African Religions: A Very Short Introduction

African Religions: A Very Short Introduction

This is a book written by Jacob K. Olupona, a Professor of African Religious Traditions at Harvard Divinity School. The main focus of this book is to examine important indigenous religious traditions on the African continent. Besides, it explores Christianity and Islam and the influence they have on the indigenous African religious traditions. The book was published by Oxford University Press on March 14, 2014. In total, African Religions: A Very Short Introduction has 176 covering seven chapters.

Plot Synopsis

African religious traditions are diverse. The book begins by providing an overview of indigenous African traditions. It examines these traditions in different perspectives ranging from social, cultural, and political contexts. It looks at how these diverse religious traditions have impacted matters about socioeconomic development and power relations. Different myths and sacred stories dominate most indigenous African religious traditions. These sacred stories and myths explain how the universe originated which gives identity to the different ethnic groups as well which makes up the African continent. The different spiritual agents in African religion include God, spirits, and ancestors. Other vital components of indigenous African religious traditions include rainmakers, witches, and magicians. The book outlines the different ways these components are used as the link between the social world and the spiritual world. Another critical aspect of African religions discussed in the book is religious practices. These practices are noted to include music and dance, and festival and rituals. Contemporary Africa consists of Islam and Christianity. The book provides an overview of how these two traditions have impacted the indigenous African religious traditions as well as how they have been impacted by the indigenous religious traditions.  Basing on archeological and historical sources, the author has been able to prove that African religions are dynamic and evolves with time. It is noted that these changes are as a result of interactions and influence of outside religions like Islam and Christianity.

The theme of Africa Development

While trying to examine African religions, one cannot ignore the fact that the idea of socioeconomic development is embedded in the book. Though not clearly stated, by examining the indigenous African religious traditions and the impact Islam and Christianity have on these traditions, Olupona implies that these interactions have had a positive impact. Religion is an essential component of culture. Most of the African religious traditions advocated for honesty, hard work, thrift as well as openness to strangers. Through the teaching of religion, Africans were taught to work hard to please God, spirits, and their ancestors. Olupona implies that the high rates of religious beliefs in Africa in one way or the other stimulate growth. This is because such beliefs provide for some aspects of individual behavior that promote productivity. With the influence of Islam and Christianity, Olupona ascertains that it brought with it civilization. Civilization brought many benefits to African soil. It encourages formal education and a formal way of governance. Through education, Africans became not only socially empowered but also economically empowered. The teachings of Christianity, for example, promote education and healthy living. The first Christian missionaries in Africa built schools and hospital as a way to promote socioeconomic development. Improved education combined with a healthy population fosters socioeconomic development. In another dimension, the introduction of Islam and Christianity resulted in Africans dropping some of the practices which did not add positive value to their lives. However, in towards the end of the book, Olupona imply that even though Islam and Christianity brought positive changes to Africans, in one way or other civilizations resulted in colonization of the African countries.

Critical Review

This book provides to the reader a wide range of opportunities for expanding one’s thinking and experience. It also offers the reader broad observations on religion embedded in informed generalizations on African religious traditions. By giving a specific example, this book is a fascination that anybody interested in studying African religions would find interesting. The second most exciting aspect of the book is the fact the author has been able to take the reader through two sides of religion: one conceived in the west and the other on the African soil. In Africa, religion does not have a distinction between religious traditions and secular practices. This distinction is evident in the religions from the West. Additionally, by presenting Islam and Christianity in the perspective of universality terms and African religious traditions as particular, the book makes the reader have a clear understanding of the different religions from the West and indigenous African religions. Any person with interest in comparative religion will find the content of this book fascinating. The syncretism brought about by this book will help these readers with enormous ideas to focus on. The only problem with the book is the fact that the book tries to present indigenous African religions in a positive light and presents them as being more superior as other religions. As a humanist, in one way or the other, most religious beliefs, regardless whether they are from Africa or the West,