Special Issue "Religious Conversion in Africa"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 April 2020).

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Jason Bruner
Website
Guest Editor
School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85281, USA
Interests: Global Christianity; Colonialism; British Empire; Religious Conversion; East Africa; Evangelicalism; Revivalism
Mr. David Dmitri Hurlbut
Website
Guest Editor
Department of History, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA
Interests: Religious Conversion, Global Christianity, Mormonism, West Africa, Southeastern Nigeria

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This is a call for essays for a special issue of the peer-reviewed international journal Religions on the topic of religious conversion in Africa. Over the past decade, scholarly attention has focused on the “explosive” expansion of Pentecostalism across the African continent and its narrative of discontinuity with the pre-Pentecostal lives of Pentecostal adherents. This sophisticated research has demonstrated how the emic prioritization of rupture within the Pentecostal discourse of conversion was predicated on a desire to overcome the dysfunction and insecurity of life in neoliberal Africa.

The predominance of Pentecostal Christian practices and discourses within this literature has shaped recent investigations into conversion in three ways:

First, it has marginalized concurrent processes of religious change in Africa that do not necessarily conform to a discourse of rupture. These include, for example, the expansion of East Asian religions (e.g., Hinduism), the growth of new expressions of Christianity (e.g., Russian Orthodox Old Believers and Jehovah’s Witnesses), or the movement from one Christian denomination or tradition to another.

Second, the prioritization of rupture has meant that discussions about the role of cultural endurance and continuity in religious change have fallen largely out of fashion. There are material and psychological realities, however, such as abiding social relations with half-siblings from a polygamous marriage or the language(s) one speaks, that cannot be wished into oblivion following conversion.

Third, even as recent literature on conversion in Africa has reinvigorated scholarly inquiries into the phenomenon of conversion and religious change, it often reproduces older theories’ assumptions about the direction of religious conversion, from “traditional religions” to “world religions”. As a result, developments such as the reemergence of African indigenous religions through the advent of spiritual tourism and their spread throughout diasporic communities (e.g., Vodún in Benin, and Orisa in the Americas) are undertheorized with respect to conversion.

In light of these observations, we invite essays from any historical era, methodological approach, and theoretical framework that seek to make original contributions with respect to conversion and religious change in Africa. We especially welcome essays that interrogate issues of method with respect to source material, offer critical assessments of theories of conversion with respect to religious change in Africa, and are based in contexts beyond Christianity and/or Pentecostalism.

Authors who are interested in submitting an essay to this special issue should send a 250-word abstract of his/her/their paper to the guest editors at [email protected] and [email protected] by 1 September 2019. Notification of accepted proposals will occur by 1 October 2019. Final manuscripts will be due on 1 April 2020. All essays will be peer reviewed.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email the guest editors.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jason Bruner
Mr. David Dmitri Hurlbut
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Religious Conversion
  • Religion
  • Ethnography
  • Anthropology of Religion
  • History of Religion
  • New Religious Movements
  • African Traditional Religions
  • African Christianity
  • Islam
  • Africa

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Moving beyond Discontinuity in Religious Conversion in Africa: A Preface to the Special Issue
Religions 2020, 11(8), 395; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080395 - 31 Jul 2020
Abstract
This Special Issue emerged through a conversation about how to foster new lines of analysis with respect to religious, cultural, and social change on the African continent [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available

Research

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Open AccessArticle
New Approaches to ‘Converts’ and ‘Conversion’ in Africa: An Introduction to the Special Issue
Religions 2020, 11(8), 389; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080389 - 29 Jul 2020
Abstract
It is our goal in this special issue on “Religious Conversion in Africa” to examine the limitations of a long-standing bias toward Christianity with respect to the study of “conversion.” Furthermore, we want to use this issue to prime other scholarly approaches to [...] Read more.
It is our goal in this special issue on “Religious Conversion in Africa” to examine the limitations of a long-standing bias toward Christianity with respect to the study of “conversion.” Furthermore, we want to use this issue to prime other scholarly approaches to cultural change on the continent, beginning as early as the medieval period, including the colonial and early postcolonial eras, and extending to the contemporary. There are several reasons for making these interventions. One is the emergence of the anthropology of Christianity as a scholarly literature and sub-discipline. This literature has often focused on issues of religious change in relation to its own predilection for charismatic and Pentecostal expressions of Christianity and the distinct characteristics of cultural discontinuity within those communities. Another reason for this special issue on religious “conversion” in Africa is the relative lack of studies that engage with religious change beyond Pentecostal, charismatic, and evangelical Protestant contexts. As such, studies on the “conversion” of Ahmadi in West Africa, medieval Ethiopian women, Mormons in twentieth-century southeastern Nigeria, and Orthodox Christians in Uganda are included, as is a fascinating case of what it means to “trod the path” of Rastafari in Ghana. Taken together, these contributions suggest new and important paths forward with respect to “conversion,” including critiquing and perhaps even discarding the term in certain contexts. Ultimately, we want these articles to illuminate the many ways that Africans across the continent have engaged (and continue to engage) with beliefs, practices, ideas, and communities—including the changes they make in their own lives and in the lives of those communities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
“We Stand for Black Livity!”: Trodding the Path of Rastafari in Ghana
Religions 2020, 11(7), 374; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11070374 - 21 Jul 2020
Abstract
Rastafari is a Pan-African socio-spiritual movement and way of life that was created by indigent Black people in the grip of British colonialism in 1930s Jamaica. Although Rastafari is often studied as a Jamaican phenomenon, I center the ways the movement has articulated [...] Read more.
Rastafari is a Pan-African socio-spiritual movement and way of life that was created by indigent Black people in the grip of British colonialism in 1930s Jamaica. Although Rastafari is often studied as a Jamaican phenomenon, I center the ways the movement has articulated itself in the Ghanaian polity. Ghana has become the epicenter of the movement on the continent through its representatives’ leadership in the Rastafari Continental Council. Based on fourteen years of ethnography with Rastafari in Ghana and with special emphasis on an interview with one Ghanaian Rastafari woman, this paper analyzes some of the reasons Ghanaians choose to “trod the path” of Rastafari and the long-term consequences of their choices. While some scholars use the term “conversion” to refer to the ways people become Rastafari, I choose to use “trodding the path” to center the ways Rastafari theorize their own understanding of becoming. In the context of this essay, trodding the path of Rastafari denotes the orientations and world-sensorial life ways that Rastafari provides for communal and self-making practices. I argue that Ghanaians trod the path of Rastafari to affirm their African identity and participate in Pan-African anti-colonial politics despite adverse social consequences. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
The “Conversion” of Anthony Obinna to Mormonism: Elective Affinities, Socio-Economic Factors, and Religious Change in Postcolonial Southeastern Nigeria
Religions 2020, 11(7), 358; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11070358 - 15 Jul 2020
Abstract
This article analyzes the “conversion” of Anthony Uzodimma Obinna, an Igbo schoolteacher from the town of Aboh Mbaise in Imo State, and his extended family to Mormonism in southeastern Nigeria between the 1960s and the 1980s, from a historical perspective. I argue that [...] Read more.
This article analyzes the “conversion” of Anthony Uzodimma Obinna, an Igbo schoolteacher from the town of Aboh Mbaise in Imo State, and his extended family to Mormonism in southeastern Nigeria between the 1960s and the 1980s, from a historical perspective. I argue that the transition of Anthony Obinna and his family away from Catholicism to Mormonism can be explained by both the elective affinities that existed between Mormonism and indigenous Igbo culture, and socio-economic factors as well. This article bases its conclusions on a close reading of oral histories, personal papers, and correspondence housed at the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Reconversion and Retrieval: Nonlinear Change in African Catholic Practice
Religions 2020, 11(7), 353; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11070353 - 13 Jul 2020
Abstract
Against models of conversion that presume a trajectory or a progression from one religion to another, this article proposes a less linear, more complex, and ultimately more empirical understanding of religious change in Africa. It does so by foregrounding the particularities of Roman [...] Read more.
Against models of conversion that presume a trajectory or a progression from one religion to another, this article proposes a less linear, more complex, and ultimately more empirical understanding of religious change in Africa. It does so by foregrounding the particularities of Roman Catholicism—its privileging of materiality and practice, and of community and tradition. In the course of so doing, this article explores the overlaps between modernist thinking, Protestant ideals, and teleological trajectories; the factors behind reconversion and religious oscillation in sub-Saharan African contexts; inculturation and other continuity paradigms in Catholicism; the significance of the Renaissance for early modern Catholic missions; and the ministry of a contemporary Italian Catholic missionary serving in northern Mozambique. This article proposes that Catholic history and Catholic assumptions offer valuable resources for thinking beyond and thinking against linear models of religious conversion. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Spiritual Warfare in Circulation
Religions 2020, 11(7), 327; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11070327 - 02 Jul 2020
Abstract
Without a doubt, an overenthusiastic focus on rupture, as a way of coping with neoliberal trauma, has shaped the conversation about recent religious change in Africa. Yet, rupture remains at the heart of what African charismatics understand themselves to be doing. In this [...] Read more.
Without a doubt, an overenthusiastic focus on rupture, as a way of coping with neoliberal trauma, has shaped the conversation about recent religious change in Africa. Yet, rupture remains at the heart of what African charismatics understand themselves to be doing. In this paper, we attempt to nuance this conversation about rupture in religious change in Africa by discussing that various ontologies of spiritual warfare are encountered, made legible, reframed, and redeployed, through direct interactions between Africans and Americans in the context of missionization. We illustrate the patterns of these reciprocal flows through two case studies drawn from our larger research projects. One study illustrates the case of Matthew Durham, a young American missionary who, when accused of sexually assaulting children at an orphanage in Kenya, adopted the spiritual counsel of a Kenyan missionary that the reason he had no memory of the attacks was because of his possession by a demon. Another study discusses the example of a Navajo pastor who applied charismatic techniques of spiritual warfare when under metaphysical threat during a mission trip to Benin, but simultaneously focused on building ontologically protective social networks with Africans. Americans and Africans involved in the flows of global Pentecostalism are equally sympathetic to charismatic renewal. However, the reality of threats presented by malicious spiritual forces are echoed and amplified through concrete missionary networks that belie traditional North–South flows. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Conversion as Negotiation. Converts as Actors of Civil Society
Religions 2020, 11(7), 322; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11070322 - 30 Jun 2020
Abstract
This article focuses on the religious movement of the Ahmadiyya and its civil society organization, Humanity First, in West-Africa and in Europe. Particular attention is paid to the place of converts within these two institutions. Conversions to an Islamic minority and the actions [...] Read more.
This article focuses on the religious movement of the Ahmadiyya and its civil society organization, Humanity First, in West-Africa and in Europe. Particular attention is paid to the place of converts within these two institutions. Conversions to an Islamic minority and the actions of this minority are studied through the prism of social commitment. I examine the intersections between religious values, the ideas of solidarity in the societies under scrutiny and, the kaleidoscopic range of Muslim charities. The paper investigates conversion as negotiation in regard to gender, social mobility, and power. Conversion is approached here as a matter of social relations and not personal belief. I argue that converts have to use various strategies of recognition, either as individuals or as a group, which places them in a permanent state of negotiation with their entourage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Hagiography as Source: Gender and Conversion Narratives in The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church
Religions 2020, 11(6), 307; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060307 - 23 Jun 2020
Abstract
Drawing on the work of Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, this essay proposes utilizing hagiographies from the The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, a fifteenth-century Ethiopian collection of saints’ lives, to explore various aspects of conversion. Other scholars employ a similar [...] Read more.
Drawing on the work of Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, this essay proposes utilizing hagiographies from the The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, a fifteenth-century Ethiopian collection of saints’ lives, to explore various aspects of conversion. Other scholars employ a similar approach when analyzing hagiographical literature found in medieval Europe. While acknowledging that these texts do not provide details about the historical experience of conversion, they can assist scholars in understanding the conception of conversion in the imagination of the culture that created them. This essay specifically focuses on the role of women in conversion throughout the text and argues that, although men and women were almost equally represented as agents of conversion, a closer examination reveals that their participation remained gendered. Women more frequently converted someone with whom they had a prior relationship, especially a member of their familial network. Significantly, these observations mirror the patterns uncovered by contemporary scholars such as Dana Robert, who notes how women contributed to the spread of Christianity primarily through human relationships. By integrating these representations of conversion from late medieval Ethiopia, scholarship will gain a more robust picture of conversion in Africa more broadly and widen its understanding of world Christianity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Conversion to Orthodox Christianity in Uganda: A Hundred Years of Spiritual Encounter with Modernity, 1919–2019
Religions 2020, 11(5), 223; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11050223 - 01 May 2020
Abstract
In 1919, three Ugandan Anglicans converted to Orthodox Christianity, as they became sure that this was Christianity’s original and only true form. In 1946, Ugandan Orthodox Christians aligned with the Eastern Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Since the 1990s, new trends in conversion to [...] Read more.
In 1919, three Ugandan Anglicans converted to Orthodox Christianity, as they became sure that this was Christianity’s original and only true form. In 1946, Ugandan Orthodox Christians aligned with the Eastern Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Since the 1990s, new trends in conversion to Orthodox Christianity in Uganda can be observed: one is some growth in the number of new converts to the canonical Orthodox Church, while another is the appearance of new Orthodox Churches, including parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church. The questions we raise in this article are: Why did some Ugandans switch from other religions to Orthodox Christianity in the first half of the 20th century and in more recent years? Were there common reasons for these two developments? We argue that both processes should be understood as attempts by some Ugandans to find their own way in the modern world. Trying to escape spiritually from the impact of colonialism, post-coloniality, and globalization, they viewed Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Islam as part of the legacy they rejected. These people did not turn to African traditional beliefs either. They already firmly saw their own tradition as Christian, but were (and are) seeking its “true”, “original” form. We emphasize that by rejecting post-colonial globalist modernity and embracing Orthodox Christianity as the basis of their own “alternative” modernity, these Ugandans themselves turn out to be modern products, and this speaks volumes about the nature of conversion in contemporary Africa. The article is based on field evidence collected in 2017–2019 as well as on print sources. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conversion in Africa) Printed Edition available
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