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Wild Religion

Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa

David Chidester
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Wild Religion
    Book Description:

    Wild Religionis a wild ride through recent South African history from the advent of democracy in 1994 to the euphoria of the football World Cup in 2010. In the context of South Africa's political journey and religious diversity, David Chidester explores African indigenous religious heritage with a difference. As the spiritual dimension of an African Renaissance, indigenous religion has been recovered in South Africa as a national resource.Wild Religionanalyzes indigenous rituals of purification on Robben Island, rituals of healing and reconciliation at the new national shrine, Freedom Park, and rituals of animal sacrifice at the World Cup. Not always in the national interest, indigenous religion also appears in the wild religious creativity of prison gangs, the global spirituality of neo-shamans, the ceremonial display of Zulu virgins, the ancient Egyptian theosophy in South Africa's Parliament, and the new traditionalism of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma. Arguing that the sacred is produced through the religious work of intensive interpretation, formal ritualization, and intense contestation, Chidester develops innovative insights for understanding the meaning and power of religion in a changing society. For anyone interested in religion,Wild Religionuncovers surprising dynamics of sacred space, violence, fundamentalism, heritage, media, sex, sovereignty, and the political economy of the sacred.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95157-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Going Wild
    (pp. 1-13)

    In his harrowing account of South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994, which was nearly derailed by political opponents and logistical complexity, Peter Harris, head of the Monitoring Directorate of the Independent Electoral Commission, turned to religious language. As people stood in long lines to cast their vote, he noted that “the atmosphere is almost one of devotion.” Especially for black voters, who had been excluded from democratic participation, the election was redemptive, as Harris observed: “No one wants to miss this time, this day of redemption.”¹ Sixteen years later, when South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, devotees...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Mapping the Sacred
    (pp. 14-50)

    On April 9, 1998, Thabo Mbeki, who was then deputy president of South Africa, spoke at the United Nations University in Tokyo on the topic “The African Renaissance, South Africa and the World.” As a slogan in search of a reality, the African Renaissance was a theme that Thabo Mbeki placed at the center of his political program, speaking frequently about this promise of rebirth, recovery, and renewal in Africa.African Renaissancewas clearly a hybrid term. By appropriating the name for the fifteenth-century rebirth of civilization in Europe, a recovery of the arts, culture, and learning associated with the...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Violence
    (pp. 51-72)

    In his address to the first gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on December 16, 1995, Archbishop Desmond Tutu charged the commissioners with the awesome responsibility of facilitating a process of national healing in South Africa. Significantly, this inaugural address was delivered on the occasion of a new national holiday, the Day of Reconciliation, that had only recently been consecrated by appropriating the most important day in the sacred calendars of two confl icting South African nationalisms: the Afrikaner nationalist Day of the Covenant, celebrating the Battle of Blood River, when God joined thelaagerand started killing...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Fundamentalisms
    (pp. 73-90)

    Religious fundamentalism seems to be the wildest of wild religion. Fundamentalists oppose modernity, threaten the state, and spread terrorism. In popular media and academic analysis, religious fundamentalism has often been cast as a form of religion that makes inauthentic claims on religious authenticity. But what is fundamentalism? An eminent scholar of religion, Scott Appleby, questions the viability and transferability of the term, putting it in “scare quotes,” or rendering it as “strong religion,” but nevertheless finds that religious fundamentalists in any religious tradition display certain characteristic features, tending to be reactive, selective, absolutist, dualistic, and millenarian in their expectations of...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Heritage
    (pp. 91-111)

    After many years of policy analysis and public debate, South Africa’s National Policy on Religion and Education was finally established in September 2003. Departing from the overtly religious agenda of the apartheid regime, this new national policy affirmed respect for the religious heritage of South Africa, in all its diversity, but made a principled distinction between religious education, instruction, or nurture, which was best served by families and religious communities, and religion education, which was defined as teaching and learning about religion, religions, and religious diversity. Religion education, based on educational goals and objectives, but also promising social benefits of...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Dreamscapes
    (pp. 112-131)

    In recounting his tour of Africa in 1925, the psychoanalyst C. G. Jung recalled a conversation he had about dreams with an African ritual specialist. “I remember a medicine man in Africa,” Jung related, “who said to me almost with tears in his eyes: ‘We have no dreams anymore since the British are in the country.’ ” When Jung asked why the British colonial presence had caused Africans to stop dreaming, the diviner answered, “The District Commissioner knows everything. . . . God now speaks in dreams to the British, and not to the medicine-man . . . because it...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Purity
    (pp. 132-151)

    The Royal Reed Dance Festival, as advertised on a tourist website, promises a “vibrant celebration of Zululand’s traditional culture and rich heritage.” Convened once a year, in September, at the palace of the Zulu king, this festival draws thousands of Zulu participants, “more than 10,000 invited virgin girls,” and, of course, tourists, who can witness the ceremony as part of a package that includes touring sugarcane fields, wildlife reserves, magnificent coastlines, and “undulating hills and valleys silently speaking to your soul with its natural beauty.” Performed over four days, the Reed Dance enacts the ritual unity of a Zulu nation...

    (pp. 152-175)

    On November 3, 2009, kings and queens from all over Africa came to Pretoria, South Africa, for the launch of a new Institute of African Royalty, which was described by the organizers as a royal “thinktank on democracy and development,” but also as a public relations initiative to improve the image of traditional leadership in Africa. Drawing upon the iconic power of the fi rst elected president of a democratic South Africa, the institute proclaimed President Nelson Mandela as its model for African leadership. African kings and queens who gathered for the event included King Tchiffi Zie Jean Gervais of...

  12. CHAPTER NINE World Cup
    (pp. 176-190)

    Football, the world’s game, the beautiful game, the sacred game, has often been characterized as a religion. In the advent of the 2010 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in South Africa, many commentators observed that football is a religion because it looks like religion and acts like religion.

    Adopting a morphological analysis of religion by attending to characteristically religious forms, CNN national editor Dave Schechter declared his devotion to the “religion of football.” Schechter identified forms of religion operating in football: prayers, curses, hymns, vestments, transcendent gods, and sacrificial rituals. “Deities will be implored,” he noted. “Sacrifices...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Staying Wild
    (pp. 191-208)

    Religion has always been wild. From a South African perspective, the termreligiondid not come from ancient Greco-Roman antiquity, medieval Christianity, or the European Enlightenment. It came from the sea, in ships, carried by European navigators, missionaries, and colonial agents who wielded the word as a weapon against indigenous people by declaring that they lacked any trace of religion and were instead subject to wild superstitions.¹ Religion, therefore, was a mark of difference separating the civilized from the wild.

    Historian Paul Landau has argued that there actually was no religion in precolonial southern Africa. Indigenous African religion took shape...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 209-246)
  15. Index
    (pp. 247-259)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 260-260)