A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church by ProQuest


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									                                                                   Book Reviews 213


Matthew Engelke. A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African
Church. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. Anthropology of Christian-
ity series, vol. 2. xv + 304 pp. Map. Illustrations. Notes. References. Index. $21.95.

This book focuses on an independent church in Zimbabwe (the Masowe
weChishanu), stemming from Johane Masowe (John of the Wilderness),
who felt himself called in 1932; his followers split, as early as 1934, into
Saturday Apostolics and Friday Apostolics. Engelke did in total eighteen
months of fieldwork among the Friday group between 1993 and 1999,
mainly in Chitungwiza, just thirty kilometers south of Harare.
     The most salient characteristic of the Friday Apostolics is their rejection
of the Bible, and Engelke uses this as an opportunity to analyze the “prob-
lem of presence” in Christianity generally. In fact, it is the whole commit-
ment to materiality that this church rejects—not just the Bible, but also tra-
ditional medicines, money, buildings (they are best known for their assem-
bling in open spaces, sowe), organization, indeed all material things. They
do not venerate their founder or subsequent prophets; most have no idea
what Masowe looked like and don’t care. (Engelke recounts his gaffe in
giving his Apostolic friends a copy of the one existent photo of Masowe as a
departing present, much to their bemusement.) For them, the instantiation
of faith in the religious subject resists what Engelke calls “thingification.” It
is interior knowledge or law (mutemo) that is crucial, and it is always endan-
gered by the need to objectify. If objects are the obstacle to developing a
“live and direct” faith (the phrase Engelke uses throughout), their repudia-
tion “runs up against its own limits.” Johane himself eventually adopted the
Bible (the Saturday Apostolics follow this trajectory). Some writing seems
necessary (though without any organizational structures, need for account-
ing remains minimal). Some branches of the
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