Sophia Kremser | PhD Candidate, University of Salzburg
“Flexibility” is the main quality that leads research projects to success in 2020. One positive effect of Covid-19 is that it forces researchers to be very flexible regarding project planning and the organization of data collection processes. Furthermore, conducting field work in so-called “red list countries” due to Covid-19 cases requires either a maximum of courage, or the flexibility of adapting research designs. On top of that, introducing a project on migration and mobility, which is dependent on the researcher’s mobility itself, requires a good sense of humor in relation to the pandemic times we currently experience. Therefore, I muster all my courage and humor to introduce my PhD project on how global church practices and faith narratives of Nigerian Pentecostalism stimulate the creation of a transnational identity that shapes individual’s mobility and migration practices.
Focusing on how migrant’s cross-border practices both form and change political, economic and cultural contexts my main attention is drawn to the religious aspect of the theme. Religious belonging does not only link migrants to coreligionists in the home and host countries. Far beyond migration global religious movements unite members, wherever they live with fellow believers around the globe. In this sense transnational narratives play a significant role by tying individuals and communities into a larger common constituencies. Along these transnational ties migrants are enabled to maintain a homeland connection in religious affairs, transform religious practice in their homelands and export different versions of faith with political or social consequences in the host society. Consequently, migrant transnational practices involve and have an influence on religious phenomena. This includes patterns of organization, personal and group identities, intergroup relations, modes of practice and faith. As a result, processes of migrant transnationalism support significant forms of religious transformation within these patterns.
Apart from religious transformation caused by transnational church practices and narratives the created transnational identity shapes mobility and migration practices. Consequently, the interaction of religious practices and transnational migration and mobility culminates in a Christian movement called Nigerian Pentecostalism. Nigerian pentecostal churches are active in today’s societies, use recent communication methods, media and marketing, generate international networks of transport and mobility and have a focus on prosperity. The networking strategy of pentecostal initiatives involves social and religious practices that contribute to the claim of a transnational identity and have an impact on the transnational development of migration and mobility. On a personal level faith narratives serve as an interpretation frame for migration and mobility practices. Both global church practices and faith narratives of Nigerian Pentecostalism play a key role in forming a transnational identity that shapes people’s migration and mobility practices. Next to transnational church practices and narratives, people’s aspirations of personal success, better living conditions and the pursuit of mobility add to the dynamic of constructing a global identity.
Methodically my PHD project is based on a qualitative approach combining participant observation and problem-centered Interviews (PCI). Within the data collection process fieldwork is conducted in different cities of Austria, Germany and Nigeria. Lock down realities, the situation of “red list” countries and people’s attitude rather not attending in-person meetings required a great data collection flexibility. A theoretical sampling process helped to practice this flexibility by jumping back and forth between data analysis and the collection of new material. Even though the pandemic slowed down the process of data collection I was able to collect a good amount of observations in various church locations and interviews with respondents from different branches in Austria, Germany and Nigeria. I focused on one specific church of Nigerian Pentecostalism and its global network that is a prime example for the construction of a transnational identity and a proclaimed high mobility status of church leaders and members. Another reason focusing specifically on this church is the practiced women leadership, which is very unusual for the men dominated leadership of Nigerian pentecostal churches.
In consequence of having to postpone my second planned research trip to Lagos in Nigeria from August to December this year, I focused on interviewing in the church branches in Germany and Austria. This interview phase illustrated that the investigation of the church headquarters in Benin City, Nigeria is my next step. Another positive effect of pandemic times was the home office situation. I was able to spend the time it previously took me to get from home to my work on my data analysis and started an open coding process. The first five interviews I coded already gave me an insight how church practices and narratives stimulate the creation of a transnational identity. Despite some difficulties of getting an overview and conceptualize the codes, I was able to map out first concepts and theory approaches. One assumption is that global church practices and faith narratives of Nigerian Pentecostalism stimulate the creation of a transnational identity that shapes individual’s mobility and migration practices. My next step is to test this hypothesis within another data collection phase in Benin City Nigeria in December this year. Though the current situation is not in favour of planning a research trip, I am looking forward to collect further interview data in the church headquarters in Benin City, Nigeria. In previous interviews the church’s headquarters turned out to be an important global player in the worldwide church network in relation to transnational communication practices and holding international gatherings. My intention of planning a field trip to Benin City in December requires a great flexibility in changing travel plans and adapting my research design. Simultaneously, I am ready to go back to a deeper analysis of my so far collected data, which will make a future fieldtrip even more successful. Whether being able to carry out the fieldtrip to Benin City or not, a great flexibility in planning and adapting my research design is required to successfully carry out the PhD project – and not to forget the permanent companionship of courage and humor.