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Centre of African Studies: News


CAS International Conference 9-10 April 2008

Exploring Religious Spaces in the African State: Development and Politics from Below

Conference organised by the Centre of African Studies, the University of Edinburgh and WISER, The Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research.

Religious institutions have been at the forefront of human welfare for centuries. In Africa it is often difficult to untangle religious organisations from the agency of development. Religion, rather than declining as had been predicted with the advent of secular development, is taking an increasingly central and vibrant role in African political and developmental life. The African case demonstrates how secularisation theories had failed in assuming that in a modernising context the non-secular would gradually recede  from  public life. The reality is the non-secular in Africa is often pervading the spaces that the secular has singularly failed to   address. Contemporary critiques of development theory assert that ‘development’ poses solutions to development problems in a  peculiarly  apolitical, antiseptic, neutral way. It fails to provide  solutions  that encompass human needs; food security and shelter is materially  important but so is a sense of community and belonging.

In Africa the ‘faith’ dimension is important and plays a significant role in promoting non-governmental public action. Religious organisations and faith communities have wide networks, social resources and often unique access to people who are poor, marginalised and excluded.  Religious organisations represent a  particularly significant component of civil society; and faith-based   development has strong ethical foundations that become particularly important in the absence of alternative worldviews, social norms  and  political ideologies.

This conference aims to understand the role of religion within development and politics and develop our understanding of the role and position of religious organisations and actors within more; traditional conceptualisations of public action and its relationship to the state in Africa. The focus will be on Christian, Muslim and traditional religious organisations and institutions in, for, and against the political and broader development processes in post- colonial Sub-Saharan Africa.

The conference will be organised around the following tentative themes:

  1. Filling the vacuum of the African state: tension or collaboration?
    This theme aims to explore the relationship between religious organisations and the African state. How do religious organisations define their role in the post-colonial state? How do religious organisations critique or plug the gaps in the so-called ‘weak’ African state? How do religious organisations cope with prejudices and forms of control from secular organisations?
  2. Faiths and development: religion and modernity
    This theme aims to explore the relationship between religious   organisations and development. How do religious actors and ideas contribute to development in contemporary Africa? Can we speak of a   unique ‘religious’ answer to development? How do religious organisations forge their own identity as development is becoming increasingly technical, technology-led and driven by agendas such as   the Millennium Development Goals?
  3. Faiths and responses to health crises: the case of HIV/AIDS
    This theme aims to examine the major contributions religious organisations are making in the battle against HIV/AIDS. How do religious organisations negotiate the problematic relationships between public health, religious doctrine and political discourse? What role do different kinds of religious organisation play in providing healthcare? What is the relationship between religious organisations, the state and development agencies with respect to healthcare?

Call for papers: abstracts should not exceed 300 words

All the abstracts should be submitted not later than 10th December 2007.

All the abstracts should be emailed to the Centre of African Studies at:

Successful applicants will receive an answer by 15 January 2008

Some funding will be available to cover part of the travel expenses of African academics that will present at the Conference and who do not have other funding. Only speakers whose abstracts have been accepted will be eligible for this funding. The Conference Committee will personally contact the speakers at the beginning of January.

Posters from postgraduate students are welcome and they will be displayed during the conference. For any questions, please contact the conference organisers or the Centre of African Studies in Edinburgh.

Conference organisers:

Dr Barbara Bompani
School of Social and Political Studies (SSPS)
The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh - UK

Dr Maria Frahm-Arp
Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER)
The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg – South Africa