The Idea of Religion: African Perspectives and Planetary Considerations
Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University
6 to 10 June 2022
This conference takes cue from the premise that in the last two decades, many countries in Africa have experienced ostensible political changes. Whether it was a military coup (Egypt), a quasidemocratic and peaceful transition (Tunisia), a silent transition (Morocco), a violent transition (Libya), or an ongoing transition (Algeria), these have a common denominator: the impact of religion (either negative or positive) was prominent. This situation is not only specific to North African countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, we can speak of similar experiences. In Rwanda, the implications of religious impact on the genocide end of the 1990s are still looming large. In South Africa, the relationship between religion and Apartheid regime is still a subject matter of heated debates. The political fabric in other African countries such as Sudan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe is witnessing forceful alterations. In the foregoing, religion dramatically attended to the grotesque metamorphosis. Religion in Africa was often connected on the one hand to crisis(es) and suffering (famine and poverty), to disasters and catastrophes (flood, drought), to illnesses (HIV/Aids, Ebola) and on other hand to prosperity and success (Pentecostalism/charismatic movements).
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a strong impact on the practice of religion and the behaviourism associated with it around the globe. The world has witnessed, for instance, a radical regression in the conventional, largely taken for granted ways in which religion is performed and experienced (everyday religious practices as well as religious feasts and celebrations). Mosque/church/shrine rituals have been suffused by Covid-19 preventive measures that suffused these spaces with contingencies, insecurities, ushering their goers into new protocols of ‘knowing’ with regards to concepts like ‘worship’, ‘prayer’, ‘being together’ (in joy and grief, ‘giving’ (to those in need), ‘visiting the ill’). These ostensible, largely visible and observable, ramifications of faith, signalling recognizible transitions at the external level of religious performance, do not function at a remove from changes, transformations and transitions with the often subtle, internal spheres of the heartland, or within the psychosomatic warehouses of the mind and the intellect. Religion was reduced to the “private” and “individual” sphere. Sacred space was “controlled”, “regulated” and “redefined” (Where to pray? How long? How?). As such, religious practices have witnessed radical shifts, offering worshippers numerous possibilities in the post-Covid-19 dispensation. Virtual spaces, for instance, have provided worshippers opportunity to perform liturgy.
By linking the term religion to the conceptual, and highly discursive category of transition, we are not only trying to capture moments of change in the religious, social, cultural and political fabric of Africa, but also empirically grapple with the concept of transition as a term that is symptomatic of meanings like resilience, adaptability, movement, shift, growth, progress, upheaval and diversity. We are interested in comparative studies that examine how similar religious models, trends and lifestyles in one country produce dis(similar) dynamics in another. Besides we are equally interested in how transformations of the familiar (as in familiar religious actions) have implications on our emotive reactions to and cognitive perceptions of our faiths, and, by default, the on ways we imagine the future of our religions in a world highly impacted by globalization and its risks. It is important to see how risk (i.e. pandemics, global warming, wars) as rudimentary globalization by-products are linked to questions of responsibility and accountability that we often link to ontological questions, such as those related to the future of the human within the metaphysical, the metaphysical within the human, which, in turn, we cannot possible delink from questions regarding the human and the metaphysical within the planet.
Tracing the ways religion rolls over the African map can help us to observe how each turn contributes to the rise of inevitable changes, non-random conflicts and subtle semantics in categories like the urban protocols, public spaces, youth (sub)cultures, festive communities, social networks, immigrant societies, female magazines, diaspora literatures, fashion/dress systems, TV programs, literary/cinematic productions, educational textbooks, children’s cultures and university student movements. This conference, therefore, departs from the underlying argument that religion is not a self-sufficient or self-indulgent category, but a transitional field that touches and gets touched by trans-African socialities, temporalities and spatialities in which people, times and spaces are subject to wavering, unstable, and alternating epistemological velocities. Reflections and contributions that think beyond the frames of reference below are highly welcome:
- Religious reactions (emotive and/or cognitive) to crisis
- Religious Individuals and groups in times of the pandemic
- Religion and state control
- Religion, Performance and the digital space/information technologies
- Our modern predicament: a threat or opportunity for religion?
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