Pentecostalism and Edo language video films in Nigeria

Osa, Edorodion Agbon (2021). Pentecostalism and Edo language video films in Nigeria. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The Nigerian video film industry, commonly known as Nollywood, has come a long way since its rise in the late twentieth century. Since then, the industry has grown to become one of the major sources of engagement with the Nigerian and the Nigerian diasporic ways of life. At the core of this engagement with the life world of its audience members is their religious life. While many religious organisations in Nigeria have seized the wide acceptance of Nollywood to project themselves and to assemble specific audiences, the dominant religious theme of the video film industry is the spiritual battle between Pentecostal Christianity and African traditional religion. This is especially obvious in the English language Nigerian religious video films. In academic studies of the portrayal of these two religions, many scholars highlight that post-colonial English language Nigerian religious video filmmakers grant preference to Pentecostal Christianity.

This thesis examines the representation of Pentecostal Christianity and African traditional religion in Edo language video films, which are part of the Nigerian video film industry. It focuses on a specific genre of Edo language video films that portray the tension between Pentecostalism and indigenous religion. In this dissertation, African traditional religion is used interchangeably with and to reflect Edo traditional religion, which is part of the local discourses that draw on a diverse range of practices that are dynamic and subject to innovations over time. Also, English language video filmmakers references post-colonial film producers. In addition to secondary sources, the study spans two years of familiarisation with the fieldwork site between 2015 and 2017 and a seven-month extensive engagement with the research participants from June 2018 to January 2019. The thesis adopts a qualitative and ethnographic approach based on participant observation, semi-structured and unstructured interviews, and textual analysis. It also uses the quantitative method of questionnaires to retrieve data from a segment of the participants.

The thesis argues that unlike English language Nigerian video film producers, Edo language video filmmakers do not privilege Pentecostal Christianity or African traditional religion in their films. Rather than typecast one religion as good and the other as evil, Edo language video filmmakers use the values of the two religions, which they see as similar, to promote the moral and ethical wellbeing of Edo citizens and Benin society. Beyond this, the filmmakers use their films to project a pan-Edo ethnic identity that recreates the historical Benin Kingdom in the twenty-­‐first century. They do this by drawing on the values of Pentecostalism, traditional religion, the institution of the Oba of Benin, the language, royalty more generally, and the historical and traditional figures and sites in and around Benin. As many filmmakers believe that Edo people are excluded from participating in the centre stage of Nigeria’s economic, political and social life because of their population size, they deploy their films to create a visible socio-political and cultural space for Edo people in a multi-ethnic Nigerian nation, and to promote a strong pan‐Edo sense of unity amongst the people who trace their origin to the ancient Benin Kingdom in the diaspora.

By arguing that Edo language video filmmakers adopt a ‘neutral’ attitude to the portrayal of religion, the study challenges the notion that African film producers prioritise Pentecostal Christianity over traditional religion. It suggests that a new approach should be embraced, which takes into account the highly specific locales in which indigenous African language video filmmakers operate. It also calls for the expansion of on‐going debates about ethnicity and cultural nationalism that gives due attention to video and film more generally. The thesis suggests that future research should focus on the portrayal of religion in other parts of Nigeria and Africa to see if they resonate with the findings of this study. This is especially so given that Edo language video film audience members believe that even in the ‘neutral’ portrayal of religion in Edo language films, African traditional religion enjoys a more positive representation.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology


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