- Prime Student members get an extra 5% off this product. Here's how (terms and conditions apply)
African Religions: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 13 Mar 2014
|New from||Used from|
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Special offers and product promotions
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
About the Author
Jacob K. Olupona is Professor of African Religious Traditions at Harvard Divinity School, with a joint appointment as Professor of African and African American Studies in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. A noted scholar of indigenous African religions, his books include City of 201 Gods: Ilé-Ifè in Time, Space, and the Imagination, Òrìsà Devotion as World Religion: The Globalization of Yorùbá Religious Culture, co-edited with Terry Rey, and Kingship, Religion, and Rituals in a Nigerian Community: A Phenomenological Study of Ondo Yoruba Festivals. In 2007, he was awarded the Nigerian National Order of Merit, one of Nigeria's most prestigious honors.
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
As does the book by Parker and Rathbone, Olupona's study describes the difficulty of making generalizations about Africa and about religions in Africa given the size and diversity of the continent and its peoples and the nature of the historical record. He begins his book with a brief discussion of the historiography of the study of African religions. The goal of his short study is "to provide a fuller picture of what these traditions are and do for their practitioners in order to inspire intellectual curiosity in readers who are encountering these traditions for the first time, while also encouraging scholars and educators to think creatively about how to introduce these traditions to their students."
Olupona proceeds by offering broad observations on the subject of religion, followed by informed generalizations on African religions followed in its turn by specific examples. He notes several differences between how religion is conceived in the West on one hand and in indigenous African religions on the other hand. In the West, with Christianity, religion and politics have been separated with the Enlightenment into separate spheres, the personal, and the secular and public. Indigenous African religions tend not to make this sharp distinction between the religious and the secular. Further, Christianity and Islam, which have come to be predominant in Africa, view religion in universalist terms while indigenous African religions tend to be local and particular Olupona writes: "Religious worldviews, often unique to different ethnic groups, reflect people's identities and lie at the heart of how they relate to one another, to other people, and to the world at large.". African religions tend to be practice oriented rather than oriented to doctrine and belief. Olupona draws other distinctions and parallels between indigenous religions and religions imported to Africa throughout his study.
The successive chapters of the book become increasingly more specific and move from worldview and myth in indigenous religion, to gods, ancestors, and spirits, to the role of figures such as kings, diviners, priests, and witches, to religious ceremonies and rituals, such as rituals for marriage, rites of passage and death, to the use of art, music, and dance in the service of religion. Much of the material is fascinating. It also tends to become difficult to follow in a short book as Olupona offers highly specific examples from a number of separate indigenous religious practices. The individual detail in the book tends to overshadow the broader picture, and probably necessarily so.
The focus of the book is on indigenous religion. Olupona also devotes a short but learned chapter to the histories of Christianity and Islam in Africa, to the manner in which they spread, and the way in which they compete with each other in current Africa. Olupona also explores how various indigenous traditions tended to blend with Christianity or Islam, creating some unique practices in various African versions of both religions.
In a final chapter, Olupona examines the continued influence of African indigenous religions in the African diaspora. He offers discussions of churches and other institutions in the United States, Britain, Ukraine, the Caribbean and elsewhere showing the spread and increasing popularity of these religions, both as practiced by sincere believers and, in some cases, as exploited by charlatans. Olupona concludes: "[I]f in our world of increasingly hyphenated and hybrid identities, it has become more challenging to say what African religion is, it has become perhaps even more challenging to say for certain what it isn't. If we look more carefully, we can find manifestations of it everywhere."
Olupona's book offers a thoughtful, detailed introduction to African religions in the scope of about 120 pages. The book fulfilled its goal of making the subject interesting to a curious reader with little prior knowledge. Readers with an interest in comparative religion will particularly enjoy this "very short introduction" to African religions.
Let me elaborate. Right of the bat he blames a substantial portion (if not all) of Africa's problems on Western colonialism. He even goes so far as to defend female genital mutilation. Yes, he defends female genital mutilation. He falsely claims that clitorectemies, the surgical removal of a young girl's clitoris, is as bad female circumcision gets. Well, that's patently false. Infibulation, the removal of all external genitalia, is the worst, and over 8 million African women have experienced it. He also likens the clitoris to the male foreskin, and asks, who are Westerners to judge if they circumcise males? Except that's scientifically illiterate. The male foreskin is the male version of the clitoral hood, and the clitoris's male equivalent is the head of the penis. (Let me also make clear that I'm not defending male circumcision. I'm simply pointing out the numerous false claims in this book.).
Olupona also attempts to make African religion appear advanced in ways that it isn't. To take one example, some Africans believed that there was a great goddess whose belly expanded and expanded until it popped--and the earth was the product of her stomach explosion. Olupona actually says something to the effect of "And notice just how similar this is to the Big Bang, which is now the scientific explanation for the origin of the cosmos" -- as if to suggest the African mythmakers had some keen insight into science or something. Sorry, not buying it. I'd also say that, if one understands astronomy, that he/she would see that this myth is not similar to the big bang at all.
Olupona spends far less time than I would like discussing African animism. He discusses Christianity and Islam at great length. He (understandably) seems somewhat hostile to those religions and Westerners' attempts to spread them in Africa. He discusses African variations on Christianity, which is somewhat interesting. And, though he won't say it, these variations are basically more superstitious versions of Western Christianity. He defends this added dose of superstition, saying rather euphemistically that it helps meet "African spiritual needs," and it "makes sense to the African people." Never does he go into any explanation as to why Africans have these unique "spiritual needs" or why these variations are helpful.
The book doesn't linger as long old African belief systems as I would like--though of course that is likely due to the fact that most African religions were passed on through oral tradition. Still, I think there were probably many interesting myths that Olupona left out. I realize he was constrained, as this is a very short introduction, so here's an idea -- include more myths and spend less time railing against the West's perceived offenses. I did not buy this book to learn about why Olupona thinks the Westeners need to take a humble pill and are just as superstitious as Africans. Rather, I bought it to learn about African myths. I give it two stars because it did this to some extent.