Religion and Modernity in Africa

Centre of West African Studies, School of History and Cultures

College of Arts and Law


Code 20548

Level of study Third/Final year

Credit value 20

Semester 1 or 2 depending on staff availability

Module description

This module looks at the relationship between the world religions and modernity in Africa. It examines the ways in which the spread of Islam and Christianity contributed to cultural, economic and political change in African societies, and also investigates how the world religions were transformed by African beliefs, ideas and practices.
The first part of the course focuses on the social and political changes associated with the spread of Islam and Christianity in the precolonial and colonial period. In Africa, the spread of the world religions was closely linked to the growing importance of trading and colonial powers, and it was often directly associated with struggles over political and economic control. At the same time, African converts to monotheist religions appropriated a range of new ideas, practices and skills - including literacy - that allowed them to transform not only their personal lives but wide sections of society and even the colonial state. At LH level, students will engage critically with different sociological models of conversion.
The second section of the course focuses on the expansion and transformation of the world religions since independence, which has often been linked to political and economic struggles affecting both the postcolonial state and African transnational communities. Many local forms of Islam and Christianity are tolerant or even accommodating of each other, and the continued presence and vitality of indigenous heritages often remains important for local worshipers. In dialogue with and opposition to such trends, many African countries have also witnessed a radicalisation of monotheistic groups, and reformist Islamic brotherhoods have become increasingly popular, as have Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. At LH level, students will critically analyse relevant popular religious material (videos, cassettes, pamphlets).

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures and classes