Synopses & Reviews
Africa is home to hundreds of ethnic groups, who together speak more than a thousand languages. It is not surprising, then, that Africa's enormous range of peoples, cultures, and ways of life has engendered a wide diversity of religious practices.
This Very Short Introduction offers a wide-ranging look at the myriad indigenous religious traditions on the African continent. Drawing on archeological research, historical evidence, ethnographic studies, and archival materials such as missionary records, Jacob Olupona-one of the world's leading authorities on African religions-captures a wealth of information in a short compass. The book not only gives the reader a full and vivid sense of African religious belief-exploring myths, gods and local deities, ancestor worship, rites of passage, festivals, divination, and much more-but it also underscores the role these religions play in everyday African life. Indeed, traditional religions inform everything from birthing and death, marriage and family dynamics, to diet, dress and grooming, health care, and even governance. Monarchs, chiefs, and elders play both political and religious roles, imparting secular and spiritual guidance to their subjects, while also being guardians of religious centers such as shrines, temples, and sacred forests. The author also examines the spread of Christianity and Islam throughout Africa, both the moderate sects (which often blend aspects of indigenous faith into their own practice) and the more extreme fundamentalist sects, which the author states have had a dire effect on African life. In fact, radical forms of Christianity and Islam-both of which decry tradition religion as paganism--have driven a near total collapse of indigenous practice. But if traditional religions are engaged in a battle for their lives in Africa, Olupona shows that they are thriving elsewhere in the world-particularly in the Americas and in Europe.
About the Series:
Oxford's Very Short Introductions series offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, Literary Theory to History, and Archaeology to the Bible. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume in this series provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given discipline or field. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how the subject has developed and how it has influenced society. Eventually, the series will encompass every major academic discipline, offering all students an accessible and abundant reference library. Whatever the area of study that one deems important or appealing, whatever the topic that fascinates the general reader, the Very Short Introductions series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.
What are African religions? African Religions: A Very Short Introduction answers this question by examining primarily indigenous religious traditions on the African continent, as well as exploring Christianity and Islam. It focuses on the diversity of ethnic groups, languages, cultures, and worldviews, emphasizing the continent's regional diversity. Olupona examines a wide range of African religious traditions on their own terms and in their social, cultural, and political contexts. For example, the book moves beyond ethnographic descriptions and interpretations of core beliefs and practices to look at how African religion has engaged issues of socioeconomic development and power relations.
Olupona examines the myths and sacred stories about the origins of the universe that define ethnic groups and national identities throughout Africa. He also discusses spiritual agents in the African cosmos such as God, spirits, and ancestors. In addition to myths and deities, Olupona focuses on the people central to African religions, including medicine men and women, rainmakers, witches, magicians, and divine kings, and how they serve as authority figures and intermediaries between the social world and the cosmic realm.
African Religions: A Very Short Introduction discusses a wide variety of religious practices, including music and dance, calendrical rituals and festivals, celebrations for the gods' birthdays, and rituals accompanying stages of life such as birth, puberty, marriage, elderhood, and death. In addition to exploring indigenous religions, Olupona examines the ways Islam and Christianity as outside traditions encountered indigenous African religion. He shows how these incoming faith traditions altered the face and the future of indigenous African religions as well as how indigenous religions shaped two world religions in Africa and the diaspora.
Olupona draws on archaeological and historical sources, as well as ethnographic materials based on fieldwork. He shows that African religions are not static traditions, but have responded to changes within their local communities and to fluxes caused by outside influences, and spread with diaspora and migration.
About the Author
Jacob K. Olupona is Professor of African Religious Traditions at Harvard Divinity School, with a joint appointment as Professor of African and African American Studies in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. A noted scholar of indigenous African religions, his books include City of 201 Gods: Ilé-Ifè in Time, Space, and the Imagination, Òrìs
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Worldview, cosmology, and myths of origin
Chapter 2 Gods, ancestors, and spirit beings
Chapter 3 Sacred authority: Divine kingship, priests, and diviners
Chapter 4 Ceremonies, festivals, and rituals
Chapter 5 Sacred Arts, verbal and ritual performances
Chapter 6 Encounter with the incoming world: Christianity and Islam in Africa