why do we study african traditional religion

African Traditional Religion is the traditional religion of the African people before the coming of Islam and Christianity. However, the missionaries of the two foreign religions succeeded in converting some African people to the new religions. The African religion was condemned by the Early European scholars, travelers, investigators and missionaries. The educated Elite who were products of the schools established by the Christian missionaries in particular and the converts in general did not see anything good in African religion. It is interesting to note that African traditional religion is being studied in many Universities and Colleges in Africa since the beginning of the 20th century, so that it may not go into total neglect in African history and culture. The study, therefore, is facing many challenges which are affecting the interest of African scholars in the field. The paper has been able to highlight the problems of African religion in the contemporary time, while some suggestions are given, so as to make it meet the challenges of the modern times.
African Traditional Religion is a thriving scholarly business, but a serious disconnect exists between contributions that celebrate a generalized African Traditional Religion and those that describe particular religions and aspects of religion on the basis of ethnographic and archival research.


The generalizations begin by citing allegedly negative characterizations of African culture: it is argued that African beliefs and practices are misunderstood and unjustly condemned, that Africans are everywhere and always profoundly religious, and that their religion or religions are comparable to religions anywhere else. On the other hand, historians and anthropologists, skeptical with regard to abstractions and generalizations, focus on the religion of particular peoples to show how belief and practice fit into everyday life. They struggle with epistemological questions such as, БOn what evidentiary basis can an individual or group be said to БbelieveБ in anything? Б. There is little dialogue between the two points of view, but the readings suggested in this section reveal some of the differences. Chidi Denis IsizohБs website carries links to a variety of essays on traditional religion and its relations with Christianity and Islam; it also includes EjizuБs overview ( ).


More and more material is available on the Internet, notably at, but not all of it should be regarded as representative or authoritative. Journals such as the London-based, (Paris), and the (Leiden, The Netherlands) publish articles on religion from time to time, representing the latest thinking. The edited collections ; ; and provide essays on specific examples of African religion by leading scholars, while implicitly illustrating the gap between БspiritualБ and БethnographicБ approaches. None of this literature, however, deals with the radical objections raised in concerning the definition of religion, the errors introduced by intercultural translation, and the depth of outside influence on supposedly timeless Бtraditional religion. Б. The venerable journal of the International African Institute offers academic articles on all aspects of African history and culture, including religion. Africa South of the Sahara.


An idiosyncratic collection of sources from professional to popular. Blakely, Thomas D. , Walter E. б A. van Beek, and Dennisб L. Thomson, eds. Religion in Africa. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994. A wide-ranging symposium with contributions by major specialists in the field. Unlike OluponaБs collections (, ), this one does not presume or discuss БAfrican spirituality. Б One of the three sections deals with Бreligion and its translatability,Б a topic and a problem of concern to both missionaries and anthropologists. Offers articles in French and English on all aspects of African culture, often manifesting a distinctly French intellectual approach. A historical review and critique of the subject and of major problems and disagreements associated with it, written by Christopher Ejizu. The review suggests that the defensive tone of much writing about African Traditional Religion is directed against outdated studies that no one takes seriously anymore. The main website, maintained by Chidi Denis Isizoh, is a useful guide to further reading. Scholarly articles on Islam and on Christian and non-Christian religious diasporas.


An excellent source for insights into contemporary scholarly issues and approaches. Olupona, Jacob K. , ed. African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings and Expressions. New York: Crossroad, 2000. Olupona identifies African spirituality in myth, and ritual as that which Бexpresses the relationship between human being and divine beingБ (p. xvi). Leading scholars cover a wide range of topics and religious practices, including Islam and 3rd-century North African Christianity, rarely questioning the concept of spirituality itself. Olupona, Jakob K. , and Sulayman S. Nyang, eds. Religious Plurality in Africa: Essays in Honour of John S. Mbiti. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1993. A collection representative of the Бreligio-phenomenologicalБ approach to comparative religion, theology, and philosophy, in which religion is conceived of as a phenomenon sui generis, Бthe transcendentБ is universally recognized, and religions are presented in isolation from their cultural and historical contexts. Two chapters concern Islam in Africa.

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