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Article

Luis Nicolau Parés

Despite their diverse political and cultural backgrounds, West Africans and West Central Africans shared some basic religious orientations. With a strong pragmatic focus on solving problems in this world, the dynamism and flexibility of their religious practices were critical for their quick reactivation within Brazilian slave society. The Atlantic transfer, however, deprived African institutions of their structural social basis so a complex innovative process of re-institutionalization was necessary to allow new forms of Afro-Brazilian religions to emerge. Ritual associativism first occurred around the colonial Calundu, mostly concerned with interpersonal healing and divination interactions, but rapidly saw the formation of parallel religious congregations inspired by an ecclesiastical mode of organization based on the initiatory recruitment of novices and the worship of multiple deities. Despite common elements of healing, divination, sacrifice, spirit possession, initiation, and celebration, the genesis of Afro-Brazilian religions was marked by astounding pluralism and eclecticism that led to a wide range of regional variation. The demographics and cultural specificities of the enslaved in each place, as well as local historical circumstances, determined distinct processes of creative synthesis among the various African traditions and between these and hegemonic Iberian Catholicism, Amerindian healing practices, and others. The circulation of ideas and priests across the country and between Africa and Brazil after the end of the Atlantic slave trade also added to the 19th-century consolidation of an Afro-Brazilian religious field. Despite a history of continuous discrimination and persecution, alongside occasional selective tolerance, Afro-Brazilian religions offered a unique space for the transformative reproduction of African values, behaviors, and forms of sociability, which had a long-lasting effect on Brazilian national culture. The temples’ struggles for legitimacy and recognition was expressed in a latent tension between those which claimed an alleged African ritual purity and those accused of syncretism, a divide to which scholars greatly contributed to and which has oriented their classificatory efforts.

Article

In the history of religion in Africa, women have contributed richly to the diversity of indigenous, Christian, and Islamic spiritual practices prevalent within their communities. As mediums, healer-diviners, ministers, mystics, prophets, poets, priestesses, theologians, and spiritual advisors, they are integral to the creation and maintenance of possession cults and other indigenous religious societies, Islamic Sufi orders, mainline and African-initiated churches, as well as new and emerging Christian and Islamic movements. Often inhabiting pluralistic worlds, women weave together creative and dynamic spiritual tapestries that give their lives coherence. An investigation into the experiences of women reveals spaces of agency and constraint, portraits of women’s intimate encounters with the divine, accounts of women’s indigenization of Christianity and reform of Islam, stories of discrimination and of healing, struggles to create more liberating theologies, and stories of extraordinary women shaping religious life and practice on the African continent in irrepressible ways.

Article

Nimi Wariboko

The literature on African Pentecostalism is relatively vast and growing rapidly, but it is, unfortunately, caught in the circle of trying to define what African Pentecostalism is, and how it is what it is. How does African Pentecostalism constitute itself in relation to its sensibilities? How does it bear witness to its form of religiosity as a spirituality that is continually affected by African traditional religions, by economic exigencies and political developments in Africa, and by traditions, doctrines, and the gospel message of Christianity? What does it mean for Africans to express or modify Pentecostalism? How does one capture the style by which African Pentecostals leave their marks on Pentecostalism? The question of how African Pentecostalism defines itself is ultimately a question about Africa bearing witness to itself in African Pentecostalism, and about Pentecostalism expressing itself in an African context. The study of this religious movement, then, is not only about African Pentecostalism, but also about Africans bearing witness to their particular mode of being Pentecostal. It tells the story of the multi-directional openness of African Pentecostal social life without applying a constrictive universalizing framework to the fragmentary nature of African Pentecostalism. The movement is an assemblage of practices, ideas and theologies, and interpretations of reality, whose tangled roots burrow deep into the past, present, and future segments of African temporality. African Pentecostalism, like any other human endeavor, is full of fragments, and to understand it scholars must think in parts rather than in unified cultural wholes.

Article

Political complexity in archaeological research has traditionally been defined as socio-political differentiation (roles, statuses, offices) integrated through centralized systems of power and authority. In recent decades the assumption that complex organizational forms tend to be hierarchical in structure has been called into question, based upon both archaeological research and ethnological observations worldwide, including in classic archaeological case studies of centralization. Moreover, there has been an increasing interest in exploring variability in political legitimizations and articulations of power and authority globally. Until these theoretical shifts, West African complex societies, both archaeological and from ethnographic analyses, were largely ignored in discussions of political complexity since many (but not all) conformed poorly to the expectations of highly centralized power and administration. West African ethnohistoric and archaeological examples are now playing important roles in current discussions of heterarchical organizational structures, checks on exclusionary power, cooperation, urbanism, ethnicity, and the nature of administration in states.

Article

In his influential book, Kingdoms of the Savanna (1966), Jan Vansina described the rise of the kingdoms of the south-central African interior from the 15th century. These include the Luba (the mulopwe titleholders), Lunda (the nuclear Lunda, also termed Rund, of the mwant yav titleholders), Lunda-Ndembu, Chokwe, Pende, Luvale, Luluwa, Kanyok, Luba-Kasai, Kuba, Eastern Lunda, Yeke, and the Bemba. New analyses of oral traditions as well as the study of art, archaeology, ethnographic fieldwork, linguistics, and documentary sources haverevised understandings of these polities and added details. Historians have considered the context of the production of primary sources, in particular art and oral traditions, which were created during a transformative 19th century, when trade and violence contributed to the centralization of power for some polities and the disintegration of others. With subjects questioning the power of sovereigns, art, oral traditions, and oral praises projected royal genealogies and the qualities of kingship into a vague antiquity. The study of historical linguistics has also provided inroads into understanding the dissemination of political institutions and titles along with tentative accounts of their historical depth. Ethnographic fieldwork has further elaborated on the functioning of political systems and religious ideas. These diverse primary sources complicate the historiography of central African kingdoms; they also indicate the spread of alternative political and religious affiliations during the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular Luba fertility associations and Lunda fictive kin alliances.

Article

Intellectual historians of Africa are principally concerned with how Africans have understood and contested the contexts that they inhabited in the past, and how ideas and vernacular discourses change over time. As a particular approach in historical methodology it is closely associated with cultural history, and its evolution followed the emergence of political history writing during the 1960s and social history during the 1980s. The first innovative works in African intellectual history were concerned with pan-Africanism and Négritude. These studies were followed by histories of religious ideas and social dissent. Historians have since offered varying descriptions of Africa’s “intellectuals.” For some, Africa’s colonial intellectuals were mostly missionary-educated literati, while others emphasize Africa’s rural intellectual histories and the importance of studying “homespun,” or vernacular historiographies. African epistemologies and knowledge production have also remained a central concern in the study of African intellectual history. To illuminate Africa’s intellectual registers, historians interrogate different topics, regions, and temporalities. Historians of precolonial Africa use historical linguistics to understand the intersection of ideas about public healing and social organization. Scholars of the colonial period challenge many of the earlier assumptions held by colonial researchers and policy makers, who had cast African communities as primordial, conquered peoples. Intellectual historians, by contrast, explore the constantly changing arenas of ideational disputation and political contestation within African societies. Intellectual historians of gender have shown how ideas about production, masculinity, and femininity have informed competing nodes of authority. By the early 21st century, global intellectual historians began demonstrating how Africans reworked European political ideas into local vernacular debates about the past, and how Africans have shaped the making of the modern world. To write Africa’s intellectuals histories, scholars draw from a range of sources, which are often maintained in institutional archives, public libraries, and private homes. These sources—textual, oral, and material—include letters, diaries, annotated libraries, vernacular newspapers, grammars, novels, oral histories, linguistic etymologies, sculptures, clothing, paintings, photography, film, and music.