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Religion and Public Culture in Africa

Cambridge/Africa Collaborative Programme 2007-2008

Religion and Public Culture in Africa

With support from the Leverhulme Trust and the Isaac Newton Trust

The thesis of secularization, which predicts decline in the public importance of religion, is challenged by various contemporary social and political trends in Africa. The spread and diversity of religious forms, most conspicuously Christianity and Islam, exerts an obvious influence on public culture in many parts of Africa.  Less obvious but equally important is the frequent blurring of boundaries between religious and secular spheres. Politicians can be held accountable through religious means, just as religious leaders are subject to worldly laws. Particularly in those countries where democratization has come to be associated with constitutional reform and liberal Human Rights discourses, the need is to investigate the actual interfaces between the religious and the secular. Such investigation eschews prescriptive models of civil society and uncovers important aspects of popular experiences with democracy.

The group of scholars who come to Cambridge under this fellowship scheme will explore the limits and possibilities of secular liberalism under the historically diverse conditions of contemporary Africa. A range of empirical issues can be addressed within this theme, such as the relationship between religious and secular notions of Human Rights; contests over citizenship in the context of transnational religious movements; religious and liberal conventions of public accountability; religion and the distribution of wealth in the context of economic liberalization; the challenge of religious networks to the liberal understandings of state-society relations; gendered tensions over the religious and secular sources of authority; the differences and similarities between religious and secular NGOs in providing humanitarian and development aid; and the role of mass media in maintaining or blurring the religion-secular divide. We welcome projects which take the existence of a separate religious sphere as problematic in contests over public culture. In some cases, the very category of religion can be problematic, such as when the focus is on rituals that appear distinct from any world religion, or on those practices that are locally associated with witchcraft and the occult. We will give priority to projects which are based on fresh research.


Elected Fellows

Dr Marja Hinfelaar
National Archives of Zambia
International expectations and local realities of state church relations in Zambia (1992-2006).  Marja has lived in Zambia for eight years and her long term scholarly project has been to research church-state relations in Zambia from 1896 until the present

Mr Nicholas Kamau
Egerton University, Dept of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, Kenya
Religion in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Gikuyu Fictions: Allegories of protest and the critique of Public culture in postcolonial Kenya.  Nicholas is currently pursuing his PhD

DR Michael Okyeref
University of Ghana, Dept of Sociology
Contemporary religious expression in Ghana – exploring the trend of religious expression in Ghana and its challenges to development, social and political cohesion

Ms Damaris Parsitau
Egerton University, Dept of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Kenya
Women, Pentecostalism and Public Culture in Kenya. Damaris is currently researching her PhD The Role of Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches in Social Change in Kenya (1970-2005)


Exploring Malawi's Publics

A workshop in Social Sciences and Humanities

Chancellor College, University of Malawi, 7 – 8 July 2008

Opening Session

  • Chair: Blessings Chinsinga (University of Malawi)
  • Leonard Kamwanja (Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Malawi)
  • Derek R. Peterson (Director, Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge)

Religion and Public Culture in Africa I

  • Chair: Harri Englund (University of Cambridge)
  • Michael P.K. Okyerefo (University of Ghana), The Gospel of Public Image in Ghana
  • Damaris Parsitau (Egerton University), ‘Where the Devil Reigns Supreme’: Politics, Witchcraft and Pentecostalism in Kenya’s Public Culture

Religion and Public Culture in Africa II

  • Chair: Harri Englund (University of Cambridge)
  • Marja Hinfelaar (National Archives of Zambia), Towards a Biography of a Christian Nation: Christianity, Nationalism and Secularism in Northern Rhodesia during the 1950s
  • Nicholas Kamau-Goro (Egerton University), African Culture and the Language of Nationalist Imagination: The Re-Appropriation of Christianity in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s The River Between and Weep Not Child
  • Derek R. Peterson (University of Cambridge), Patriotism and Dissent in Colonial East Africa

Religious and Linguistic Publics

  • Chair: Nicholas Kamau-Goro (Egerton University)
  • G.L.M. Chigona (University of Malawi), Popular Culture and Policy-Making: A Religious Perspective
  • Edrinnie Lora-Kayambazinthu (University of Malawi), The Old and New Issue Publics: Assessing and Reconfiguring Their Impact on the Malawi Language Policy Debate

Public Policy

  • Chair: Michael P.K. Okyerefo (University of Ghana)
  • Blessings Chinsinga (University of Malawi), Contesting the Technocratic Legacy of Policy Making in Malawi: The Case of the Social Protection Policy Process
  • Happy Kayuni (University of Malawi), ‘Thriving on the Edges of Chaos’?: The State of Public Policy Formulation and Implementation in Malawi’s Democratic Era; The Case of Education Sector

Visible and Invisible Publics

  • Chair: Damaris Parsitau (Egerton University)
  • Fidelis Edge Kanyongolo (University of Malawi), Invisible Publics and the Legal and Policy Framework of Land Reform in Malawi: 1968 to 2008
  • Ignasio Malizani Jimu (Mzuzu University), Construction and (Re)organization of the Urban Spaces: Street Vendors and the State in Malawi

Alternative Histories, Alternative Publics

  • Chair: Marja Hinfelaar (National Archives of Zambia)
  • Wapulumuka O. Mulwafu (University of Malawi), Living with the Shadow of Kamuzu: The Transition Process and Challenges of Consolidating Democracy in Malawi
  • Christopher J. Lee (University of North Carolina), What Defines a ‘Useable’ Past Today?  Practising History in Malawi along the Colonial/Post-Colonial Divide
  • Harri Englund (University of Cambridge), Nkhani za m’maboma: A Deliberative Democracy?

Roundtable Discussion on Research Collaboration in Africa

  • Chair: Derek R. Peterson (University of Cambridge)
  • Wiseman C. Chirwa (University of Malawi)
  • Marja Hinfelaar (National Archives of Zambia)
  • Nicholas Kamau-Goro (Egerton University)
  • Michael P.K. Okyerefo (University of Ghana)
  • Damaris Parsitau (Egerton University)