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Nigerian Pentecostalism Richman, Naomi


Pentecostalism has become a major cultural force in Nigeria since the early twentieth century, accounting for approx. 63% of Nigerian Christians today (World Christian Database). The success of Pentecostalism across Nigeria and Africa more widely has resulted in the widespread absorption of Pentecostal styles of worship into 'mainstream' African Protestant and Catholic churches (the latter known as 'Charismatic' churches). Pentecostals emphasise the active presence of the Holy Spirit both in worship settings and beyond, evidenced in miracles, healings, prophecies, tongues (glossolalia) and other 'gifts of the Spirit'. Nigerian Pentecostals tend to regard their religious faith as a means by which to ‘break’ with their ‘pagan’ heritage, and becoming born again as a way to be delivered from indigenous African spiritual and cultural life (Meyer 1998). Some Pentecostal churches place a strong emphasis on tithing and material success (‘Prosperity’), whilst others are more focused on asceticism and purity ('Holiness'), or healing and exorcism (‘Deliverance’). Pentecostalism in Nigeria is widely recognised to have unfolded in three phases. The first phase, known as Aladura, or the African Initiated/Independent Church movement, (1910-1930s) was led by Yoruba itinerant preachers like Joseph Ayo Babalola who clashed with missionaries on the use of medicine (Peel 1968). The Aladura movement, meaning ‘praying people’, emphasised prayer, healing and deliverance from traditional 'pagan' religion. In this period, foreign Pentecostal denominations like the Classical Pentecostal church, Assemblies of God, and the Welsh Apostolic church also laid down roots in Nigeria. The second wave, known as the 'Latter Rain' revival, took place in the 1950s and was initiated by British and American evangelists like Sydney Granville Elton and Oral Roberts. This phase emphasised deliverance, healing and also apocalyptic eschatology. The third wave, known as the Neo-Pentecostal movement, emerged in the 1960s-80s and was heavily influenced by ideas and trends introduced to Nigeria in American evangelical literature. Open air revivals, especially on university campuses such as the Universities of Ibadan and Ife, led to an influx of young converts to the movement. Some denominations emphasised Holiness and millennialism (1970s) whilst others propagated the Prosperity Gospel (80s onward). This period saw the emergence of the Nigerian Pentecostal megachurches like Deeper Life Bible Church and the Church of God Mission International. Moreover, since the 1990s, demonology, spiritual warfare and the practice of Deliverance have become increasingly popular features of Nigerian Pentecostalism.

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