Scholarship on African Traditional Religions And Interpretations of Magic


Kayla Furman

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This course of study centered on the scholarship on African traditional religions between the years of roughly 1870 and 2000. During the colonial period, these religions were deemed to be animistic and indicative of a primitive, crude mind. This anthropological approach created a conceptual dichotomy between religion and magic, with magic viewed as a solely mechanical act of the primitive African, contrasting with religion, which was viewed as an expressive, spiritual form emblematic of the civilized West. Another theme explored in this study is the belief system of the various African religions, including the nature of the Supreme Deity as well as lower deities and ancestor spirits. The Supreme Deity is thought to be the source of all life, but whether this God is withdrawn from the world or active in daily material life is debated. This one Supreme God is a link between African traditional religions and western religions and is a basis of Hellenization by both western missionaries and scholars. Another realm of debate in the literature is whether there is an impersonal vital life force pervading all things or if there are distinct personal spirits: intermediaries between humans and the Supreme God. These intermediaries would be lower divinities and ancestor spirits, who are active agents in the lives of humans. Throughout, this study tracks shifts and controversies in scholarship. While the literature has moved to minimize the distinction between ?primitive? and ?enlightened religion?, the earlier ?myth of the primitive? cannot be entirely eradicated.


Kristi Upson-Saia




The Paul K. and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Trusts - Summer Fellowship

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