What is “Religion” in Africa? Relational Dynamics in an Entangled World – Keynote by Birgit Meyer

On 30 January 2020, the African Studies Centre Leiden and the Leiden African Studies Assembly of Leiden University organised the conference ‘Africa: 60 Years of Independence‘. Professor Birgit Meyer, Professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University and chair of the Academic Advisory Board of the Forum Transregionale Studien, gave a keynote speech about religion as an entry point into the longstanding relational dynamics through which Africans and Europeans are entangled with each other. Discussant is Rijk van Dijk, Professor of Religion in Africa and its Diaspora, ASCL, Leiden University. The keynote was recorded and published by the African Studies Centre Leiden.

Keynote: What is “Religion” in Africa? Relational Dynamics in an Entangled World

Tracking the social, economic, political and cultural implications of the introduction of the category of religion to Africa by missions, scholars and colonial administrations, this lecture approaches religion from a relational angle that takes into account the connections between Africa and Europe. Much can be learned about the complexity and power dynamics of these connections by studying religion not simply in but also from Africa. The lecture will mainly refer to historical and current materials from Ghana, from the dismissal of indigenous deities as “fetishes” to the rise of Pentecostalism. Doing so, my concern is not to offer a history of religion in Ghana, but rather to show how a focus on religion can serve as a productive entry point into the longstanding relational dynamics through which Africans and Europeans are entangled with each other. This is a necessary step in decolonizing scholarly knowledge production about (religion in) Africa.  


Birgit Meyer is Professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University. She chairs the Academic Advisory Board of the Forum Transregional Studien. Trained as a cultural anthropologist and working on lived religion in Ghana for more than 20 years, Birgit Meyer studies religion from a global and post-secular perspective. Her research is driven by an urge to make sense of the shifting place and role of religion in our time, and to show that scholarly work in the field of religion is of eminent concern to understanding the shape of our world in the early 21st century. She has recently published Figurations and Sensations of the Unseen in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (ed. with Terje Stordalen) (Bloomsbury, 2019) which is available in open access here.


Citation: Birgit Meyer, What is “Religion” in Africa? Relational Dynamics in an Entangled World, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 25.02.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/22700.


Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. The Forum provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. In cooperation with universities and research institutions in Berlin and the rest of Germany, it carries out research projects that examine other regions of the world and their relationship to Germany and Europe systematically and with new questions.

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