JAHPS: Spring 2015 Special Issue

Religious Encounters as Events in African Societies

Guest editors: Madalina Florescu (University of Porto) and Kalle Kananoja (University of Helsinki)

Journal of African History, Politics, and Society (JAHPS) is a peer-reviewed, bi-annual (open access) journal, published by the Centre of African Studies, Faculty of Philosophy and Art, University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, Czech Republic.

For the Second volume of JAHPS (Spring 2015), we invite papers on religious encounters in African societies, past and present.


In pre-colonial and colonial Africa, religious encounters could be a major source of misunderstandings. Missionaries of different denominations had varying views on symbolism and materiality. While Catholics sought to replace indigenous objects with holy images, Protestants placed the emphasis on ‘inner belief’ and shunned objects altogether. Further, Christian missionaries and Muslims had different understandings of ritual defilement and of the appropriate mode of addressing God. The former for instance opposed the notion of the ‘purity of the heart’ to the latter ritual washing of hands and feet. The wide and varied ways of using religious objects and the body in rituals for the transmission of knowledge, for communication with ‘invisible’ forces, or for symbolising the community have been addressed to a great extent by archaeologists, art historians and anthropologists, yet the exact nature of religious difference and of the changes that took place over time are poorly understood. What gave credibility to a particular religious discourse? What made people begin to invest in the symbolic power of new forms?

According to literary critic Frank Kermode, we tend to live according to cultural patterns more than according to facts or evidence. It is these patterns, or forms, that make experience meaningful. These patterns on the other hand can be shattered by violent events. This is why theological issues are not so much about right and wrong conceptions or a hierarchy of beliefs, as they are about making sense of the world and of what lies beyond perception in terms of available materials and rhetorical devices, as the anthropologist J.D.Y Peel has suggested in his widely influential monograph Religious Encouners and the Making of the Yoruba.

In anthropology, for instance, the notion of ‘liminality’ as a realm between classificatory categories has been used for a long time to theorise ritual as a transition between well defined social statuses, as in rites of passage from puberty to adulthood, from stranger into kin, from illness to health, from life to death, from military to civilian life, and so on. But this notion of ‘liminality’, like that of modernity as a perpetual crisis linked to technological change, is rooted in medieval eschatology (Kermode, The Sense of an Ending). For this reason religious encounters may be seen not as ‘transitions’ or ‘conversion’ but as ‘events’ in the sense of a simultaneous change in both the categories used to apprehended experience (paradigmatic level) and in the phenomena observed (syntagmatic level).

For this special issue JAHPS invites papers that examine religious encounters as events through the lens of ‘cultural agency’. Comparative and multidisciplinary approaches are welcome. We welcome papers that deal critically and innovatively with the following (and related) themes:

- Contested encounters between indigenous and missionary religions (religion as resistance)

- Syncretism or plural religious observance

- Ritual and Power

- Loss

- Language

- The Body

- Uses of missionary archives for recovering African history

Please submit article abstracts by March 30, 2014 at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Selected authors will be notified by April 15, and the deadline for submitting papers for peer review is October 31, 2014.

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