Continuity and Discontinuity

Pentecostalism and Cultural Change in a Liberian Refugee Camp in Ghana


  • Jonas Paul Ecke Purdue University



Pentecostalism, Forced Migration, Liberian refugees, Ghana


This article explores the cultural change generated by Pentecostalism among Liberian refugees in Ghana, who fled from their nation’s civil wars to a refugee camp in Ghana’s Central Region. Anthropologists of religion have argued that Pentecostal conversions have in large parts become popular because they enable a “break with the past.” Liberian converts, as well, seek to distance themselves from a past that is mired in conflict. To this end, they connect to global Pentecostal networks in an attempt to overcome their marginal status. In so doing, many of them reject aspects of their past, which they associate with the Liberian civil wars, for example traditional belief systems, ethnic identity, and the Liberian gerontocracy. Yet, as the ethnographic examples illustrate, this “break with the past” is rarely complete. This study’s findings are related to debates on whether anthropology of religion should focus on “continuity” or “discontinuity” in exploring religious conversions. The author argues that the religious experiences of Liberians in exile can only be understood by paying attention to the interplay and tensions between continuity and discontinuity.

Author Biography

Jonas Paul Ecke, Purdue University

Jonas Ecke is an anthropology PhD student at Purdue University. Aside from his academic research, he also worked with non-profit organizations such as CARE in Ghana. During his time in Ghana, he became fascinated by the cultural changes compelled by Pentecostalism. His research has been enabled by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Purdue Research Foundation (PRF), as well as Purdue Global Synergy Fund, awarded by the School of Liberal Arts.


Allen, T. and D. Turton. 1996. In Search of Cool Ground: War, Flight and Homecoming in Northeast Africa. Trenton, NJ: First Africa World Press.

Amit, V. (ed.). 2000. Constructing the Field: Ethnographic Fieldwork in the Contemporary World. New York: Routledge.

Appadurai, A. 1996. Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Bernard, H. R. 1995. Research Methods in Anthropology. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Boamah-Gyau, K. 2008. “The Socio-Cultural and Economic Impact of Refugees on the Host Indigenous Communities in West Africa: A Case Study of Liberian Refugees at Buduburam Community in Ghana.” Master of Philosophy in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromso, Norway.

Casanova, J. 2001. “Religion, the New Millennium, and Globalization.” Sociology of Religion 62: 415–41.

Chapin, M. and B. Threlkeld. 2001. Indigenous Landscapes: A Study in Ethnocartography. Washington, DC: Centre for the Support of Native Lands, USAID.

Christerson, B. 2012. “The Pentecostalization of Protestant Christianity.” University of Southern California, Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Available at (accessed June 29, 2014).

Coleman, S. 2000. The Globalisation of Charismatic Christianity: Spreading the Gospel of Prosperity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clifford, J. 1992. “Travelling Cultures.” In L. Grossbert, C. Nelson, and P. Treichler (eds), Cultural Studies. New York City: Routledge: 96–116.

Comaroff, J. and J. Comaroff. 1991. Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 1: Christianity, Colonialism and Consciousness in South Africa. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

—. 1997. Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 2: The Dialectics of Modernity in a South African Frontier. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Cuny, F. C. and C. R. Cuny. 1992. “The Return of Tamil Refugees to Sri Lanka 1983 to 1989.” In F. C. Cuny, B. N. Stein, and P. Reed (eds), Repatriation during Conflict in Africa and Asia. Dallas, TX: Center for the Study of Societies in Crisis: 23–101.

Dick, S. 2002. “Liberians in Ghana: Living Without Humanitarian Assistance.” MA dissertation, International Development Centre, Queen Elizabeth House, Green College, University of Oxford.

Diener, E., R. A. Emmons, R. J. Larsen, and S. Griffin. 2010. “The Satisfaction with Life Scale.” Journal of Personality Assessment, 49.1: 71–5. s15327752jpa4901_13

Ellis, S. 2007. The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War. New York: New York University Press.

Engelke, M. 2004. “Discontinuity and the Discourse of Conversion.” Journal of Religion in Africa 34.1–2: 82–109.

Ferguson, J. 2006. Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Gupta, A. and J. Ferguson. 1997. Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology. Durham, NC: Durham University Press.

Hampshire, K., G. Porter, K. Kilpatrick, P. Kyei, M. Adjaloo, and G. Oppong. 2008. “Liminal Spaces: Changing Inter-generational Relations Among Long-term Liberian Refugees in Ghana.” Human Organization 67.1: 25–36.

Hastrup, K. and K. F. Olwig. 1997. Sitting Culture: The Shifting Anthropological Object. London: Routledge.

Heaner, G. K. 2001. “Destroying the Destroyer of Your Destiny: The Role(s) of Pentecostalism in Post-War Liberia.” PhD dissertation, University of London, UK.

Hetherington, T. 2009. Long Story Bit By Bit: Liberia Retold. New York: Umbrage Editions.

Hirsch, E. and M. O’Hanlon. 1995. The Anthropology of Landscape: Perspectives on Place and Space. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Holland, D. (eds.). 2001. Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Honwana, A. 2013. “Youth, Waithood, and Protest Movements in Africa.” African Arguments, August. Available at africa-by-alcinda-honwana (accessed October 25, 2013).

Kahn, J. S. 2001. “Anthropology and Modernity.” Current Anthropology 42.5: 651–64.

Kiernan, J. 1996. “The Zionist Congregation Over Time.” African Studies 55.2: 69–88.

Knowles, C. 2000. “Here and There: Doing Transnational Fieldwork.” In Amit (2000): 54–70.

Manglos, N. D. 2010. “Born Again in Balaka: Pentecostal versus Catholic Narratives of Religious Transformation in Rural Malawi.” Sociology of Religion 71.4: 409–31.

Martin, D. 1990. Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America. Oxford: Blackwell.

Meyer, B. 1998. “Make a Complete Break With The Past. Memory and Post-Colonial Modernity in Ghanaian Pentecostalist Discourse.” In R. Werbner (ed.), Memory and the Postcolony: African Anthropology and the Critique of Power. London: Zed Books: 182–208.

—. 2004. “Christianity in Africa: From African Independent to Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches.” Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 447–74.

Omata, N. 2001. “Forgotten or Neglected? Non-Registered Liberian Refugees in Ghana: Their Rights and Protection.” Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration 1.2: 12–16.

—. 2012. Struggling to Find Solutions: Liberian Refugees in Ghana. New Issues in Refugee Research, Research Paper No. 234. Geneva: UNHCR.

Peters, K., P. Richards, and K. Vlassenroot. 2003. What Happens to Youth During and After Wars? A Preliminary Review of Literature on Africa and an Assessment of the Debate. RAWOO (Netherlands Development Assistance Research Council) Working Paper, October. The Hague: RAWOO.

Pew Forum. 2006. “Spirit and Power: Global Survey of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians.” Available at (accessed July 29, 2009).

—. 2011. “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population.” Available at (accessed February 8, 2014).

Pink, S. 2000. “‘sssInformants’ Who Come ‘home’.” In Amit (2000): 96–119.

Piot, Charles. 2010. Nostalgia for the Future: West Africa after the Cold War. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Robbins, J. 2003. “On the Paradoxes of Global Pentecostalism and the Perils of Continuity Thinking.” Religion 33.3: 221–31.

—. 2010. “Anthropology, Pentecostalism, and the New Paul: Conversion, Event, and Social Transformation.” South Atlantic Quarterly 109: 4.

Sundkler, B. 1961. Bantu Prophets in South Africa, 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

UNHCR. 1951. Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Geneva, Switzerland: UNHCR. Available at (accessed September 15, 2013).

—. 2014. “World Refugee Day: Global Forced Displacement Tops 50 Million for First Time In Post-World War II Era.” June 20. Available at (accessed July 13, 2014).

Van de Kamp, L. and R. van Dijk. 2010. “Pentecostals Moving South-South: Brazilian and Ghanaian Transnationalism in Southern Africa.” In A. Adogame and J. V. Spickard (eds), Religion Crossing Boundaries: Transnational Religious and Social Dynamics in Africa and the New African Diaspora. Leiden: Brill: 123–34. http://dx.doi. org/10.1163/ej.9789004187306.i-280.42

Weigel, G. 2011. “Christian Number-Crunching Reveals Impressive Growth.” The Catholic Difference, February 9. Available at common-misconceptions/christian-number-crunching-reveals-impressivegrowth.html (accessed April 28, 2013).



How to Cite

Ecke, J. (2015). Continuity and Discontinuity: Pentecostalism and Cultural Change in a Liberian Refugee Camp in Ghana. PentecoStudies, 14(1), 42–71.