventive vaccines and cure by scientists all over the world. Practitioners of Traditional Religion in Africa also searched for the pandemic’s cure despite the little attention and support they got from the state and the public over their relevance in the modern world. In Yoruba society, the Traditionalists responded in ways preferred by both the Orisa and the scientists. Unlike the COVID-19 conspiracy theorists who doubted the pandemic and the use of vaccines, the Orisa devotees consulted with Ifa to diagnose COVID-19, recommended the use of preventives herbs, offered sacrifice to eradicate the pandemic and followed preventive measures such as social distancing and face masking. By following the Orisa ways and the scientific methods to the contemporary global health crisis, the Orisa devotees showed that the Yoruba culture is amenable and relevant to the modern world. This paper, based on an ethnographic survey in Ile-Ife, aims to show how the mixing of Traditional religious repertoire with scientific measures has helped the Orisa devotees in Yoruba society to respond to finding solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Compulsory Vaccination Is from the Pit of Hell”: Content and Discourse Analysis of Religious Sermons on COVID-19 in NigeriaHide

by Baba Mai Bello

This study presents the results of content and discourse analysis of sermons and other forms of religious preaching in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. The method of CDA, being inter/multi-disciplinary in orientation, has been used to analyze discursive strategies on pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, Foot and Mouth disease among others. The study is motivated by the Nigerian public response and attitude as shrouded in religious beliefs mainly seen to be disseminated by pastors, imams and other religious figures. Data for the study were mainly collected from online resources posted on different social media platforms in the form of texts, audios and videos. Specifically, we targeted six media platforms namely YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok and WhatsApp, focusing on trending topics about COVID19, from which we selected those with religious leanings for analysis. Results of the study indicate some form of ambivalence from the part of religious preachers, exposing divisions both across and within the two major religions of the country (Christianity and Islam), with one group subscribing to mainstream knowledge on etiology, symptoms and preventive measures of the disease while the other habours conspiracy theories, doubts and denials. The study highlights the extent to which these religious sermons have the potential to shape attitude (negatively or positively) of the populace towards the pandemic, especially in terms of precautionary measures such as social distancing and acceptance of vaccines, concluding that religion plays an important role in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.   

​Religion in the Times of Pandemic: The Tunisian CaseHide

by Ramzi Ben Amara

During the time of pandemic COVID-19, the Tunisian state, like many other countries in the world, imposed either total or partial lockdown for the whole territory. Places of worship were deeply touched by such a measure. Especially mosques were closed for several weeks and many Tunisians could perform neither daily nor Jumu’a prayers. All forms of religiosity seem to be reduced to private sphere. So far and until today the situation has changed and religion practicing Tunisians can pray but cannot perform ablution in mosques. Closing and opening mosques, banning and allowing public prayers resulted a public debate in the country between proponents and proponents. This paper aims to study Islamist and non-Islamist response to the “disappearing”/”reappearing” of religion from public sphere. It analyses Tunisians‘ responses towards state-regulated-religion and their understanding of individual/institutional religiosity as well the “freedom of consciousness” (guaranteed by the 2014-constitution). It raises the following questions: How do (religious/non-religious) people behave in times of pandemic? To what extent does religion win/lose meaning in times of crisis?

​The COVID 19 Pandemic and Religion in Nigeria: The Vaccine MythHide

by Lohna Bonkat-Jonathan

The COVID-19 pandemic has in several ways become a watershed moment in contemporary history; aside from marking a nadir in consequences of health induced emergencies, the inexorable transformations the ‘new normal’ imposed are unprecedented in scale and spread. At its zenith, most countries were at different levels of lockdown and most socio-economic spheres were either semi-comatose or completely paralysed.
The universal protocol for curbing the spread of the viral pandemic in lieu of a proven medical cure, including social distancing, the wearing of facial masks, hand and general hygiene and lately, vaccination have generated several narratives, mostly seditious. This intervention will probe the interesting religious interpretation of the outbreak and management of the health emergency in Nigeria. The notions of the similarity between COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS epidemic as divine retribution; the rather trenchant argument of the origin of the pandemic as being the result of 5G technology and/or Nuclear warfare, championed by charismatic spiritual leaders and its place in Christian eschatological teachings will be examined.
The claims of a political conspiracy by government to disrupt religion by proscribing public congregational worship and of the sinister motive of rapidly produced vaccines will be critically analysed within the context of global, regional and national socio-political development. Also the myth and belief that there is a spiritual connotation to vaccine will be examined.
This study intends to use interviews and literature to access data. Descriptive analysis will be used to analysed the data collected. Preliminary findings shows that there is reluctance in taking the vaccine among religious groups in Nigeria especially the Christian fate. 

“Save the Lord Our Saviour!” The Plague, Collective Panic and the Crisis of Judment in the Times of “Everything Goes”Hide

by Moulay Driss El Maarouf

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a decline of religious activity around the globe. Preventive measures by local authorities in Morocco included mobility restrictions, severe confinement regulations, curfews, social distancing protocols, closing of mosques, elimination of religious feast’s official, spiritual, cultural and social by-products, and annulations of pilgrimage programs to Mecca. During the holy month of Ramadan, the government imposed 20:00 to 6:00 time-limit in 2020 and 2021, causing not only the cancellation of public religious performances, but also the disruption of the post-fast night life associated with Ramadan with the closing of restaurants, malls, cafes, hotels and inter-city transport as well as the banning of gatherings, private and public. The misconceptions and myths on why and how the restrictions put on spiritual everydayness are unjustified are kindled by a theorem that links the pandemic and its legal, policing and scientific gears to a modern secular western God-fighting scheme that plans to gradually strip humanity off of its spirituality. This paper argues that these doubtful narratives are repetitive, symptomatic, inevitable and reactionary symptomatic of individual and institutional unpreparedness (Bhabha 2020). To bring this idea home we will interrogate pandemic measures during the reign of seven Moroccan sultans (from the 18th century to the colonial period), examining historical documents, royal decrees  and archival narratives that reveal how strikingly similar preventive measures in the contexts of past plagues were met with identical doubtful reactionary stances undermining pandemic-related practices from quarantine to restrictions on religious practices. This eventually helps us explain why a disruption of everyday religious fixities in the present cannot happen at a remove from the panicky, skeptic and pessimist readings of the past that find solace in the doubtful thesis cherished as it were by fake news, misinformation, irrationalities and conspiracy theories.

Virus Became a God: COVID-19 Pandemic and Religious Legitimacy Crisis in AfricaHide

by Leo Chikezie Igwe

Discussions on the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa have mainly focused on measures taken by the government and international bodies to combat this deadly virus (Wadvalla 2020; Chiang & El Sony 2020).
Little attention has been paid to the fact that these initiatives put into question the authority and influence of religious leaders and institutions. This is especially the case in Nigeria where religious leaders wield enormous powers and influence; where pastors and Imams/sheikhs lead megachurches and megamosques.
This presentation explores the steps taken by the government to combat COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria and how religious leaders and institutions reacted to these measures. The paper argues that contrary to the notion that religious traditions are unchanging in their nature, in the face of crisis as seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, religious institutions innovate, and device ways, means and mechanisms to adapt and survive.

Beliefs and Uncertainty: Consequences of COVID-19 on Everyday Religious Life in ZimbabweHide

by Ivan Marowa

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a trail of memories, the majority of which are unpleasant. It has taken human lives; some homesteads closed while others left widows and made children orphans. On the religious front, the pandemic also imposed its mark. Of interest, is how the religious community across the African continent has come to perceive the pandemic as an attack by the devil on the Christian community. Governments have, in some instances, been labelled as acting the agent role of the devil due to national lockdowns that seemed to disadvantage the religious community compared to non-christians. The crisis has put to test certain religious activities or paraphernalia that is used for healing and spiritual sessions. The question that confronts many today and which is the objective of this paper is: what happened with the spiritually powerful and healing paraphernalia and the power of the prophets that followers relied upon on a day-to-day basis in Zimbabwe? Healing, casting of demons and the spiritual power and prophetic ability of self-proclaimed church founders and leaders was greatly put to test. Another crucial question is: is the attack on the devilish nature of COVID-19 genuine or a façade to hide the religious misdeeds and ‘fake’ powers of the religious leaders? The paper argues that the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 revealed how congregants were being abused while others had their fears deepened thereby becoming more religious. The paper will rely on cartoons, newspaper reports, critiques and opinion articles relating to everyday religious activities in the wake of the pandemic that paralysed normal life in Zimbabwe.

The Growing Importance of Religion and Challenged Role of the State in Times of COVID-19: The Case of Goma (DR Congo)Hide

by Blaise Muhire

In 2020, the world has been hit by the covid-19 pandemic. Strong or weak, rich or poor countries have all been challenged by this pandemic, whose origin remains enigmatic. As conspiracy theories were relayed (and almost legitimized) by social media, the role of churches in these difficult times has been of great importance. From the City of Goma, in eastern DR Congo, examples of how local churches have become a cornerstone of resilience while allowing the collective consciousness to see the other side of a State that is struggling to prove its infallibility in the face of a pandemic.

​Performing the “Online Pulpit”: Alternative Church Platforms in Times of COVID-19 in KenyaHide

by Samuel Macharia Ndogo

The outbreak of the global scourge caused by the novel coronavirus started in Wuhan, China in December 2019, and with time it spread to other parts of the world. Victims of the disease would die shortly after contracting the highly contagious virus. Kenya reported the first case of COVID-19 on 12th March 2020. Soon thereafter, the government through the Ministry of Health embarked on a campaign to try to control the spread of the scourge within the country. Like in other countries, some of the measures that were put in place included lockdowns, restriction of movement, quarantine, imposition of curfew, and ban on public gathering among others. Places of worship, educational institutions as well as entertainment establishments suffered a major blow as a result of these unprecedented measures. In this paper, I discuss the impact of COVID-19, with specific focus on how various churches in Kenya came up with alternative ways of reaching their congregants who were confined to their homes during the lockdown. A number of churches, for instance, started online programmes where church services were conducted via social media platforms such as Facebook, livestreaming on Instagram, Zoom, YouTube and WhatsApp where live and recorded sermons were shared with followers. These platforms were also linked to mainstream media like the TV and radio. Using these examples, I discuss religious gatherings as performance or ritual which were transformed from live to online spaces. Elements of live performances such as interaction with a live audience are completely lost, but are instead replaced by comments that followers can drop on the social media platforms. In short, the online performance of church offers followers possibilities, demolishing the boundaries of the church as a confined physical sacred space to an online community of congregants of a church without walls. In this paper, I use the concept of the “online pulpit” to demonstrate how church goers in Kenya—a country in which over 80%  of the population are Christians—resorted to diverse media platforms to perform their worship services. I also demonstrate how church followers participated in church services, performing diverse religious liturgy through these media platforms during the times of COVID-19 in Kenya.

Religion Meets COVID-19: Analyzing Language Use in Online MassHide

by Simon Wanjala Nganga

With the outbreak of COVID-19, among other things, religious practices were restricted, altered and - in some cases - suspended. Worship through gathering together was constrained and congregants discouraged from visiting one another; time for worship was reduced to 1 hour; congregants were expected to observe 1.5 m distance and to refrain from shaking hands; and burial took place within 48 hours with only 15 persons from the family present and without rites, such as receiving the body in the church, vigil, and visitation among others. Though certain practices have slowly started to return following the discovery of the vaccine, we argue that in the sermon - one of the open spaces in mass - it is possible to locate complementary and - in some cases - contradictory discourses related to ways of behaving during COVID-19, based on religion on the one hand and those based on biomedical knowledge on the other hand. How, with the use of language resources, ideas, beliefs and assumptions about Covid 19 based on biomedical discourses are incorporated, synchronized and – in some cases - contested in the sermon and what this tells us about the nature of religion during and after COVID-19 is the aim of this study. Thus, we adopt theoretical and methodological principles from Interactional Sociolinguistics to analyze 20 purposively selected online sermons from mass conducted at the Holy Family Basilica, Nairobi. Together with this are four 30-minute interviews with priests conducting the masses.  We scrutinize data at the level of content and identify and analyze discursive structures with evidence on the incorporation the discourse on COVID-19 based on biomedical knowledge. With this study, we contribute to recent discussions on the role of language in understanding religion during and after COVID-19

​Religion and Commodification: The Ghanaian Churches' COVID-19 EconomyHide

by Genevieve Nrenzah

Ghana had her first COVID-19 pandemic casualty in the second week of March 2020, making the government quickly introduce restrictive measures, starting with a partial lockdown. This involved shutting down economic activities, the movement of people and banning public gathering. The restrictions were later relaxed to allow not more than 25 persons at funerals. These presidential directives, known popularly in Ghana as number 1, meant a total shut down for the congregating of religious groups that constitute an economy of itself. While some church leaders tried opening their facilities for worship and got arrested, most of them shifted their services to virtual spaces to reach their members. The intriguing phenomenon that ensued constituted the creative ways various religious leaders devised in monetizing the services offered members. By means of a cyber ethnographic data generated and analyzed with the metaphor of the religious economy, the paper interrogates the diverse means deployed by five selected churches in collecting offerings and argues that amidst the pandemic the churches' economic interest and survival strategy superseded members' spiritual and physical well-being.

COVID-19 and the Deconstruction of the Concept of 'Church'Hide

by Magdaline Nakhumicha Wafula

It is axiomatic that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide has tremendously impacted virtually all spheres of human life in the twenty first century. Scholars in the humanities, natural sciences as well as the social sciences have had to rethink and revise the long established theories and the efficacy of what was considered to be factual or established knowledge in various disciplines. Faith and reason as the foundation of truth are being challenged by the uncertainties that have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. This scenario is likely to elicit diverse responses from the society. For instance, pessimists may view the uncertainties as an affirmation of the futility of life in the now and the future. On the contrary, optimists may be invigorated by the unsettling circumstances in society to delve in science and religion in their quest to find meaning in the happenings of the day. It is on this premise that I argue that COVID-19 has deconstructed the concept of ‘church’ and subsequently enhanced religion in the contemporary society.  In this paper I survey the trajectories that the concept of ‘church’ has elicited with the emergence of COVID-19 and their implications on the religious fraternity.

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