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

Panel Chair: Magnus Echtler | Monday, August 24, 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.

Ulrich Berner

Naturalistic worldview and/or Nature Religion? National Parks as Sacred Spaces

Since the beginning of the 20th century, in various countries, national parks were founded, in order to conserve nature by protecting limited spaces against economic exploitation and destruction. The arguments for establishing national parks, however, often took up elements of religious language alongside concepts of the natural sciences. Thus the question arises about the distinction between and compatibility of a naturalistic worldview and a religion of Nature. Examples will be taken from the writings of John Muir and Julian Huxley, influential conservationists or biologists who were involved in the foundation of national parks in America and Africa respectively.

Kupakwashe Mtata

Contiguous Modes of Sacredness in the Matobo Hills of Zimbabwe

Utilizing the notion 'religion' beyond its conventional limits and using it rather as a heuristic tool this paper explores sacral practices of various actors in relation to their natural environment in and around the Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe. The colonial imposition of the idea of the national park as a space to be set apart from mundane human activity in the Matobo area, a region which is the core area of the Mwali oracular cult, led to the adjacency of varied sacralities of nature. The 'religions' in question pertain to nature conservation practices in the Matobo National Park and rain-seeking practices in the greater Matobo Hills area. Classification and description of these neighboring 'religions' of nature and description of their interaction will lead to an appreciation of land use disputes and opportunities for cooperation.

Franz Kogelmann

Soofie Saheb and the Snake

The compound of the Riverside Mosque is probably the most sacred space for many Muslims of Durban. It is the place where the shrine of Soofie Saheb was erected. According to a local oral tradition this plot of land has been chosen by Soofie Saheb to construct his first mosque. At the end of the 19th century this area was already inhabited by Indian horticulturists but they were terrified by a huge python living next to them. Soofie Saheb convinced the owner to sell this plot of land to plant the flag of Islam. Fearlessly he approached the place and started to talk to the python. The snake showed up, finally headed towards the lagoon area of the Umgeni River and was never seen again. The paper explores and contextualises the founding myth of the Riverside Mosque with its implications for the establishment of the Chishtiyya Sufi-brotherhood in Durban.


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