A Church of Strangers

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in South Africa
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Dimensions and Pages: 294 pp
  • Paperback EAN: 978-1-86814-809-7
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 320.00
  • Recommended Price (USD): n/a

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), a church of Brazilian origin, has been enormously successful in establishing branches and attracting followers in post-apartheid South Africa. Unlike other Pentecostal Charismatic Churches (PCC), the UCKG insists that relationships with God be devoid of ‘emotions’, that socialisation between members be kept to a minimum and that charity and fellowship are ‘useless’ in materialising God’s blessings. Instead, the UCKG urges members to sacrifice large sums of money to God for delivering wealth, health, social harmony and happiness. While outsiders condemn these rituals as empty or manipulative, this book shows that they are locally meaningful, demand sincerity to work, have limits and are informed by local ideas about human bodies, agency and ontological balance. As an ethnography of people rather than of institutions, this book offers fresh insights into the mass PCC movement that has swept across Africa since the early 1990s.

List of Figures page x
Acknowledgements xi
Abbreviations xiii
Glossary of Zulu Words xv
Terms and Terminology Used in the UCKG xix
1 Introduction 1
2 Christian Warriors and Spiritual Warfare 37
3 On the Front Lines: Men of God 59
4 Women of God, Love and Marriage 88
5 The Leaking Nature of Things 116
6 Gossiping Demons, Strong Words and Lies 141
7 Profit Prophets and God’s Money 171
8 Family Demons and the Blessed Life 202
9 Conclusion 233
Bibliography 243

Ilana van Wyk is an anthropologist and a researcher at the Institute for Humanities in Africa at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

‘…a well written, rich and provocative contribution to the study of Christianity and urban life in contemporary Africa. Van Wyk’s central argument – that the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UKCG) in Durban offers its members a “technology” rather than a social organisation – is highly original and likely to cause considerable debate inside and outside of academia.’
– Harri Englund, University of Cambrigde

‘In what is by far the most profound and wide-ranging study of one of the world’s most challenging and disconcerting religious phenomena, Ilana van Wyk has produced a truly engrossing work of ethnography … Some of the case material is deeply distressing, but the analytical fruits will be with us for a long time to come.’
– David Lehmann, University of Cambridge
‘Van Wyk’s superb analysis of a new kind of church teems with anthropological insight. Her monograph contributes significantly to the study of Christianity in South Africa, building upon classical works such as Bengt Sundkler’s Bantu Priests and Prophets and Jean Comaroff’s Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance.’
– Isak Niehaus, Brunel University

“Most compelling about Ilana vanWyk’s book is its anthropological attention to a decidedly un-anthropological topic: asociality. Similarly compelling is van Wyk’s challenge to a foundational assumption sustained by scholars of African Christianity: the assumption that community and commensality are intrinsic to the tradition.”

DEVAKA PREMAWARDHANA, Colorado College in Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, Volume 85, Number 4, November 2015, pp. 729-730

“This highly original study of asocial Christianity in one part of contemporary Africa upends long-held paradigms in the study both of Christianity and of Africa. In ways that exceed what van Wyk herself accomplishes, it also gestures towards what might be termed an asocial anthropology: one centred on individuals in the multiplicity of their lived relationships rather than solely in terms of their membership of and adherence to any single institution.”
DEVAKA PREMAWARDHANA, Colorado College in Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, Volume 85, Number 4, November 2015, pp. 729-730

“This is an ethnographically rich, multifaceted and broadly contextualised book that not only provides new insights into the UCKG, but also allows us to acquire a better understanding of how impoverished sections of South African society struggle to come to grips religiously with what is experienced as a highly uncertain and threatening life situation. Van Wyk has succeeded in navigating the difficult terrain of representing this controversial church and of showing how certain aspects of its religious practice that are viewed in a critical light by outsiders are perceived and experienced by the congregants themselves. In this way, the book is very useful in allowing a more balanced assessment of the UCKG to be made. Also, as is evident in the review of its chapters above, the book offers important and original thoughts that promise to inspire further debate in the anthropology of religion.”

Thomas G. Kirsch, Department of History and Sociology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany in Anthropology Southern Africa, 38:3-4, 378-380


Review in African Studies Journal by Casey Golomski (2016): Religion and Migration: Cases for a Global Material
Ethics, African Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00020184.2016.1193379
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00020184.2016.1193379


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