Pilgrimage to Imeko (Nigeria): An African Church in the Time of the ‘Global Village’


The life of followers of African Prophetic Churches is divided between an intense, completely localized community life and exceptionally large mass gatherings linked to evangelist campaigns or to pilgrimages. Through the trajectories of immigration that these Churches accompany and the missionary functions exercised by their pastors and prophets, who are constantly crossing borders, the lives of their followers are increasingly governed by the networked rhythms of national and international exchanges. But although globalization is generally synonymous with loss of sense of place and with opening‐up to a virtual network of converts, the African Churches remain attached to a strategy of territorializing their religious identity. ‘African‐style transnationalization’ describes the expansion, beyond its initial borders, of a religion that may have been born of a local syncretism, and is certainly rooted in a reference territory – notably through attachment to holy places – as well as marked by certain original features of its ethnic and national identity, such as the use of an ethnic language regarded as sacred. This process is illustrated here by the example of the Celestial Church of Christ, which is of Beninese origin. Focusing attention on the implications of a pilgrimage to the Celestial City of Imeko shows that the model of the assembly of Angels of God (celestial beings) is still confronted by the demons of ethnic and national identities and that migrant, pilgrim religion may go hand in hand with an overwheening parish‐type logic