[skip to content]

Department of the Study of Religions

Religion, Power and Society in Modern Africa

Course Code:
158000005
Unit value:
1
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course students should be able to:

  • demonstrate a broad understanding of the relations between religious practices/identities and social change and political transformations in Africa from the 19th century to the present
  • provide an overview of religious developments in Africa since the 19th century, especially with regard to Christianity and Islam
  • assess the impact of the colonial and post-colonial political configurations on religions in Africa
  • exhibit a critical perspective on the employed terms, their definitions, and their role in defining different perspectives on religions and society in Africa
  • distinguish between different disciplinary approaches to the topic and discuss their respective strengths and limitations from an interdisciplinary outlook

Scope and syllabus

Africa has seen major political and societal transformations since the 19th century, from the age of colonial imperialism to the present diversity of post-colonial governance, economic development, and societal cohesion. Religions have been a vital and often under-studied factor in these transformations and are equally interwoven with present-day African politics and societies, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. The course examines the relationship between religious and political/social developments in Africa by way of concrete regional examples from the 19th century to present issues, thereby carving out historical continuities and contingencies as well as regional commonalities and differences.
Special attention is given to African Christianity and Islam. With regard to Christianity students learn about the role of missions in colonialism, the appropriation of Christianity by Africans in independent movements, and the surge of Pentecostalism in recent post-colonial Africa. With regard to Islam the course will demonstrate in particular the divergent colonial strategies in governing Muslim societies, the rise of Islamic reform movements, and the contested role of Islam in the political configuration of post-colonial African states. The course also takes a close look at the variability of interreligious relations in post-colonial African nation states, and the interrelation of religious conflict with historical, ethnic, economic, and political factors.
Following mainly a historical outline, the course introduces different disciplinary approaches in the study of religions by drawing from anthropological, sociological, political, historical, and theological sources. Students learn to critically discuss each approach and how they are connected to the formation of colonial and post-colonial knowledge about religion, power, and society in Africa.

Method of assessment

Two 3 000 words essays (worth 25% each), One three hour exam (50%).