P 16

Religion, Cultural Differences, and Social Milieus in African Societies

Panel abstract
During the last two decades, economic and social processes of change engendered new forms of social differentiation in African societies. They are usually analysed with concepts of class and stratification. But there are also socio-cultural differences inside of social strata that are not restricted to ethnicity. We find clusters of norms, values, convictions, and aesthetic practices, which social groups use to represent their social positions and cultural orientation. These groups can be conceptualized as milieus, i.e. sub-cultural entities inside society comprising people with similar values, subjectivities, and ways of life. Significantly, while nobody would contest the central role of religion for the dynamics of cultural belonging in contemporary African societies (e.g. with regard to conversion, religious conflicts, moral discourses on marriage, sexuality and family), religion has hardly been recognized for its role in drawing cultural boundaries. These boundaries exist not only between large religious groups (e.g. Muslims, Christians, Hindus), but also between different Christian denominations or between schools of law in Islam. At the same time, there are milieus that include different religious groups.
Against this background we discuss papers focused on the following main questions:

  • Through which practices, discourses and cultural forms of expression is religion implicated in the formation of milieus?
  • How do religious milieus emerge and how do they distinguish themselves from other groups?
  • To what extend are there clearly expressed forms of cultural orientation and equivalent horizontal process of differentiation that cut across different religions and/or denominations or schools of law?
  • Does religion as mode of identification weaken in milieus that include different religions, or do these milieus stress general norms and modes of piety?

Time: Thursday, 28/06/2018, 2 - 4 pm, 4.30 - 6.30 pm (double session)
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 205

Marian Burchardt (Leipzig University)
Dieter Neubert (University of Bayreuth)

Session 1
Virginia Napoli (University of Naples Federico II, Italy)
Rukiya Bakari (Leipzig University)
Asonzeh Ukah (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
Kokou Azamede (University of Lomé, Togo)

Session 2
Magnus Echtler (University of Bayreuth)
Marian Burchardt (Leipzig University)
Rhoda Abiolu and Ruth Teer-Tomaselli (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa)
Hlengiwe Portia Dlamini (University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa)
Elaine Christian (Columbia University, New York, USA)
Don Bosco Onyalla (Catholic Church of Kenya)

Paper abstracts

Virginia Napoli
The Ambiguous Adventure of Mourides Students Association in Senegal

Founded at the end of the XIX century in Senegal (West Africa), the Muslim Sufi Brotherhood of Mouridya currently has millions of adepts all over the world and is the largest confession in this country. Conforming to the fundamental model of Sufi brotherhood, the Mouridya is a way of life inspired by values of Islam’s religion. Touba, its holy city, built toward the largest mosque in sub-Sahara Africa, is the destination of an annual pilgrimage involving more than 3 million people. The aim of this research proposal is to highlight the ethnographic contribution of the studies of Sufi Brotherhood of Mouridya. Belonging to this brotherhood is a strong identity mark for many adepts in two different senses: first, in their way of living and practising Islam and, in addition, in the strong claim of national and African identity. For the adepts of this brotherhood, their religious affiliation deals with aesthetics and behavioural practices: clothing and jargon used in unofficial communication and everyday-life behaviours. In the midst of the Mouridya milieus other sub-cultural entities have been born such as the ‘Mourid Students Association’. Each of these entities is determined on the basis of variable elements that do not necessarily relate to the way of living religiosity but to social dynamics evolving in parallel with the historical changes affecting the society. Furthermore, the brotherhood authorities are actively involved in public debate and resource management by making in many cases a buffer in the handling of conflict situations or possible extremist-related drifts.

Rukiya Bakari
Sufi or Islamist? Islamic Brotherhoods in Senegal and How They Negotiate Their African and Muslim Identities as Part of Their Cultural Milieu

Religion has always played a central role in African societies. Even before the emergence of organized belief on the continent, people worshipped through different mediums as a way of connecting spiritually with their ancestors. With the resurgence of religious fundamentalism dominating discourse, this paper traces two groups and how they differ in their approach to Islam. The advent of Islam in Africa created a new cultural and social milieu among the population and influenced the emergence of Muslim brotherhoods (tariqa’s) that have been seen to exhibit ‘Afro-centric religious and cultural consciousnesses’. This paper seeks to demonstrate how two opposing doctrines in Islam, i.e. Sufism and Islamism, are impacting on the practice of Islam in Senegal. The Muridiyya, considered a Sufi order, and Jama’atu Ibadu Rahmane (JIA), a group that follows conservative Islam in Senegal, are influencing how Islam is practised by their followers. This paper will look at how these two groups appear to weaken or strengthen ‘orthodox’ notions of Islam. It will also highlight how the Muridiyya is seen to portray a distinct African, Muslim cultural identity as Sufi, whereas the other, JIA, is perceived to have imported an ‘Arab Islamic culture’ of conservative Islam by the Senegalese. This comparison intends to support the theory that cultural context influences religious milieu, as is manifested in the daily practice of Islam and how the dichotomies of being African and Muslim are challenged.

Asonzeh Ukah
Religious Sub-Nationalism: Pentecostal Political Piety and Contested Citizenship in Nigeria — 1999 - Present

Since the emergence of Pentecostalism as a dominant public religion in Africa, the movement’s political alignment seems ambiguous or optimistically reformative, transformative, or progressive. Or, so it was thought until recently. The continued expansion and attractiveness of Pentecostal piety in different sub-Saharan countries demonstrate undeniable tension in the commingling of Pentecostal power and piety in the performance of democratic politics, especially in multireligious societies. This paper describes Pentecostal practices of piety and how it relates to the performance of civic and political responsibilities in a plural and diverse society. In a multireligious society such as Nigeria, the rhetoric of ‘saving Nigeria for Christ’ inheres the unstated contestation about the nature and conceptualisation of national, civil, and religious citizenships.

Kokou Azamede
The ‘Bremer’ in West Africa. After-Effects of the Northern German Missionary Society in Togo and Ghana.

Several European Mission societies have established evangelistic stations in African communities. On the West African coast, there were German mission societies such as the Protestant missions of Basel, Bremen, and Steyl Catholic. Between 1847 and 1939, the Bremen Mission settled in the Ewe-Land, where it evangelized a large part of the population. During its activities, the Bremen Mission contributed to the school and Christian education of the Ewe, to the establishment of Pietist Protestantism, to the standardization of the Ewe language, and to the emergence of a national feeling among the people. All these works are values that every faithful Christian of the Evangelical Protestant Church in Togo or Ghana has emphasized to identify with other non-Christian people or those belonging to other Christian denominations. These values can be summed up in the denomination which makes him a ‘Bremer’. The purpose of this contribution is to show and analyse the impact of the Bremen Mission on moral and social values in Ewe society, and how a Bremen Christian from Togo or Ghana distinguishes himself from others in his life as a Protestant Christian.

Magnus Echtler
The Nazareth Baptist Church and the Formation of a Zulu Traditionalist Milieu

Given the colonial formation of Zulu ethnic ideology, this paper analyses the role of the Nazareth Baptist Church, one of the largest African Independent Churches in South Africa, in the ongoing construction of a Zulu traditionalist milieu. Focusing on practices that make a difference and draw cultural borders, I discuss how central rituals, Sabbath worship, and sacred dance established the church’s position in the religious field, and how other practices – hard work, outdoor living, no alcohol, traditional forms of respect, or marriage – interact with the social milieus church members are living in. I argue that the initial success of the church in rural areas rested on their alliance with Zulu chiefs, who continue to play a major role in church politics. Despite the explicit critique of the historical role of the Zulu kings in church teachings, church leaders and Zulu kings continue to acknowledge each other publicly. Based on recent public debates on the body politics of hairstyles, virginity tests, and reed-dance as well as in reaction to the king and the church leader blaming a drought on foreigners and homosexuals, respectively, I argue that both are major players in the production of the ideology of the Zulu traditionalist milieu. There, the church promotes its very own brand of conservatism, combining dancing in traditional uniforms with patriarchal respect, abstinence, and a Protestant work ethic.

Marian Burchardt
The Masculinity of the Christian Moderns: Gender and Cultural Difference in South Africa

The field of gender relations and sexuality is becoming increasingly important in South Africa in terms of supplying markers of cultural distinction and social group formation. At the same time, there are multifarious connections between religious belonging and practices and people’s ideas and practices with regard to gender. In this paper, I explore these connections based on material gathered through ethnographic fieldwork in the South African city of Cape Town between 2011 and 2017. I argue that gender ideologies and religious beliefs often mutually influence one another. Their coalescing contributes to the formation of several, religiously defined cultural milieus, especially with regard to Charismatic Christianity and Islam.

Rhoda Abiolu and Ruth Teer-Tomaselli
A Comparative Study on the Representations of ‘South Africanness’ and ‘Congoleseness’ in Modes of Christian Worship Among South Africans and Congolese in Durban, South Africa

As suggested by Hall (1997) and du Gay et al. (2013), the meanings attached to ideas or objects are based on how they are represented. Within the context of this study, we set out to examine and identify the commonalities and differences premised on representations (choice of Christian music and accompaniments in terms of musical instruments) observable from the modes of worship of South Africans as home-based populace and Congolese (of the Democratic Republic of Congo) as diasporic populace who reside in Durban, South Africa. The aim of this study is to accentuate instances of cultural accommodation as a result of analogous religious identity which is based on Christianity and those of differentiation as a result of different cultural identities centred around ‘South Africanness’ and ‘Congoleseness’. Through the representation of language (‘verbally’ [i.e. linguistic construction as regards their different language backgrounds] or ‘objectified’ [particularly musical instrumentation] as discussed by Hall, 1997), such ‘sameness’ and ‘otherness’ may be recognized. This will be achieved through an ethnographic study of a South African church and a transposed Congolese worship context in Durban as represented in their ‘live’ worship performances. From these, we propose that language may play a major role in the reinforcement and/or acculturation of their different identities.

Hlengiwe Portia Dlamini
Tensions in Religious Public Spaces in Swaziland Through the Misrepresentation and Demonization of Halaal Practices

The Constitution of Swaziland provides for religious equality and peaceful co-existence between all religions. The predominantly Christian Swazis and the minority Muslims had often co-existed peacefully until the 2000s when the hitherto unknown religious halaal practices surfaced in public space. The Muslim religion was introduced in Swaziland since the 1920s but Swazi Christians had never been aware of Islamic religious injunctions incarnated in the halaal on eating and drinking. When Muslims insisted on halaal products in public restaurants to accommodate Muslim interests in 2000, this alarmed the Swazis and trouble was bound to start. Muslim imposed themselves in public spaces by insisting on the halaal certification of foods sold in a string of restaurants running under the canopy of KFC. Although the chicken served in KFC fast food restaurants were halaal-certified, this was never public knowledge and consumers unsuspectingly flocked to buy KFC food. When this information leaked, Swazis interpreted halaal products as Islamic rituals and tensions spread leading to a rapid decline in KFC sales and generalized animosity towards Muslims.hThis paper examines the introduction of halaal practices in public spaces in Swaziland and its far-reaching implications. The halaal created inter-religious tensions and even affected the status of Islam in the school curriculum. The history of halaal practices in Swaziland up to its conflagration is examined. The halaal issue was exacerbated by the international image of Islam in Africa and beyond represented by Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and other Islamist extremist organizations.

Elaine Christian
Practical Theology and the Formation of a Lutheran Religious Milieu in Africa

This paper will discuss the formation of a Lutheran milieu in Africa, drawing on 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork with pastors and church leaders in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. I start from a theoretical position that considers theology not as an abstract doctrinal discourse, but an active and grounded social practice. From this position, I will demonstrate how Lutheran clergy work towards building a Lutheran milieu by working towards an inculcation of norms and values (e.g. expectations of a certain kind of ‘order’ in worship and church organization, missiological heritage, diocesan hierarchical authority, pastoral education, and discourses on materialism), and of aesthetic practice (in liturgical vestments and settings, song and music styles, etc.). I will also show how they represent social positions and cultural orientations, both in relation to other Lutherans (e.g. at regional or international Lutheran conferences) and to other denominations, particularly Pentecostals. I will explore how milieus emerge by distinguishing themselves from others and discuss the frequent concern amongst church leaders with the threat that Pentecostalism poses to ‘Lutheran identity’. However, my approach to theology as social practice will also highlight the contextuality of these practices of milieu formation. Pastors and church leaders place different emphasis on norms, values, aesthetic practices, social positions, and cultural orientations depending on the situation and context. I will argue that approaching theology as social practice allows for a better understanding of milieu formation since it is able to account for contextual variation in practice.

Don Bosco Onyalla
Influence of Religious Leaders’ Ethnicity on News Media Choices: the Case of Catholic Church Leaders in Nairobi, Kenya

This study explores the extent to which the ethnicity of religious leaders influences their choices of and exposure to information channels. The fact that ethnic hate, bias, and prejudice are considered serious problems in contemporary Africa, including Kenya, informs the study’s central problem. From a population of 450, the study has employed 16 elite interviews and three focus group discussions to collect data from 39 Catholic church leaders drawn from diverse ethnic backgrounds in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The participants shared their ethnic background and discussed how their choices of and exposure to news media channels (radio, television, newspapers, and internet) are affected by their individual ethnicity. Results indicate the influence of ethnicity, all participants identifying with specific ethnic groups, and most acknowledge the value of keeping ethnic ties. Participants who denied the influence of ethnicity in their choices of and exposure to news channels viewed ethnicity as a negative factor that can lead to ethnocentrism. Overall, participants admitted being aware of the influence of ethnicity and consciously making decisions and taking actions to overcome its negative effects. In this study, religious and church identity seems to trump ethnic identity. The results also operationalize social identity theory. The knowledge of how church leaders are influenced by ethnicity raises awareness of integrity and credibility as vital components of religious leadership.