The materiality of religion in Africa during the European expansion

Kalle Kananoja (European University Institute)
Madalina Florescu (CEBRAP)
Sala 78, Piso 1
Thursday 18 July, 11:30-13:15, 14:30-16:15, Friday 19 July, 9:30-11:15

Short abstract:

This panel examines religious encounters between Africans and Europeans through the lens of cultural materiality. By examining the role of religious objects in Africa, it interrogates the conflicts and (mis)interpretations that rose over the uses of material objects in religious life.

Long abstract:

Religious encounters were a major source of misunderstanding between Africans and Europeans. The contributions in this panel examine religion in precolonial and early colonial Africa through the lens of cultural materiality. Missionaries of different denominations had varying views on religion and materiality. While Catholic Fathers sought to replace indigenous objects with Catholic images, Protestants placed the emphasis on "inner belief" and shunned objects altogether, which was close to the strategy adopted by some New Christian or Jewish settlers in West Africa. The wide and varied practices of using religious objects in rituals and for protection of people and communities have been addressed to a great extent by archaeologists, art historians and anthropologists of Africa, yet the changes that took place over time and in contact with Europeans are poorly understood. How did things that linked the visible/material to the invisible/immaterial transform when African traditional religions and Islam came into contact with Christianity and Judaism in different parts of the continent? What role did materiality - amulets, images of deities and ancestors, natural objects, iconography, crucifixes, prayer beads, relics - play in African popular religion across time and space? The panel will also interrogate and explore the kinds of expectations, conflicts and (mis)interpretations that rose over the uses of material objects in religious life.