Die in the Name of Jesus!: The Animating Performances of “Violent” Prayers by Prof. Abimbola Adelakun (CAS-E Fellow)

Die in the Name of Jesus!: The Animating Performances of “Violent” Prayers

Every day, in thousands of churches and social gatherings across the African landscape, people engage in a sacred activity called “violent prayers.” With a dynamic repertoire of embodied expressions and other constitutive performances, prayer is one of the mass cultural performances that emblematizes African inventiveness. Due to its oral narratives, vernacular elements, and continuous practices of cultural retrieval, the performances of prayer in African contemporary culture represents folk culture and sites of collective participation. However, “violent prayers” is a unique interpretation of the Bible verse Matthew 11:12, and its ritual enactment features metaphoric acts of violence devised from a combination of speech and stylized acts. The ultimate purpose of spiritual and social transformation through this performance of “violent prayer” is evidenced by fundamental elements of this ritual that recognizes violence as an essential human condition for which triumph is only possible by returning fire for fire.
In this presentation, I will critically examine the understanding of death and its operative mechanisms as expressed in the performance of prayer denominated by the chants of “Die in the name of Jesus!” Working with the concepts advanced by Orlando Patterson (social death), Achille Mbembe (necropolitics), and Giorgio Agamben (homo sacer), I explore the notions of death that underwrite the performance of this genre of prayer. Death in this sacred ritual is a multifaceted phenomenon. While the loud commands chanted in these spaces demand that all oppressive forces—human and nonhuman—be cut their sources of nourishment, the self-directed prayers of the commander also reveal another layer of death as a condition of a life that lacks necessities and therefore lacking in consequence. By looking at the invocations of death that characterize the animating performances of “violent” prayer, I abstract the practices through which they purport to add life to life.

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