I have been observing and analyzing religious trends in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa for several decades, with a particular focus on new religious movements, variously termed “minority religious groups,” “sects,” or “unconventional religious groups.” My years of living in southern Nigerian cities afforded me valuable insights into the workings of complex religious landscapes. As democratization, neoliberalism, media deregulation, and global religious activism increasingly change the stakes of coexistence between religious groups, and between such groups and the state, the management of Africa’s increasingly competitive religious public spheres has become a more compelling area of investigation.
Posts Tagged ‘Africa’
Over the past decade, scholarly inquiry into contemporary religion has moved from an understanding of religion as waning in the face of ongoing secularization toward a focus on the mutual constitution and interaction of religious and secular that underpins both the ideology of secularism and modern religiosity. This has produced pathbreaking research into the dynamics of religious transformation and generated deeper insights into the relation between religion and modernity. Importantly, these insights yield a new theoretical standpoint that transcends secularist ideologies according to which religion is bound to disappear—or at least to retreat into the private sphere—yet at the same time makes these ideologies subject to investigation. The fact that public debates about the so-called resurgence of religion often affirm the fault lines between “religious” and “secular” positions testifies to the fruitfulness of this new standpoint.
In his new publication, Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa, David Chidester explores South African indigenous religious heritage and the meaning and power of this religion in a changing South African society.
Recently I am struck by the ambiguity of the concept of the religious. Reading Linda Heuman’s review of Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution, and then turning to Bellah’s book itself, after having been reading Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies, I feel as I have before how uncertain it is that we who write about religion in history are all writing about the same thing! Bellah’s book is an attempt to factor that uncertainty into the equation, for sure. In one part of Bellah’s overall reconstruction of “axial transitions” (including the birth of monotheism), he considers three case studies, two Native American and one Aboriginal Australian, with scrupulous care. The idea is to get a picture—before the shift to the ecumenical story, when the forces of the axial age change everything—of developmentally prior, not to say primordial, religions, without adopting anything as distortive as a model or a linear theory.
At African Arguments, Knox Chitiyo and Lucy Mbugua investigate the potential for faith-based groups to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa.
The Social Science Research Council has announced three new fellowship opportunities for African faculty researching topics related to peace, security, and development. The Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa program “responds to a shortage of well-trained faculty now reaching crisis proportions in African higher education.”
Mahmood Mamdami places the Egyptian revolution and other protest movements in the historical context of popular struggle in Africa.
“Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists broke matzo with Jewish Israelis in a Tel Aviv basketball court before this year’s Passover began. The “Out of Egypt” seder, a thousand-strong gathering in a seedy park near the central bus station, was four days early; many of the guests—African refugees and Asian migrant workers—are busy cleaning Israeli homes during Passover proper. The Sudanese and Eritrean guests have literal Out-of-Egypt stories to tell: Most lived in Cairo for months or years before crossing the Sinai by foot to get to Israel. But there’s no Moses in their exodus stories. There are Bedouin smugglers who charge thousands of dollars to lead them through the desert. There are Egyptian border guards who shoot. There are barbed-wire fences to run and jump—if they make it, into another people’s Zion.”
In another example of how mass media shape and constrain what constitutes legitimate Islam and religion more generally, the New York Times published a news analysis on April 10, 2011, that explains Minister Louis Farrakhan’s recent support for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi as an attempt to gain support, or at least attention, for his declining movement. I was a source for the story, but an exchange of twenty-three emails seems largely to have failed to convince the reporter of my analysis of the phenomenon as an example of pan-African politics.