Religion and secularism in Africa: challenges to the political order

Jon Abbink (ASC Leiden/ VU University Amsterdam)
Mohammed Dejen Assen (Addis Ababa University)
Chrystal McMillan, Seminar Room 4
Session slots:
Thursday 13 June, 8:45 - 10:30
Thursday 13 June, 10:45 - 12:30

Short abstract:

This panel addresses religion & secularism in Africa to analyze challenges to the political order. Theoretical & country-based studies can throw light on changing relations between religion & politics in African contexts, broadening general scholarly debates on secularism & the shared public sphere.

Long abstract:

Religious identification and collective religious action are predominant in Africa public (and private) life in Africa, interacting in various ways with politics and the 'public sphere', in both connecting and disrupting registers. All but two African countries have 'secular' constitutions separating state from religion, but these are under pressure, both due to religion-based political claim-making as well as violent strategies. While the debate on 'secularism' has been conducted mainly on the basis of data and historical experiences from Western countries, this panel seeks contributions discussion religion-state relations and secular political statutes on the basis on African examples and local debates, in which there have been notable developments in recent years. The common assumptions that 'Africans are all quite religious' and that 'African politics is imbued with references to the supernatural' are questionable - perhaps even a mutated continuation of colonial thinking - in the light of recent social and political struggles (e.g., among youths); the latter often have other referents. Reassessing religious action and secularism, we claim, also has developmental relevance for African countries: they influence public policy. For this panel we seek contributions both of a general theoretical nature as well as country-based or comparative studies on the issue of emerging or changing African legal frameworks and intellectual conceptions of politics and religion in general and of 'secularism' in particular. This will allow a re-assessment of the vital role of African case studies in the general scholarly debates on secularism.