Re-thinking the Study of Religion: Lessons from Field Studies of Religions in Africa and the African Diaspora

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter comprises of three stories recorded from my field notes. They provide insights into how I formulated my work with, and study of religion among, different societies from the African continent namely: Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia and in Israel, Anglicans in Kenya and Pentecostal African Christian labor migrants in Israel. By analyzing these three encounters I re-think the relations between anthropology and religion, theory and praxis, researchers’ identities and informants’ identities, research missions and daily practicalities. Two main issues are dealt with extensively: (1) May researchers study others in the sense of having different identities or belongings to specific groups? And (2) How close is my understanding of the religions I studied, of their manifestations and meanings to the people who believe in these religions, and to those of other researchers? The entire chapter was constructed taking into consideration Talal Asad’s warning against the overarching false Westernization of our analysis of religion, including accepted dichotomies between religious and secular spheres. Hence, this chapter highlights the presence of religion in unconventional spaces thus opening a window into religion and religious terrain in melodies and sounds that go beyond accepted academic norms and, at the same time, highlights collisions between “the secular” and “the religious.” The main findings show that notwithstanding the importance of specificity and singularity embodied in each religion, all of them attest to the centrality of religion and religious organizations in people’s lives and to the importance of methodologies chosen for research. Moreover, it shows that normative definitions of religious practices do not always cover the wide variety of common practices and beliefs. They exemplify how religious organizations fulfill a combination of spiritual and practical needs, serve as loci of warmth and friendship, and engage in a variety of activities within the social, economic, educational, and political spheres. It is through faith and in the religious-based organizations that the believers seek and find the legitimacy they were denied in their country’s political / public sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFaith in African lived Christianity
Subtitle of host publicationBridging anthropological and theological perspectives
EditorsKaren Lauterbach, Mika Vähäkangas
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9789004412255
ISBN (Print)9789004398498
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameGlobal Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies
ISSN (Print)1876-2247


FundersFunder number
Lund Mission Society
Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences
Swedish Research Council, Lund University Faculties of Humanities and Theology
Lund University
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond
Norges Forskningsråd


    • Christianity -- Africa
    • Experience (Religion)
    • Africa -- Religious life and customs


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