Religion and African Civil Wars

Niels Kastfelt, ed., New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005. 203 pages.

This volume contains an introduction and seven case studies by anthropologists, historians, and theologians. The papers were originally presented at a 1999 conference on “Religion and Social Upheaval in Africa” in Denmark. As a result, some of the papers are somewhat out-of-date, although the questions they raise are, sadly, just as relevant as ever to the continent’s current situation. As Niels Kastfelt points out in his introductory essay, the authors reject any approach that seeks to understand African civil conflicts in terms of a “New Barbarism,” an irrational manifestation of “tribal” or religious atavism. This strategy, which is perhaps most typical of journalistic accounts but also finds some support among academics, clearly constitutes an obstacle toward any meaningful comprehension of the phenomena in question. In a similar vein, they equally reject any notion of a “conflict of civilizations” or that African civil wars can be explained in terms of the incompatible religious values of Christianity, Islam, and indigenous African religions. Rather, their papers provide a detailed account of the local context in a historical perspective by focusing on the political, economic, and explicitly religious phenomena.

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