The Woman Who Testified: The Pentecostalization of Psychiatry in Yaoundé, Republic of Cameroon


This article takes a case study approach to the predominance of Pentecostalism, a Christian movement emphasizing conversion and testimony to divine grace, among patients at Sommeil Psychiatric Hospital in Yaoundé, Republic of Cameroon. I argue that certain patients’ desire to serve as témoignage (French) or “testimony” (English) to life before and after Sommeil—to the efficacy of biomedical psychiatry—indicates a pattern in which patients drew on their Pentecostal affiliation to navigate psychiatric treatment. Grounded in 24 months of fieldwork with patients and families and hospital staff, I contend that patient experiences of treatment imperfectly paralleled prior and ongoing experiences of Pentecostalism, including cultivation of the desire to convert and testify. Taking this cultivation of desire as a form of subject‐making, I conceptualize the entanglement of religious and therapeutic subjectivities at Sommeil as a patient‐driven “Pentecostalization” of psychiatry, which offers patients plural possibilities and timeframes of health.

Wooden shutter with ‘JESUS’ written on it in red paint. Taken in Yaoundé, Republic of Cameroon. Photo credit: Elizabeth Durham