Transnational Yoruba (Nigerian) Pentecostalism, Child Witchcraft, and Deliverance

  • Claire Ayelotan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The primary purpose is to examine the role of selected Yoruba (Nigerian) Pentecostal leaders in child witchcraft accusations in both the UK and Yorubaland. Scholarly investigations of collective faith-based child cruelty (CFCC) linked to child witchcraft and pentecostalism through a transnational dimension are relatively few, and of these, none focuses on one instigator: the Pentecostal leaders. The principal aim is to identify, gain a deeper understanding of, and document the link between Pentecostal religious beliefs and practices and witchcraft accusations of children in Nigerian culture. To addressed this, this work adopts an interdisciplinary approach that includes qualitative research applying ethnographic methods targeted at selected Yoruba (Nigerian) Pentecostal leaders.
The three overarching research questions are, Question 1: “What theological, cultural, socio-economic, and legal factors have influenced Pentecostal beliefs and practices regarding child witchcraft accusations in Nigeria and the Nigerian diaspora in the UK?” The broad subject area is witchcraft—its beliefs and practices (including accusations of child witchcraft among Pentecostal churches in two Nigerian cities) and its relationship to pentecostalism in Nigeria, Christian theological anthropology, and human rights discourse. The project analyses the socio-political, theological, and ethnographic influences that fuel occultism and accusations of child witchcraft, in particular, to situate these phenomena in a cultural context to understand better and address the underlying issues.
Question 2. “To what extent are issues of power, gender relations, and Pentecostal leadership dynamics implicated in the perpetuation of accusations of child witchcraft among Nigerian Pentecostals?” It also discusses questions of power and charismatic leadership.
Question 3. “How have Nigerian Pentecostal beliefs and practices related to child witchcraft accusations been adapted or recontextualised through migration and transnationalism?” The investigation places great emphasis on studying this religious practice in the United Kingdom, looking at the churches’ deliverance doctrines and modes of worship, talking to participants, and going to Nigeria, the home country, to look at the foundations of these religious practices and the witchcraft child practices. Face-to-face and telephone semi-structured interviews were carried out with forty-six pastors and two non-pastors. As a participant as observer and as an observer as participant, I made brief participant observations in person and virtually. As a participant as observer, I completed these in-person participant-observations in churches in London, UK, and Lagos, Nigeria, from 2018 through 2019. I conducted the virtual participant observation as an observer as participant for four months in 2020 during a COVID-19 global lockdown. I carried out the textual analysis of publications from three celebrity pastors of Yoruba megachurches. The significant original contributions to knowledge from this project are, a) Bringing transnationalism into research about child witchcraft accusations.
Although other key players address witchcraft, deliverance, and related subjects, they have not touched on child witchcraft by bringing in transnationalism, and this is the gap that my research filled.
b) Two concluding results—constructed shared belief and collective complicity— merged from the ten-theme findings. These address the complexities of constructed shared beliefs and how they influence leadership positions and liturgical practices.
c) Some studies on Nigerian Pentecostalism slightly touch on the area of witchcraft and deliverance, but none focuses specifically on this.
d) There are several articles or book chapters with related discussions, but there is little extensive research on child witchcraft focusing on Yorubaland. This work will be beneficial for child protection practitioners and policymakers. This research concludes that the practice of accusing children of witchcraft is part of the religious traditions of some of these worshippers and not a general practice among the Yoruba (Nigerian) Pentecostals. Unless significantly more investigations are made into the role of pentecostal leaders in the phenomenon, it is difficult to conclude that the accusations of child witchcraft are not normative in this movement.
Date of Award19 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorRichard Burgess (Director of Studies) & R. David Muir (Co-Supervisor)


  • Child Witchcraft
  • Nigerian Pentecostal Churches
  • Yoruba (Nigerian) Pentecostalism
  • Collective Violence
  • Child Abuse
  • Child Safeguarding
  • Deliverance
  • Human Rights
  • Symbolic Interactionism

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