Chapter 3: Traditional African Religious Beliefs and Practices | Pew Research Center
The traditional African religions are a set of highly diverse beliefs that include .. video & photocasting); serii.info An article explaining the parallels between traditional and. The study of Africa's traditional religion and the environment can be termed the ecology of religion. The complexity of the relationship between environment and . The Role of African Traditional Religion, Culture and World-View in the Context of . and harmonious relationship between people, God, ancestors, and nature.
An example of this type of culture is the modern Western society since the Renaissance.Yoruba & The Orishas : The Demonization of Black Religion
Culture is a domain of potentiality and choice. The way in which culture is interpreted today is that culture is perceived as providing room for freedom of choice and combinations of elements. Cultural patterns are marketable and transferable, and their power is negotiable. People belonging to this type of culture are mainly seen as consumers of culture although also as producers. They produce something new by way of combination and present it as commodity ready for consumption. Exponents of this type of culture are multi-cultural societies or mixed cultures or postmodern cultures subject to globalisation.
From this analysis, the constant production and consumption of culture are emphasised. When religion forms a segment of culture under the third stage described by Minnema, religion becomes a commodity prepared for utility and consumption. A problem, however, arises when people with a Stage 1 or 2 understanding of culture encounter a community where a Stage 3 understanding of culture is prevalent.
If culture is perceived as a given, there can be no negotiation as to integration or accommodation. The different stages of cultural development must be taken into account when studying inter-cultural contact.
Ethnicity and religion The relation between ethnicity and religion has been viewed differently over centuries. MacKay suggests two existing models of viewing the relationship. During the 19th century, the Primordialist view governed relations between religion and ethnicity.
This changed to a Circumstantialist position during the late 20th century. The Primordialist theory MacKay This also applies to religion. Religion is regarded as a priori given as part of identity of an ethnic group. This reflects Minnema's identification of Stage 1 of cultural development. There exists congruence between religion and ethnic identity.
The core element determining identity in this case is religion.
The Circumstantialist theory MacKay As circumstances change so does identity. Social interactions determine group identity. The result is that identity is not perceived as fixed.
The borders between ethnic groups are part of a dynamic process and not fixed. Religion is seen as part of a social system. The borders of religious and ethnic identity do not necessarily overlap. In communities where the relation between ethnicity and religion is viewed in this way, integration is much more likely to succeed. This model combines the Primordialist and Circumstantialist position. Constructivism recognises that ethnic identity is formed in part by birth and not by choice.
This identity might be re-enforced by mythic traditions emphasising the uniqueness of a particular community. The Constructivistic position, however, also recognises that these given elements determining identity are also constantly but gradually reconstructed based on an interpretation of the context, emphasising the circumstantial influence on identity formation. Identity is then constantly under revision based on interaction and exposure to other group identities.
Traditional African religions
Ethnic identity then becomes flexible. To understand group identity, the circumstances of ethnic groups may then be studied to determine which circumstantial elements can contribute to formation of identity. According to Frederik Barth It is the ethnic boundary that defines a group and not the cultural content it encloses Barth It is especially at the boundaries that the identity stands out sharper.
Studying ethnic communities at the boundaries of identity will highlight the decisions made in reaction to circumstantial elements determining identity.
For example, how ethnic groups make a decision on what clothes to wear or music to listen to will be based on ethical convictions that differ from another ethnic community. These ethical convictions function at the border between ethnic groups. There may be ethics that two groups may agree on. These convictions would rather stand at the centre of each group than at the periphery of identity.
Studying the boundaries may prove important in understanding ethnic differences, and it may contribute to reconciling differences. Why is it necessary to study ethnicity and culture when studying religion? Can one study religion without studying ethnicity and culture? One can only understand the nature of religion when one understands its connectedness to ethnicity and culture. The interrelatedness and interaction of people from different cultures and races belonging to different religions are our focus here.
This endeavour becomes even more urgent when considering current world events. Globalisation, post-colonialism and growing multi-cultural societies because of migration nationally or internationally because of economic, social, political and health reasons necessitate an understanding of the relatedness of culture, ethnicity and religion. My argument here is that studying religion requires more emphasis on a study of culture and ethnicity. The goal is to suggest and argue the importance of studying culture and ethnicity to understand religious diversity especially in South Africa.
Understanding ethnicity can contribute to enhanced inter-religious dialogue and provide possible guidelines as to inter-cultural reconciliation in South Africa. Now that the interrelatedness of the concepts has been discussed, I now want to present three arguments why studying ethnicity and culture has become important in understanding religion. The three arguments are: Cultural migrations necessitate the studying of cultures; religion as cultural identity marker must be considered and the relocating of religion to culture needs to be taken into account.
Cultural migrations necessitate study of cultures when studying religions There is currently a need for attention to anthropology of religion. This need is identified by Hackett In a post-Apartheid South African context a 'migration' took place.
People encounter one another now in a different context, no longer oppressed and oppressor, but in new circumstances as equals. The reconfiguration of relations between races, cultures and religions requires a need for anthropology of religion.
To this list, I want to add globalisation and the growing multi-cultural communities. Changing paradigms cause reconfigurations in society, requiring new methods of studying society.
Each case of religion must be studied within its own context in relation to other religions practiced among other racial groups. No universal theory of inter-cultural and inter-religious relations can be applied to every context.
Religion and culture: Revisiting a close relative
Each context must be studied on its own. This is confirmed by Scott and Hirschkind The various traditions that anthropologists call religions cannot be understood as cultural elaborations of a universal form of experience, a sui generis category of human knowledge, but must be analysed in their particularity, as the products of specific practices of disciplines, authority and power.
In the interactions between religions, Ramadan When cultures interact, there is no place for isolation, withdrawal and 'obsession with identity'. Rather entering into authentic dialogue as equals is necessary which will eventually lead to mutual enrichment and 'partners in action'. In the end, the interaction between religions is not about relativising one's own convictions and seeking universal neutral principles, it is rather about acceptance and respect of pluralism, diversity and the belief of the Other Ramadan How then to study religion when the borders of religion and other identifying elements overlap?
For example, if religion, culture and ethnicity cannot be separated, does it influence the way in which religion is studied? There seem to be three scenarios to this problem cf. The ethnicity of a group is explained in terms of their religious beliefs. An example would be Jewish ethnicity as it is the result of practicing Judaism.
Religion is the primary element in Jewish identity. Religion is explained as the result of ethnicity.
African Religion and Culture - Atlantic History - Oxford Bibliographies
Muslim belief is the result of Arab ethnicity. The group's ethnic identity is the primary element in determining identity. More elements than religion and ethnicity are at play determining group identity. Elements such as language, geography, values, worldview and a shared history come to mind. In this construct of relatedness between religion and ethnicity, religion must be studied from an anthropological approach.
Religion becomes one expression of human identity among many other different expressions of identity. Religion either embraces or denies culture cf. As culture is associated with ethnicity, religion can easily be embraced by an ethnic group. The result would be to distinguish between Islamic 'religion' and Islamic 'civilisation' Ramadan The core of a religion is clothed in the forms of the various cultures in whose midst a religion exists Ramadan Religion is expressed in cultural terms.
So when an individual belonging to a particular religion comes from a specific cultural background and ends up in a different cultural environment, the individual integrates the religious convictions into the new cultural context, as there should be a clear difference between the religion and the culture of origin Ramadan Identity should be determined by multiple factors to which one remains open to. This, however, does not mean accepting everything of the culture.
A critical evaluation of values is necessary. Together with being critical, Ramadan The problem, however, arises when people with a particular religious affiliation coming from a particular culture enter a different culture where people have a different religious affiliation. Based on Lincoln's understanding of cultural encounter On a continuum, reactions towards the other may vary from 'polite disinterest', demarcation, conflict to outright war.
Because of conflict of interest and added to that a stereotyped perception of the other culture, permanent animosity might result from that.
The question would be how to have nations, religions and cultures co-exist peacefully, while maintaining their own unique identity. Because of globalisation, religions all over the world rarely exist in isolation. Religions are constantly exposed to a multi-religious environment. In this plurality, each religion is in need of maintaining its unique identity.
Studying religions will need to take into consideration not only the culture from which a religion originates but also the cultural network a religion ends up in because of globalisation and migration. Creating harmony between religious communities living in close proximity needs to take cultural and ethnic considerations into account. Religion as cultural identity marker Linda Woodhead Religion as belief refers to a religious interest in dogmas, doctrines and propositions.
Religion as identity marker refers to religion as a source of identity, either socially or as personal choice. Based on Woodhead's differentiation, Kilp As so many different factors are at play in determining identity, cultural identity must, however, be seen as in flux Vroom The result is that people become alienated from the traditional religious beliefs and practices and turn to cultural-religious identities, which do not necessarily include religious beliefs.
At play here are the elements already identified: These factors must be kept in mind when a cultural identity is created. It is also important to note that cultural identity is ideologically motivated. People profess something about their culture to motivate the manifestation of a particular group Vroom This cultural religious identity provides people with a feeling of certainty, order and meaning - a general feeling of belonging. This may serve as explanation to the struggle for power in multi-cultural societies, confirming Lincoln's It is clear from this that struggle as well as attempts at reconciliation between cultures should be seen as efforts at establishing identity.
Understanding the effort of creating identity requires an understanding of how people perceive the interplay of religion and ethnicity in creating identity. Religious affiliation does not need to overlap with aspects of ethnic identity.
This reflects Minnema's Stages 2 and 3 of cultural development. The Primordialist theory implies that one belonging to a specific religion can become part of a cultural group and still retain a religious identity.
The result, however, may be that one will not be culturally equal to the cultural group into which one enters Kilp Those originating within the continent are generally termed traditional, although it would be wrong to think of traditional beliefs and practices as static or unchanging. Cultural borrowing from parts of the Middle East and Europe began in North Africa well before the beginning of the Common Era, twenty centuries ago.
Because of the absence of written records outside the Nile Valley, little is known about the early history of traditional cultures in Africa other than that they had millennia to develop and spread. Detailed descriptions of some African societies south of the Sahara occur in Islamic accounts from the later Middle Ages and from the s in European accounts of the Atlantic coasts. Consequently, pockets of African Muslims and Christians came into existence south of the Sahara.
Although some Africans learned languages and beliefs from abroad, Islam and Christianity were also Africanized as they spread. Those Africans whom the slave trades transported across the Sahara, the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic brought their cultures with them and, in turn, their cultures were altered by contact with other societies.
The greatest cultural changes within Africa have come within the last two centuries under the influence of European colonial rule and Muslim and Christian missionaries. Despite profound changes, Africans maintain and cherish strong cultural continuities with their past. General Overviews The systematic, comparative study of African religion and culture largely began in the colonial era, when Western anthropologists were preceded by Christian missionaries. Historians took up studies even later, but the important introduction and case studies in Ranger and Kimambo show what historians should and can do.
The practice of medicine and magic is also important in most African societies. They engage in fetishism, in which they believe that certain objects, mostly man-made, have supernatural powers in them. Magic or sorcery refers to the influencing of events and physical phenomena by supernatural, mystical, or paranormal means. They are complexes of beliefs and practices that believers can resort to in order to wield this supernatural influence, and are similar to cultural complexes that seek to explain various events and phenomena by supernatural means.
The roles of certain religious functionaries is also important. All these people have important roles to play in the traditional African society. The beliefs and practices of African traditional religion and society are based upon the faith of the ancient indigenous people who are referred to as ancestors. This is why it is qualified as traditional, traditional comes from the Latin verb "tradere" which means to hand down doctrines, customs etc.
The belief in ancestors is an important element of African traditional religions. The belief occupies an important place in the understanding of the role of the traditional religion in inculcating the ideals of culture and religion among African peoples.
The ancestors are believed to be disembodied spirits of people who lived upright lives here on earth, died 'good' and natural deaths, that is at a ripe old age, and received the acknowledged funerary rites.
They could be men or women.