Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Religions and Religiosities in African Governance


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Over the last two and half decades, there has been a major religious revivalism engulfing the African continent, side-by-side with the efflorescence of new religiosities that are manifested in private as much as they are exhibited in public. Evidence of both the religious revivalism and increased religiosities are strewn in various forms across the landscape of most African countries. The evidence includes: The emergence of new religious denominations alongside the revamping and re-composition of old ones; the spread of a generalised religious fervour that has gone hand-in-hand with innovations in modes of worship and a greater variety in doctrinal interpretations; the massive production and distribution of religious literature, paraphernalia and icons; the proliferation of institutions and places of worship in rural and urban centres, most times regardless of established city and rural master plans; the mobilisation of large numbers of people to regular religious crusades/rallies on a scale and with a frequency not commonly seen on the continent; the growth and expansion of religious broadcasts, gospel music and televangelism; the massive expansion of the social welfare function and presence of the church and the mosque; the expansion in religious associational life spanning various spheres of life and livelihood; the (re-)establishment on a massive scale of religious schools (including universities); and the emergence of religious institutions as major economic/financial players.

Although much of the literature has focused on Christian religious revivalism and religiosity, the resurgence that has occurred has not by any means been limited to the Christian faith; both Islam and “traditional” religions have enjoyed a boom in their own way, doing so sometimes in reactive competition among the different denominations and sects for the hearts and souls of the populace. Similarly, although much of the concern in the dominant literature about the revivalism taking place among Muslims has been disproportionately focused on Islamic “extremism” and “terrorism”, clearly practices which may be characterised as extremist are also present in the Christian religious revivalism that has occurred, manifesting itself in various ways that deserve to be closely studied too. At the same time, syncretism in religious practices has enjoyed a revival, sometimes translating into social movements that stake direct political claims. Furthermore, the reasons underpinning the revival in religions and the efflorescence of new religiosities have been much debated in the literature and are the objects of a continuing discussion that deserves to be engaged but which needs not detain us here for now. Suffice it to note though that much of that discussion has sidestepped the question of the impact of religious revivalism and religiosities on the governance of state and society across the continent. It is precisely this gap that the 2008 session of the CODESRIA Governance Institute is designed to fill.

In the construction of the contemporary African state system, the underlying assumption is that religion belongs to the private sphere and, in a “true” liberal, republican spirit, is to be separated from the state. Little wonder then that the framers of the constitutions of independent African countries underscored the secular status of the state and went to great lengths to inscribe the principle of the separation of state and religion into the system of governance. And yet, even in the 1950s and 1960s, as colonialism came to an end and independence was achieved, it was clear that the matter of the role of religion in governance could not simply be reduced to a legal-constitutional matter. For, many were the sociological reasons and processes that made for the interpenetration of the public and private realms such that even with the best efforts, religions and religiosities did creep, almost instinctively, into the conduct of state affairs in the same way as they were infused into the making and reproduction of the public realm. In the worst cases, direct legal and political challenges were posed by the partisans of the dominant religions and bearers of the new religiosities to the principle and practice of the secular state as to force the recognition of the role and place of religion in national life unto the national agenda. The social polarisation occasioned by such challenges sometimes resulted in violent conflicts between Christians and Muslims; clashes between religious militants and the local forces of law and order; ethno-regional conflicts in places where the spread of different religious persuasions co-terminated with geographical-administrative regions and ethnicity; sustained pressures for constitutional changes and the reform of national-territorial administration to accommodate religious claims; attempts at narrowing morality in public life to religious morality; and campaigns aimed at re-defining civic identities and the educational curricular in accordance with various religious creeds.

Through the 2008 Governance Institute, the Council proposes to focus scholarly attention primarily on the implications of the religious revivalism and the new religiosities that have been experienced in Africa for governance on the continent. To this end, various governance dimensions of the resurgence in religions and religiosities will be explored. At one level, attention will be paid to the impact of the new religiosity on the governance of the public realm in Africa, that realm being understood in all-encompassing manner to include political, economic, social, cultural, artistic, aesthetic, ethical and moral dimensions that are permeated by various class, gender, ethno-regional and inter-generational relations. At another level, laureates of the Institute will be encouraged to examine the impact of religion and religiosities on the African state and its functioning, doing so from a historicized perspective that also takes on board the plethora of legal-constitutional, political-administrative and sociological-cultural challenges arising. Furthermore, the consequences of competing religious claims and religiosities on the nation-building project, especially in multi-ethnic contexts where various religious sects and denominations exist side-by-side, will be examined in-depth. Also, the role of religious associations in national politics will be explored, as will their impact on the mobilisation and reproduction of leadership and legitimacy. Of interest too will be the manner in which religious/spiritual power and temporal authority and power are interfaced in the process of governance in Africa both historically and contemporaneously. The role of religious institutions, including the media organisations they control, in the democratic processes taking place in Africa will be examined, it being understood that a central part of the African democratic project is the promotion of gender equality. The new religiosities have also been accompanied by the emergence of new social movements anchored in religion such as the Holy Spirit Movement and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The politics of those movements will be examined.

November 5 2008

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