The panel investigates what roles, as positions, women play(ed) in African religions and how they relate to women's role, as influence, in the community. What continuities and disruptions can be found and how do they legitimate or question the situation of women in religious communities?
The panel aims to investigate what roles, in terms of positions, women play(ed) in African religions and how they relate to women's role, in terms of influence and power, in the congregation and wider community. In so called traditional African religions women were (and are) active as prophetesses and healers and male and female ancestors are seen to have equal power over their family's life. When Christian missionaries came to Africa, they fought practices deemed discriminatory against women, like polygamy. Nevertheless different researchers argue that the missionaries' influence weakened the position and power of women on the social and religious level. In nearly all churches women represent the majority of the congregation but are often not allowed to hold leading positions. At the same time some of the roles named above have been integrated in African Christianity and some churches were founded by women already in the beginning of the 20th century. Especially in Pentecostal churches the idea of the Holy Spirit being able to act through any person legitimates women's leadership. What continuities and disruptions can be found in past and existing interpretations and structures of power and how are they used to legitimate or question the actual situation of women in religious communities? While the panel's focus lies on women and their roles and influence in African religions, it is open to contributions on the broader spectrum of gender and religion in Africa in the light of connections and disruptions, e.g. on the relation of religion and LGBTI-rights.