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African Sacred Space? Establishing Sacred Places in Africa and Beyond (1/2)

Panel Chair: Franz Kogelmann | Tuesday, August 25, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

The African religious landscape has certainly been dynamic as suggested by this conference. However, with sacred space often conceptualized as trans-human, as removed from the vagrancies of social change, we ask how sacred space is imagined, established and maintained. The panel is concerned with both the poetics and politics of sacred space, with the ways in which sacred space is constructed, shared or contested. We also invite reflection on sacred space beyond the religious realm. How are real places turned into heterotopias, how are they set apart to belong to another order of space that reflects, contests and inverts hegemonic spatial structures? Finally, based on the various papers discussing these questions in their specific contexts, we ask whether it is possible to discern something “African” in the construction of sacred space in Africa and the African Diaspora, something that would distinguish our panel from others on Asia or Europe.

Janice Desire Busingye

Sacred space, urban development and the politics of siting Pentecostal worship places in Kampala, Uganda

Pentecostalism has had a profound effect on the understanding and practice of religion in Africa because of its contemporary nature and resonance with the modern lifestyle of urban dwellers. Because of rapid growth in numbers, the demand for worship spaces puts pressure on available urban spaces. Most ritual spaces are sited on reclaimed wetland, which by law, are supposed to be free of inhabitants. Cost of land informs the choice of wetlands for the construction of sacred site. Pentecostal churches, which have noticeable leaders within city authorities, benefit the most from the reclamation of wetlands because of their claim to sacrality. Based on fieldwork on the spatial practices of the Synagogue Church in Kampala, this paper interrogates how sacred space as spiritually untouchable but economically viable space affects the livelihoods of poor urban dwellers.

Asonzeh Ukah

Sacred Space & the Pentecostal Spirit of Investment. The Production of a Miracle City in Lagos, Nigeria

The city of Lagos in Nigeria, which is the largest city in Africa with more than 20 million inhabitants, has been aptly characterized as the “Pentecostal capital of the world” because of the density and variety of Pentecostal presence. Usually called “prayer camps”, there are many sacred sites in and around Lagos founded by a charismatic figure, popularly called a “man of God”. The central characteristic of these sacred sites is the production and distribution of miracles; hence, these camps are “Miracle Cities”. Miracle Cities re-conceptualize sacred spaces – from sites for the production and consumption of religion to sites of spectacular power.

Magnus Echtler

African Covenant: producing sacred space in the Nazareth Baptist Church, South Africa

This paper is concerned with the production of sacred space in the Nazareth Baptist Church, one of the largest African Independent Churches in South Africa. I analyze the poetics and politics of the church’s most important sites: the holy mountain iNhlangakazi and the sacred city eKuphakameni / eBuhleni. In three steps, I consider how the sacredness of these places is imagined and conceptualized, what spatial order is established in practice during the large congregations in January and July, and, finally, how the access to the sites was contested in the church’s most recent split in 2011. In conclusion, I argue for an increasing ‘Africanization’ in the production of sacred space in the NBC, which forms part of the traditionalization of the authority of the church leaders.


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