Carl, “The Ritualization of the Self”

Carl, Florian.  2014.  The Ritualization of the Self in Ghanaian Gospel Music.  Ghana Studies 17: 101-129.

Excerpt: Considering the prominence of gospel music in Ghana’s public sphere (see also Atiemo 2006; Carl 2012 and 2013; Collins 2004 and 2012), as well as the central place it occupies in Charismatic worship itself, this article explores gospel music performance at the interface of ritual and media.1 I particularly focus on the interrelationship between the performance practices of congregational worship and the mediated performances that inhabit Ghana’s mediascape in various audiovisual formats. Existing studies understand Charismatic expressive culture in Ghana as a “conversion to modernity” (Marshall-Fratani 1998: 286; cf. Dilger 2008; Meyer 1999), as cathartic relief (Collins 2004), or in terms of the indigenization of Christianity (Amanor 2004 and Atiemo 2006). Instead, I argue for approaching this culture as ritual performance, as a form of mimesis that involves embodied patterns of ritualized behavior as well as playful improvisation and that serves, in this way, as a medium of self-creation and self-transformation, what, with reference to anthropologist Thomas Csordas (1990 and 1994), I call the ritualization of the self (see also Butler 2002 and 2008). In doing so, I want to contribute to the understanding of an aspect of Ghanaian popular culture that has so far received relatively little attention. Additionally, I want to add to the more detailed study of Charismatic ritual in general which, as Joel Robbins remarked, “despite its widely acknowledged importance, […] is notably scarce in the literature” (2004: 126).