Power and Authenticity in the Nazareth Baptist Church of South Africa

AHA Session 54
Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)
Emmanuel K. Akyeampong, Harvard University
The Audience

Session Abstract

These three presentations examine ways in which the Nazareth Baptist Church of South Africa has exercised power and struggled with authenticity and legitimacy in the 20th century. With the exception of one major schism in 1976, the Nazareth Baptist Church has been successful at maintaining its institutional and theological integrity. These papers illustrate the means by which the Shembe family maintained the Nazareth Baptist Church and preserved the founding charter of the founding prophet, Isaiah Shembe, through a manipulation of politics, the legal system, and prophecy.

Tishken analyzes the uses of prophecy within the 1976 leadership struggle contending that it is not merely the content of prophecies that informed the leadership struggle. Rather the source of the prophecies was the key element; successful candidates for central leadership are those who most successfully lay claim to the mantle of the founder. Jarvis contends that a symbiotic relationship existed between the Nazareth Baptist Church and Zulu chiefs. The leaders of the Nazareth Baptist Church made in-roads into various chieftaincies with claims to provide both magical and practical benefits. Chiefs shored up their power by allowing the church to improve conditions in their domain. Kustenbauder argues that the Nazareth Baptist Church frequently used the state's legal system to preserve its autonomy and power against local chiefs and national officials. The Nazareth Baptist Church has had considerable success in preserving the vision of the founder by using the courts against its detractors.

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