Noise and Silence in Rwanda’s Postgenocide Religious Soundscape

In: Journal of Religion in Africa

Abstract

This article explores conflicts around noise and silence in Rwanda’s postgenocide religious soundscape. After the genocide, new Pentecostal (or abarokore) churches grew rapidly in the country and offered up noise and a specific understanding of praise and worship music (guhimbaza Imana) as important ways to enact healing. However, Catholics emphasised silence and viewed the new Pentecostal churches as distracting interlopers. Far from being trivial differences, I argue that these conflicts around sound hint at wider divides in Rwandan society and a worrying new convergence between religious and ethnic identity. Focusing on aural conflicts between Christian denominations can therefore help us gain a better sense of the limits of Pentecostal conversion. Instead of assuming that Pentecostals are necessarily ‘noisy’, I suggest we pay closer attention to the ways in which they may also cultivate silence, and how this relates to wider power structures.

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