Negotiating the powers: everyday religion in Ghanaian society

  • Liz Graveling

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Engagement with religion has recently become an important issue to development theoreticians, donors and practitioners. It is recognised that religion plays a key role in shaping moral frameworks and social identities, but little attention is paid to how this is played out in everyday life: the focus remains on ‘faith communities’ and ‘faith-based organisations’ as unified bodies. This thesis uses ethnographic methods to examine how members of two churches in rural Ghana are influenced by and engage with religion. Rather than viewing religion simply as (potentially) instrumental to development, it seeks to approach it in its own right. It challenges the rigidity of categories such as ‘physical/spiritual’ and ‘religious/non-religious’, and the notion of ‘faith communities’ as discrete, unified entities with coherent religious cosmologies. Insights from witchcraft studies and medical anthropology indicate that spiritual discourses are drawn on to negotiate hybrid and continuously changing modernities, and people tend to act pragmatically, combining and moving between discourses rather than fully espousing a particular ideology. Residents of the village studied appear to inhabit a world of different but interconnecting powers, which they are both, to some extent, subject to and able to marshal. These include God, secondary deities, juju, witchcraft, family authorities, traditional leaders, biomedicine and churches. Relationships with both spirits and humans are ambivalent and each of these powers can bring both blessings and harm. Religious experience is fluid, eclectic and pragmatic as people continually enter and exit groups and marshal different powers simultaneously to protect themselves from harm and procure blessings. Approaches by the development world seeking to engage with religion and to take seriously local people’s interests and viewpoints should thus be wary of oversimplification according to traditional Western social science categories, and be underpinned by an understanding of how religious discourses are interpreted and enacted in people’s everyday lives.
Date of Award1 Mar 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSarah White (Supervisor) & Joe Devine (Supervisor)


  • Ghana
  • Christianity in Africa
  • Pentecostalism
  • witchcraft
  • Musama Disco Christo Church
  • AICs
  • negotiation
  • power
  • assemblies of God
  • everyday religion
  • religion and development

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