African religion has encountered other religions, notably Christianity and Islam, and other cultures, especially Western. Many of its adherents convert to Christianity or Islam. But conversion does not mean abandoning the world of traditional religiosity. On the contrary, many Christians derive rich spirituality from African religion. Translations of the Bible into some seven hundred African languages (as of 1992) use religious terms and concepts of African religion. But while it seems to find ways of surviving and of accommodating to contemporary life, there are changes in social, political, educational, technological, and scientific life for which it has not prepared itself.

In the nineteenth century African religion was studied almost exclusively by foreigners: missionaries, anthropologists, colonial rulers, and self-styled African experts. On the whole it was presented negatively, often interpreted falsely, and ridiculed by those with racist attitudes. However, since about the middle of the twentieth century, a more objective approach has gained ground not only in Africa but also in the New World, where peoples ofAfrican descent find in it a meaningful part of their heritage. The African religious heritage in North America provided the cultural, social, and spiritual setting for modeling Christianity among African

Americans—for example, the place of the church as a focal point of community life, the dynamic worship tradition, and the assimilation of African cultural traits. In Latin America, especially in Brazil, African religion has blended firmly with Roman Catholicism, so much so that many people do not know where to draw the line (if need be). Some of the healing practices called folk medicine are traceable to those of traditional doctors in Africa. Gayraud Wilmore (1983), Roger Bastide (1978), and Leonard Barrett (1976), among others, have documented the survival and strong impact of African religion in the New World.

We are in a much better position to understand African religion academically at the beginning of the twenty-first century than at the beginning of the twentieth century. Just as it has survived since prehistoric times and has done so in new social and cultural environments across the oceans, we may presume that it will survive in new forms in the coming generations.

SEE ALSO: Circumcision; Islam, Bioethics in; Environmental Ethics; Medical Ethics, History of: Africa; Medicine, Anthropology of; Minorities as Research Subjects; Population Ethics: Religious Traditions, Islamic Perspectives

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