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Accepted Paper:

Transcending Zululand  
Magnus Echtler (Leipzig University)

Paper short abstract:

African Indigenous Churches offer salvation, deferring ideal futures to transcendent realms, but they also alter life in this world. I analyze gatherings of the Nazareth Baptist Church, South Africa, as heterotopias of perfection that emplace and enact the vision of a redeemed Zululand.

Paper long abstract:

In Afrotopia (2019), Felwine Sarr advocates a cultural revolution in which “the future of humanity is on Africa’s side”. Intersecting indigeneity and cosmopolitanism, this utopian vision includes not only creating social transformation, but also recognizing sites where this is already happening. To break free from the epistemic straightjacket of colonality, Africa needs to mobilize its diverse cultural history and draw upon the “ontomythologies” of oral traditions and the “vitalism” of religious cosmologies, according to Sarr. Here, I analyze how an African Indigenous Church has contributed to such an Afrotopian becoming.

In 1910, Isaiah Shembe taught a new way to heaven to the people of South Africa. At the time when the colonial state had expropriated its African subjects, forced them in a migrant labor system, and customized their cultural traditions, Shembe claimed messianic status and redeemed the African ways of the forebears as well as the ancestors themselves within his very own version of Christianity, the Nazareth Baptist Church. Through apartheid and post-apartheid times, the church has subverted the hegemonic capitalistic social order, preaching a moral economy closely entangled with the formation of Zulu ethnicity. In my paper, I show how contemporary church assemblies materialize a transcendent Zululand, and how their atmosphere of hardship, respect and celebration realizes a distinctly African heterotopia of perfection.

Panel Arts05
Afrotopias - clearing pathways into African futures
  Session 1 Friday 2 June, 2023, -