Department of Social Anthropology

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Heal, Pray, Prosper: Practice and Discourse within a Local Pentecostal Church in Vanuatu

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By Hildur Thorarensen

Supervisor: Associate Professor Annelin Eriksen

Pentecostal Christianity has been depicted as a leading globalizing force, while simultaneously opening up for the preservation of existing cultural forms. In this thesis I explore the relation between the local and the global in the context of a local independent Pentecostal Church in the island nation of Vanuatu in the South West Pacific. The church is called the Survival Church and has branches throughout the country, my fieldwork being based within two of these branches; one on the island of Nguna and the other in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila. The main focus of this thesis is on the interplay and frictions between the local and the global; more specifically how this particular local church reacts and relates to global flows and external influences, in particular the global Pentecostal movement.

The Survival Church’s history goes all the way back to colonization and the arrival of the first missionaries, and the church has a specific way of breaking with the past and developing their own form of localized Christianity. At the same time, the church is also connected to more recent developments of particularly the global Pentecostal movement. The church’s relation to healing and sorcery may be seen to simultaneously incorporate both local and global practices and discourses. On a different level, the Survival Church is also influenced by global neoliberal capitalism. Pentecostalism, as will become clear, has a strong focus on what is considered correct Christian morality and belief in order to attain economic profit; a more “mysterious” approach to earning money, which can be seen to be influenced by neoliberal ideas.

The implications of changes in economic thinking, combined with traditional Melanesian views on value, reciprocity and sharing are among the questions that are explored in this thesis. A central argument is that although the church opens up to new arenas of collectivity and financial accumulation for its members, this may conversely lead to an ambivalent situation for the people involved.