Televised charismatic Christianity in Ghana
Here is another set of notes under the broad theme of media and change in preparation for the volume Postill, J., E. Ardevol and S. Tenhunen (eds.) forthcoming, Theorising Media and Change. The notes are taken from a wealth of media anthropological research into this question that has remained to this date well hidden from mainstream media and communication studies. This research deserves, in my view, to be read more widely if we are going to finally expand this interdisciplinary area of scholarship beyond its customary fixation with the global North.
Notes prepared by Fran Barone (my emphases)
Used with permission
Marleen de Witte (2003) “Altar media’s Living world: televised charismatic Christianity in Ghana” Journal of religion in Africa 33(2): 172-202.
Fieldwork in Accra from July to September 2001 and from March 2002 to March 2003 (p. 199).
International Central Gospel Church’s plurifold media marketing attempts to use modern media to encourage radical transformations among Ghanian people not to “remain stuck in an archaic idea of religion” (p. 172-3).
Since media liberalization in 1992, religious leaders can buy airtime on radio and TV, making charismatic Pentecostal churches abundantly present in Ghanaian media (p. 173).
“‘Mediation’ is inherent in religion itself. A ‘medium’, whether a technological medium or a religious/spiritual medium, creates a connection between the present and the absent, or between the visibly present and the invisibly present, between the physical and the spiritual” (p. 174)
“Churches’ extensive use of mass media has generated a religious, charismatic-Pentecostally oriented public sphere, which is characterised by the intertwining of religion with both national and global politics and the field of commerce and entertainment” (p. 177).
Charismatic Christianity growing fast among young, educated and upwardly mobile urbanites (p. 178). Otabil and his programme Living World is an example of a media broadcasting preacher, who also uses PowerPoint during his sermons.
ICGC media ministry is the responsibility of the church’s media department, Altar Media, which monitors all communications and markets church products including conferences, v ideos, audiotapes, books, calendars, stickers, bookmarks, and weekly TV and radio programmes (p. 184). Staff members argue that traditional religion does not share its knowledge, and any modern church that does not use technology to commercialize will die (“The Devil is using all technologies, so we also have to use the same weapons to fight him”) (p. 185). They speak about using media to reach targets in “market” terms.
ICGC copies the technical aspects of American TV preacher shows, but without losing “the Ghanaian identity” (p. 186). Otabil has changed his style of preaching since radio and TV entered, adjusting his tone and message for his new audience (p. 189). Some of the audiotapes of sermons are specifically designed for the international market although they are wholly produced locally including editing, packaging, designing (p. 190)
“Through the media Otabil’s teachings create an audience far beyond the church membership. As listeners to and viewers of Living Word participate in sharing the church’s message and sometimes engage in follow-up practices of writing letters, ordering and sharing tapes, or even visiting the church, this media audience is somehow part of the church community” (p. 199).
Image by ICGC