Accepted paper:

Religion and social divisions. The subversion of a religious coexistence in southern Benin


Joel Noret (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Paper short abstract:

This paper addresses the intertwining of religious cleavages and social divisions in southern Benin, from the lens provided by the analysis of funerals, in which the ritual coexistence between Christian and ‘traditional’ funerary rites was partly unmade in the last two decades.

Paper long abstract:

This paper addresses the gradual unmaking of the ritual cohabitation between Christian (Catholic) and 'traditional' lineage funerary rites in southern Benin in the last two decades. Until the 1990s, beyond Muslim and Christian (of Evangelical, Pentecostal or Prophetic inspiration) minorities advocating 'radical' breaks with the world of 'tradition', the scene of funerals has been largely dominated in southern Benin by either lineage rites or a form of historical compromise between the traditionalist ritual specialists and the Catholic Church. This involved Church tolerance for the successive performance at funerals of both Christian (Catholic) service and lineage 'traditional' rites. Triggered by both evolutions of the religious landscape and by growing social cleavages deploying subsequently along religious lines, this historical compromise has been increasingly questioned in the last decades. Urban settings have been at the forefront of this evolution. In Abomey, a historical bastion of 'tradition' where I have been regularly conducting fieldwork for fifteen years, it became openly contested from 2010 onwards. Here, the development and increasing social salience of Christianity in town has recently paved the way for an evolution of the possible religious expressions at funerals, and led the Catholic Church to renegotiate its historical compromise with the (now declining) social world of "tradition".

panel P179
Urbanity, Religiosity and Inter-Religiosity in Contemporary Africa