15 January 2018 from 12:45 to 13:45

PhD thesis Johanneke Kamps on Satanism in Zambia

Gemeenteleden in een kerk in Lusaka die aan het bidden zijn tegen de machten van het kwaad. © Johanneke Kamps
© Johanneke Kamps

On 15 January 2018 Johanneke Kamps will defend her PhD thesis in the University Hall. Her thesis deals with persuasiveness of contemporary narratives about Satanism in Zambia. 

Speak of the devil, and he appears

According to an old English proverb, ‘Speak of the devil, and he appears.’ In contemporary Zambia, many people are speaking about Satan and Satanists. Satanism refers in Zambia to a supposed organization, headed by Satan, dedicated to bring evil and harm, especially to Christians. Ex-Satanists claim and/or experience a previous allegiance to this organization. Narratives about Satanism generally speak of sacrifices being made to Satan, often executed through road accidents, illnesses or spiritual means. These narratives are persuasive: they are spread and taken seriously. For some they are reason to see themselves or others as possible Satanists, in other cases they trigger violent reactions. This dissertation investigates what factors contribute to the persuasiveness of contemporary narratives about Satanism.

Imaginable stories

First, cultural conventions render a narrative plausible: Satanism can only be taken seriously if the stories that circulate about it are, to their audiences, imaginable. Satanism is part of a web of beliefs mediated through stories, connected to traditional Zambian notions about witchcraft and possession. In the discourse of Satanism, these local narratives have been transformed and are taken up into a global, Christian, narrative of spiritual warfare.

Diagnosis Satanism

For ex-Satanists narratives about Satanism do not merely describe a plausible reality. Satanism is perceived as a diagnosis. Accepting this diagnosis of Satanism requires a reinterpretation of the past. For ex-Satanists, their involvement in Satanism gives meaning to negative experiences like the deaths of relatives, and feelings of rejection and isolation. This makes the narratives persuasive on a personal level.

Pastors help the ex-Satanists to interpret their past in the context of Satanism, and encourage them to share their experiences. The endorsement by pastors makes testimonies credible to their audience. For pastors, testimonies are significant because they give evidence of the theology of spiritual warfare and of the power of the pastor to deal with evil forces. Through the performance of the testimonies, the battle between God and the devil is made tangible.

Johanneke Kamps
Johanneke Kamps

Testimonies and tensions

Testimonies fuel the knowledge people have about the satanic realm and its intentions. Stories about Satanism are also shared as rumours and legends. Rumours about Satanism typically target five professions: politicians, businessmen, teachers, pastors, and government officials involved in development projects. These ‘usual suspects’ are connected to urban worlds of meaning. Satanism is the idiom in which concerns about illicit accumulation in an urban setting are expressed.

Changes and tensions in a society can explain why certain narratives become more or less popular. The tensions reflected in the testimonies of ex-Satanists indicate where the gaps between expectations of modernity and lived reality are especially wide. Narratives about Satanism give meaning to the experience of disillusionment with modernity.


Plausibility, credibility, personal relevance, tensions in communities, and social developments make narratives about Satanism persuasive. A recurring theme in the dissertation is the sense of insecurity on different levels: economic, personal, spiritual. Narratives about Satanism reveal hidden agencies behind confusing circumstances and have the power to both alleviate and increase insecurity. This insecurity forms the fertile ground in which narratives about Satanism thrive.


Start date and time
15 January 2018 12:45
End date and time
15 January 2018 13:45
PhD candidate
Johanneke Kamps
Speaking of Satan in Zambia. The persuasiveness of contemporary narratives about Satanism
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. Birgit Meyer