Religion and Human Security in Africa

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Ezra Chitando, Joram Tarusarira
Routledge Studies in Religion
  • New York, NY: 
    , February
     254 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Religion and Human Security in Africa contains important essays and insights about a new area of research and publication in Africa, religion, and human security. Whereas the question of religion and human security is a growing field of research and publication in the academy and particularly in third-sector research globally, it has not been an important field of inquiry for African scholars. This is because for many African scholars, it is a sensitive area, and questions around religion in Africa often have to be dealt with in a confessional nature. In many instances, the religious worldview of Africa is not often sufficiently interrogated by Africans themselves.

However, the editors of the book, Ezra Chitando and Joram Tarusarira, gathered some of the most important African voices on the issues of religion and human security, whose diverse and rich scholarship have given birth to these fourteen innovative essays of extraordinary research and depth. The contributors are drawn from a wide spectrum of fields including religious studies, theology, social anthropology, political science, human development, and sociology. This diverse array of scholars and practitioners has given the book a rich interdisciplinary range and cross-disciplinary coverage.

The central claim of this book is that there is a need for religious literacy that not only interprets the hidden grammar of religious beliefs and practices but also tries to understand how religion interfaces  with other aspects of life in Africa. In doing this, one is able to establish linkages between religion and various pressing and contested issues of our modern times—violence, poverty eradication, ecology, human development, and politics. This is particularly pressing in Africa where religion has a seamless connection to every aspect of daily life.

Most of the essays explore how religion can promote human security. While some of the chapters point to the growing number of religious groups and the increase in populations of adherents of the two main religions in Africa (Islam and Christianity), other essays explore the exploitation of religious systems in Africa. Particularly notable is the serious attempt by contributors to explore competition in select countries either among the adherents of Islam and Christianity (e.g., Central African Republic and Nigeria, chapters 1, 5) or the adherents of different Christian denominations (e.g., Mozambique, chapter 13). In some cases, the religious conflicts emerge from the toxic mix of tribal and traditional religions, migratory patterns, and economic and ecological crisis, which we see in the herder/farmer conflicts among the Fulani of Nigeria and Niger and the Fulbe of Burkina Faso.

What we learn from this book is that the African sociopolitical context is complex and convoluted and that some of the issues that many African countries face today cannot be reduced to a single narrative. However, there is the need for a critical and sophisticated examination of the multiple layers of historical factors that continue to add together in the emergence of the unacceptable social condition in many African countries. These sad social realities reflect the crisis of postcolonial states that display signs of fragmentation and extreme competition among the constituent parts of particular nations. As one of the writers, Asonzeh Ukah, writes in chapter 1, many African states are underperforming and some of them display signs of fragility. Weak states provide the alchemies for violence, political unrests, and conflicts, and lead to different forms of religious pathologies that are sometimes employed to demystify or spiritualize the political and economic problems of the populace in some African countries (211). In chapter 5, Wendy Issacs-Martin locates the predatory practices of state actors in the exercise of political power, which often has mutated into personal power rather than institutional leadership. What emerges are forms of clientelism in which the vast majority of the populace are begging at the doors of the state houses for crumbs from the table of the office holders. This scenario leads to increased frustration among the populace, which fuels divisions.

The book is wide-ranging in the case studies including the religious violence in contemporary Nigeria (chapter 2), the complex nature of religion and politics in Ghana (chapter 3), the securitization of places of worship in Kenya and the impact of Pentecostalism as a social capital and wealth-creation agency in Kenya (chapter 6), and the complex nature of the religious tension between Muslims and Christians in Tanzania over the location of abattoirs and the slaughter of animals and birds (chapter 8).

All the essays do not address the meaning of human security per se, but they do engage the social context of different African countries and human security and the role of religion in Africa. However, there is a more focused engagement with these questions in four chapters: Chapter 9 historicizes the discourse on religion and human security in Uganda, and chapter 10 looks at it from the perspectives of the civil war and social and economic challenges facing Angola. Chapters 11 and 13 examine the pseudo-spirituality of democracy and state actors in South Africa and the complex religious scene in Zambia where religion continues to influence and determine moral sensibilities and the political imagination.

The strength of this book is that it offers a continental survey of religion and human security in Africa with strong empirical and historical foundation. The volume, however, lacks an inner organizing narrative on the meaning of religion and human security, which should have run through the essays. This is not unexpected in a volume of this kind. In addition, the essays are not of equal strength in terms of quality and literary craft. The book also could have benefited from more thorough copyediting to avoid some glaring typos. These minor issues, however, do not take away from the freshness and depth of the ideas contained in this original volume.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Stan Chu Ilo is  Research Professor of World Christianity/Theology at DePaul University.

Date of Review: 
July 15, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Ezra Chitando is Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy at the University of Zimbabwe. He also works as Theology Consultant for the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA).

Joram Tarusarira is Assistant Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He is also the Director of the Centre for Religion, Conflict and Globalization.


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