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New Dynamics in African Religious Landscapes

Session Chair: Rosalind I.J. Hackett | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Essien Offiong

Developments and Dynamics in the Religious Landscape in Nigeria: A Study of Calabar

Calabar, a multi-religious city in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria witnessed the advent of Christianity in 1846 led by the European Christian missionaries. African traditional religion dominated the religious life of the area before the arrival of the missionaries. Apart from Christianity and African traditional religion other religions such as Islam, and Rosicrucian Order exist in the city. Calabar represents a typical Nigerian city with numerous religious organizations. The early missionary Christianity which came into Calabar were of the Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations. These denominations laid the foundation for the emergence of different strands of Christianity which included the African Initiated Churches (AICs) and the Pentecostal churches. The study focuses on the internal transformation that has developed within African traditional religion, Western Orthodox Christian churches, African Initiated Churches (AICs), and the Pentecostal churches as a result of their convergence in the area. The Western Orthodox Christianity among other practices have changed their mode of worship and doctrinal emphasis. African traditional religion has lost its grip on many people in Calabar. The African Initiated Churches (AICs) which had overshadowed the Western Orthodox Christianity between the 1930s and 1960s have diminished in both impact and numerical strength. The Pentecostal churches which dominated the religious scene of Calabar in the 1970s and 1980s have lost their early aggressive approach to evangelism. The study further examines the socio-religious forces that are responsible for the transformation that has reshaped the religious landscape of Calabar.

Rose Mary Amenga-Etego

Nyame nnwu na M’awu: Discourses on African Indigenous Religions

Nyame nnwu na m’awu is an Akan saying implying ‘God never dies, therefore I cannot die’. This saying underscores the resilience and tenacity of the indigenous religiosity and spirituality in three ways. First, it highlights immortality, as a core attribute of Onyame and the indestructible spiritual deposition in humans, the Okra. Second, it constitutes a name of a unique indigenous shrub that survives and thrives under extreme environmental conditions. Finally, it is one of the names of the Adinkra symbols whose image and embedded meanings have transcended time and space to the global capital market in various innovative forms. In spite of this notion of resilience, the African indigenous religion in Ghana has plummeted, from 38.2% in the 1960 census to 5.2% in 2010 statistically, raising questions about its survival under contemporary social change. This paper examines the future of the indigenous religions in Ghana in relation to this saying.

Ryan Joseph O'Byrne

From the Customary to the Christian? The Dynamics of Cosmological Transformation in Acholi South Sudan

Not even 100 years after the first church was built in Acholi South Sudan, most residents self-describe as Christian. However, as there are several Christian denominations within the community, this description has multiple meanings in everyday practice: each denomination has different understandings of what it ‘means’ to be Christian, especially regarding engagement with cosmological conceptualisations and practices often disparagingly termed ‘traditional beliefs’. The customary has not disappeared with the introduction and widespread adoption of Christianity, however, and contemporary religious development in Acholi South Sudan involves ongoing social and cultural negotiations around the allowable parameters of the sacred. In fact, in diabolising some historically important Acholi cosmological elements, Christianity has only embedded these customary concepts and practices further. This paper explores the changing dynamics of such transformations and how they shape the current sociocultural environment. The question remains: to what extent are these contemporary religious forms customary, Christian, neither, or both?

Elliot Masomera

Making sense of rigidity, reluctant adaptation in African Initiated Churches in Zimbabwe in the face of modernity’s calls for change.

African Initiated Churches in Africa in general and in Zimbabwe in particular have, since their inception strove to retain a catalogue of indigenous religious and cultural practices they fused into their belief system. Practices such as worshipping in open spaces, reluctance to access conventional medical services and low motivation towards formal education for instance have been held on tenaciously. Utilizing postcolonial analytical lens, the paper seeks to understand undergirding beliefs accounting for continual shunning of modern amenities notwithstanding their benefits to adherents and the community at large. In the past decade few sects have slowly but reluctantly been adapting to the societal pressures such as the national legislation but several sects still perceive such calls to adaptation with askance. The paper seeks to understand why adaptation seems possible in some sects while almost impossible in others. Understanding the underlying dynamics, the future of AICs in changing society can be charted.


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