Proceedings Of The First Annual Conference Towards A Global Congress Of World Religions - Edited by Warren Lewis - 1978
Before the session, the Rev. Marcus Braybrooke, Director of the World Congress of Faiths, and Dr. Kurt Johnson, Director of "National Council on Church and Social Action" were introduced.
Irving Hexham: We want to discuss some of the points raised in this morning's session. I think it would be a mistake were we to get bogged down in definitions of religion, so I wonder if people would like to raise particular points arising out of what we heard this morning, out of the two papers, and the ways in which they interrelate, or things which people feel haven't yet been discussed.
Stanley Mogoba (Research Student, University of Bristol, England): I'd like to comment briefly on the first paper basically to say that I think that the points of similarity that have been brought forward by the speaker [Gyekye] are basically true of our people. In most cases today, one can speak only with a limited authority of one group of people. But I want to say that what has been said is true of my people, by and large. I want to say that I think an element of something common in a wider area is there. The example given by Myrtle, the snake being interpreted as an ancestor, is common in a lot of groups. Whether one can conclude that it is general all over the continent, is another matter.
The papers that were given today point to a methodology that is going to be adopted for the future. Original studies are to be systematized, so that we not only have one person writing from a particular area, but people representing areas and working together, trying to look at the same phenomena in the different areas, and then coming to the same conclusions. Those conclusions will be accepted on very strong authority. I want to say that I missed the note of authority from the first speaker. I thought he would tell us more about what he knows for certain about his people. As you said last night, you have done some research with the Akan people in Ghana. If this note of authority had come in, that, at least, would show most people that it is not only from a library, but that it does come from real-life situations, and that it is from that standpoint you looked at the libraries and began to realize that there are some elements fairly widespread.
Kwame Gyekye: I have been doing some work on the Akans of Ghana; in fact, the philosophical thought I have been researching the past six years and the book I hope to publish next year is actually on the philosophical ideas of the Akans. But, as I from time to time read what others have written about other African peoples, it dawned upon me that these things I have read about other African people are quite similar to what I am doing with the Akans. Language is so important in studying the thought of people; so naturally I am limited, since I can't speak Bantu or Pictu or other African languages. So I depend on what other, able scholars say about other African people, using what they say as basis for my conclusions. At this stage of philosophical and theological scholarship on Africa, we have to begin with in-depth studies of various African peoples and use these as bases for constructive African philosophy. I don't want to limit myself to the Akans; my perspective in the paper was not only Akans. I wanted to bring out the continental approach in the paper.
Irving Hexham: Would Fred perhaps like to respond on the point of the similarities?
Fred Welbourn: There are two things I'd like to say about this pan-African philosophy. I don't know anything about philosophy; I know only about religions. But trying to generalize too much, trying to get a general African picture, in fact, is to derogate the richness of individual countries. That's quite apart from the academic dangers of generalizing too much. The other thing, and in a way perhaps more important, is that we should not confine ourselves to Africa. For example, the Fosta Maasai seem to me to be closer to the ancient Hebrews, and the agricultural Ganda closer to the ancient Canaanites than either is to the other. What we are talking is not an African world, put a primal world, which covers a large number of people in Africa, a large number of people in contemporary Asia, and also a good number in Europe before the 16th century. To call this "African" is to miss the point.
Irving Hexham: I wondered in the course of the discussion whether one might not talk about Hinduism. Fred Morgan might like to come in on that point. It seems that many of the problems we are talking about in African religion are in some ways similar to the questions of Hinduism as well.
Fred Morgan: Well, I wouldn't want to generalize! Yes, what shocked me -- if this isn't too flippant an idea -- is that the problems discussed in these papers are similar to the problems which have been discussed by Hindus in the context of their own tradition, only they discussed them several centuries ago, and they haven't stopped discussing them since; they have had a longer head start on the discussions. The whole question of the relationship between diverse local tradition and a kind of a unified field within which those traditions operate has been metaphysized in the Hindu context. Their philosophy is a philosophy of diversity within unity, approached on a whole number of different standpoints. No doubt there are a multitude of reasons for one wanting to take up this kind of philosophical problem, including political reasons, which, of course, haven't been touched on at all in these papers, so far as I noticed. But, yet, I think the Hindu model is a foretaste of what is going to happen in the African context.
Irving Hexham: I always had trouble teaching Hinduism. One tends to begin with the Vedas, and then the Upanishads, then things develop so that students think something has fallen away -- Vedic religion has passed; but it isn't so.
Angela Burr: The trend in the 1960s in the study of the Hindu tradition was to see the idea of unity in diversity and the relationship between the two. It is interesting from that point of view that nomads, Canaanites and Maasai, have something in common, more than with the agriculturalists. I think that peasants, by the nature of their agriculture, have a common tradition; but there is still a diversity in religious terms between the peasants, say, of South America, who are Catholics, and the peasantry in India, and peasantry in Africa. So I think, despite the problems of their environment, which they obviously express in some similar terms, still there is as much difference between nomads in Africa and in the Middle East as there would be between nomads in Africa and agricultural peasantry. Yet, I don't see why you can't operate a unity-in-diversity model in Africa, in the same way as you can in India.
James Dickie: I am not sure about unity. I normally would start with diversity, especially in the Indian context. If both India and Africa be continents, one would expect them to exhibit an equally bewildering diversity of religious phenomena. Hinduism, I would say, didn't exist until the nineteenth century, when it was systematized into existence by the Victorian apologists as a response to the missionaries. What had existed up till then was in some sense a highly diversified racial belief which differed widely from one area to another.
Angela Burr: I'm arguing that in India there are enormous regional differences, perhaps as great as you find in certain parts of Africa. Particularly, you have 287 tribal groups. There are basic concepts in the Indian subcontinent related to purity, pollution, and caste system, which you don't find in all the tribal areas. Perhaps because of the way Africa was colonized, and the large number of different imperial powers that controlled it, you couldn't have the same kind of unitary study we have had in India by the British. People have centered on the differences in Africa and the unity of India; because India had a unified imperial power. I think that is what is reflected; but if you had different kinds of people going to different parts of India without the same basic model, you'd come up with very different studies. You have only to travel across India to see that there is as much difference there as there is, say, between the Karamoja and the Ganda.
Fred Morgan: I agree with everything James Dickie has said up to this point. And wherever you go in India, too -- well nearly everywhere -- you find someone who has a way of interpreting events in a pan-Indian pattern. There is an indigenous type of philosophical interpretation, which you find everywhere. Not that everyone knows it, is plugged into it, but it is potentially there everywhere. I wonder about the situation in Africa along these lines. Does there now exist an indigenous pattern of philosophizing, so that no matter where you go in sub-Saharan Africa, you might find someone who interprets things in the way you would interpret them?
Kwame Gyekye: In the traditional setting, we had a local wise man. Still, certain individuals in the community stand out as the thinkers. It is these thinkers who have originated the proverbs which are common in African communities. These proverbs contain earlier philosophical thought. They are common, and so are the myths and folktales and religious songs and the funeral dirges. They give a great deal of insight into the people's eschatology, physics, and so on. These are common. Does that answer your question?
Fred Morgan: Not exactly.
Myrtle Langley: I wanted to make another point about India. While not disagreeing with what you have said about the similarities, I do think we have a situation in India very different from Africa. Think of the caste system and the Aryan invasion; and think of the vast literature of India, impossible of comparison, as it were, with African oral traditions. I see the other point, where these differences will put a brake on how far we go with the similarities.
Angela Burr: I think people overemphasize the influence of the scriptures in India on the average local villager, who knows nothing about what Fred has been discussing, concepts like karma, according to which people evaluate actions in terms of their karmic sequence of events. How they interpret and use this theory varies, depending on which group you're talking to; but most of them operate with the concept in some way. They say, "We're on top of this tomorrow because of something our ancestors did 10,000 years ago." Or, "Two thousand years ago, our ancestors did something which was bad, and therefore..."
Myrtle Langley: I'm not disputing that side of it at all; but when you come to the unifying, I'm sure there is a degree to which it is imposed often on those people.
Unidentified Speaker: Of course, in India you did have political unification at various points.
Angela Burr: Yes, but most of the studies came after 1858, when Britain took over the entire nation.
Myrtle Langley: But then, you have 3500 years of some kind of unification process in India against one hundred years in Africa.
James Dickie: I would say it was only in the latter part of the rule of the sixth and last of the great Moguls that India achieved anything like political unity. The British finally unified the -- I won't say the country, because I'm convinced India is not a country -- finally unified the continent by means of railways and a legal and political system, and thereby they conferred on India a false identity, which is the origin of all the troubles, including the present one.
Unidentified Speaker: The reverse thing seems to be happening in Africa. It seems that, since there is a diversity of colonial powers, now Africa is attempting to unify under its own kind of reactive power to that colonial situation.
Kurt Johnson: Is it possible to come back to your point which got lost? Is there a pan-African consciousness which is now developing due to people being educated by a common tradition?
Kwame Gyekye: Yes. A recent book, the establishment of two or three journals on philosophy, plus a number of journals on African religion, are investigating this. For instance, right now there is an inter-African council of philosophy, meeting from time to time, people from different African countries. We talk about these things, then go back to do more research into the available peoples. One particular friend of mine, Dr. Odera Oruka, at the University of Nairobi, is constructing an African philosophy. But his other project is just to go to an elderly man, who is well-known as a wise man, and to ask him to say what he thinks about God or faith and so on, without interrupting at all. This pan-African philosophical consciousness expresses itself in works on African general philosophy published at the University of Ife, edited by the chairman of the Department of Philosophy. While some of the articles focus on specific African peoples, and the differences are brought up, you will find from time to time the other perspective is there from the African scholars. An English professor of philosophy in Botswana wrote a very interesting article in this journal, "Is There an African Philosophy?" It was a brilliantly argued paper.
Warren Lewis: But it is your theory, isn't it, Kwame, that whatever philosophical pan-Africanism is developing right now has roots in a subliminal, common, sub-Saharan African perspective of God and man, the soul, matter and reality. That is what a lot of people here don't agree with you on. I'm sure this is terribly oversimplified, but if you were willing to stick your neck out on the subject of God or evil or what not, with this basic theory, and say, " This is the common point of view in most of Africa," we could get a clear debate on the issue. I presume there will be exceptions to prove the rule, which you would be willing to admit. But it follows that anyone who wants to disagree with you ought to be able to say, "Yes, but look: there is this group here and this group there, and this other group somewhere else, and they don't hold your point of view." Then, if enough people could stone you with sufficient information, your hypothesis would fall, wouldn't it? But I don't hear anybody doing that.
Myrtle Langley: One can't do that, unless each one of us here were to know an African people well enough in order to be able to offer something in refutation. We might give a generalization to counter a generalization, but I don't think we can do that either.
Warren Lewis: Are you saying in terms of methodology of the study of African religion, that we are not yet to the point where we know enough different groups to test the hypothesis?
Myrtle Langley: We here, now, don't.
Angela Burr: Apparent differences on the surface don't mean that, on a deeper level, there isn't any unity underneath. One of the most famous books written in anthropology since 1959 is Sir Edmund Leach's Highland Burma, which is the study of two groups, the Verchung and the Pitchien, in highland Burma. The two groups are fundamentally different cultures; one is egalitarian and the other is extremely hierarchical. They live side by side, and I think that they are even mixed. If you use the kinds of models Fred would use, they appear to be very different and seem to have nothing in common. But Leach shows, in fact, underneath these two total differences they are operating on the same political and cultural model. In certain situations, the Verchung become Pitchien, because it is worth their while; and, in other situations, from the outside they appear different, but on the deep-structure level, they are similar. It may well be that this is what you really have to look at in Africa on the underlying cultural level.
Myrtle Langley: You could take that a bit further in our debate now: we are using the word "religion" and the word "philosophy." When we were talking about the Indian situation against the African, we were in danger of confusion, because Kwame was talking about constructing philosophy. But it seems to me that the people on the ground, who have their religion, may not be the ones who articulate the similarities. As soon as you go to the literature, you get a philosopher who is systematizing on bases spread throughout the continent. Thus, you still have the diversity you are talking about in India. We have to distinguish between the structuralists and the functionalists.
Fred Welbourn: I can feel the difference between traditional African culture and contemporary Western culture. One is communal and the other is individualistic. It seems to me that it is at this level the pan-African system will have to develop. Take one specific point. Kwame has said that all African people believe in a creator god. But if we take just one example, P'Bitek Okot, talking about his own people in Central Africa, he says that for them there are no spirits higher than the clan spirits; there is no creation, and no high creator god. This one example is enough to throw doubts on the analysis. And we can take the other great issue -- that of the living dead, the ancestors. Most writers on African religion say that all African people have an ancestor cult. The Maasai have no ancestor cult, and there are other people who haven't. I don't mean to say, however, that if they have no creator god or no ancestral cult, that it means that they don't have this communal feel which one does find generally.
Harold Turner: I think the different kinds of groups Fred and you have been referring to might provide a good starting point for looking for generalities in African peoples and their religions somewhere between the individual tribe and Kwame's general overview, for which I have a lot of sympathy. I think that there is something like "Africanness," which does rub off across all the people of Africa. You can smell it, even if you can't locate it. But in between the particular tribe and the whole of Black Africa, we have to see the obvious groupings according to their cultural level; the hunter-gatherers, the planters, the animal breeders, and, as Fred was pointing out, not just confining ourselves to the study of Africa, but taking in similar cultural levels beyond Africa. You will probably find that the Congo Pygmies might have more in common with the Eskimo than with surrounding planter peoples in Africa. This is just what the most fruitful book on the subject recently has done -- a study in what he calls ethno-philosophy by Wilhelm Dupres, Religion in Primitive Culture. It's a book about religion in primitive culture, not primitive religions, but religion in primitive cultures. He has taken as his two key case studies the Eskimo and the Bambuti, because of their basic cultural level as hunter-gatherers -- the very first level, where the environment is not manipulated at all, but one takes it as one finds it. There are other peoples in Africa like that. This might be the first level of grouping at which to explore African generalities, and then other equivalent culture groupings, the animal breeders, and so on. Taking them together across Africa, you could get something in common, and work from that to the next level.
Myrtle Langley: Harold, how do you distinguish what you call "Africanness," that you smell, as it were, from Africa? Is it not something of primary religion, in fact, as we see it in Africa today, but which we could also smell elsewhere?
Harold Turner: Yes, I think it is right to go about this in overall terms of primal religions. To write about Africa as if it were something peculiar that you can't put in world categories, is an insult to Africa. It's human, that is where we should start; not that it is African, but that it is human.
Angela Burr: Then what about music as something intrinsically African which is given to the world? Some people would say the African attitude to music is basically genetic, an experience field, which Westerners, perhaps, don't have.
Myrtle Langley: I would say that one finds that in certain parts of Africa and not in others; it may have come from one part of Africa.
Angela Burr: But a certain basic feel through and for music, I guess, comes mostly from West Africa, where the American Blacks came from. But from what I know about East Africa, the Ganda and the Soga, these people have an incredibly felt music, in a degree that I could never hope to feel. It is something cultural that this particular group of people have given; it is obviously something they have taken with them from Africa to America, where it has rubbed off on the whites.
Michael Wingfield-Digby (Schoolmaster at Malvern, England; Student of African Religion): There is a confusion in all of this between religion and philosophy, which worries me a bit. Would you care to comment?
Kwame Gyekye: I am trying not to confuse philosophy and religion; neither do I want to impose European-Western intellectual categories on African peoples. Far from that! A section of the book I am writing shows that most of us, if not all, had our philosophical training in a Western intellectual environment, and points to the problem of how to get rid of these conceptual influences. I see that the scholar would have to be very much aware and very cautious that he does not put African thought systems into Western conceptual pigeonholes. The danger of studying African thought from a Western point of view is there. But this is not what I am trying to do at all. In fact, I'm studying the original, indigenous, aboriginal thought systems of the African peoples. Someone mentioned Godan-su. I said in my paper that, long before any Akan or African scholar read Plato or St. Augustine or Descartes, long before the Bible reached our peoples, our peoples maintained that a man has a soul and a body. This is not something that has come to us from the missionaries and their Bibles.
Irving Hexham: On this point, of man having a soul and a body, Fred brought up the point that the Maasai do not have "the living dead," and that the Luo do not have a high god. Would you like to respond to that? Because you just said all African peoples have these things, but here are two instances where these particular groups don't have them. How do you deal with that?
Kwame Gyekye: In such a case, one has to consider the sources. If possible, if the area is accessible, one has to do one's own original research there, in an attempt either to confirm such a statement or to refute it.
Angela Burr: But, then, if it is only one or maybe two particular instances which contradict the generalization, I'd think you would have to look at the particular socio-cultural realities amongst the Luo which might explain why they don't fit into the generalizations. One expects exceptions, and one would look at particulars. That you can find one example which doesn't fit, doesn't mean it is not a meaningful generalization. If you have 200 religions and you get under 12 percent exceptions, you are O.K. from a statistical point of view.
Harold Turner: One thing that worries me is that we're not acknowledging the many different languages there are in Africa. Difference in language is the normal thing to find; why should we not find difference in religion, including absence of a High God? There seem to be two mind-sets at work on the same problem: some people value the concept of "Africanness," and some people value the concept of humanity. Some people value diversity, and some people value unity or unification. One can't help think that the entire study as projected is inevitably influenced by how people approach it.
Eileen Barker: To repeat the question another way, what are the similarities and what are the differences? There are a whole lot of different variables and inputs that go into a culture's believing one particular set of beliefs. If we hold the variable which we think is important as the independent variable for a particular study, as, let us say, the geographical location on the continent, we look at who the peasants are, see how the peasants fit together, and whether they have similar beliefs. But, obviously, to try to find a unicausal reason for some set of beliefs is no good; you are going to have overlaps. So, we've got to decide then how much statistical variation we can allow, which can be eaten up, as it were, by other variables, which can account for the differences. There is always going to be such a terrible sprawl; there is always going to be something we don't understand; there will be things like language, the mode of production, the culture, the missionaries who have been there, what the climate happens to be, the number of people that are living together, the sorts of communication networks -- add to the list as you wish.
There are similarities and differences, of course there are; but it depends on how we draw the boundary, what we are going to call religion, and whether by definition religion is believing in a transcendental God. In that case you get one set of answers; but if, by definition, religion functions to produce a cohesion, is a glue for a group of people, you get another set of answers. Similarly, if one tries to explain or describe according to particular variables, we are in danger of question-begging, looking for particular things, and asking one too-limited question, rather than communicating with each other, because somebody else is asking another question. If we go back to the set of questions Warren asked us yesterday, we'll get a different set of answers. If we work on the ones Kwame has given us; and again, if we turn to the ones Fred has given us; and there's probably another set if we come to Myrtle's -- that is good. They are all parts of reality, but we are not meeting each other. We have to get straight what it is we are asking at any particular point.
Irving Hexham: Which brings us back to the question of definition, or does it?
Eileen Barker: Not necessarily. If we want to see what African religions have in common, that is our question. Then we say: A large proportion of them seems to accept the idea of the living dead. Next we ask: Which of them does not? Why do they not? What are the variables? Is it because they are hunters or gatherers, or is it because of something else? Then we actually look at the situation, at what they have in common, at what they share with Hindu religions, and so forth. This keeps our inquiry functional and saves it from bogging down in definitions.
But may I break off, and ask you a question, Irving? In the beginning yesterday, you said you had been to the Seminary, and you had heard how they had been talking about African religions, and that they had done it all wrong, and you told them so. Then they graciously turned around and asked you to show them the right way. Now, to really be dirty, tell me what have we done so far...
Warren Lewis: To show us what is right!
Eileen Barker: What haven't we done that we should do?
Irving Hexham: The thing that struck me was that Warren was looking at a unified system of African religion, whereas I tend to think in terms of the other viewpoint which Fred represents: that there are many religions in Africa, and that one can neither reduce them to, nor synthesize, one African religion out of the many. This is a subject which I think needs further debate, and some of the debate today has come along these lines. I think there is a tendency in the debate, however, for us to get trapped in an ethno-phenomenological present, where we omit the historical dimension, and where we are not really asking methodological questions. This is why our final session is to be on methodology. We do seem to be talking at cross-purposes here. One needs to define, not the word "religion," but what we are looking at as well, and what the question is. My own feeling about Africa is that there may be an emerging African religiousness which reflects African values, which is now being expressed by Kwame and others, whereas it wasn't there in the past, as a unified system. If you look back at African traditional religion, you find different groups; some people read back into the past and say, "They all believed the same thing." But I don't think you are going to find it in the past. You may find it in the future, and I think we are maybe at that point.
Kurt Johnson: That brings up another point. Kwame, in your paper you said several times: "I find that this no longer has validity in the modern situation." What then becomes of, and has become of, indigenous African religion? What is modern African religion? What represents Africa, Africanness, the living practice of African religions? Beyond that, as was pointed out in Barrytown, there are really two tiers -- the tier which is indigenous African, and the historical tier of Christianity and Islam.
Sandro Trabucchi (Former Missionary in Uganda, now teaching at Missionary Institute, London, England): This is exactly what I was asking this morning. What do you mean by "African?" Do you mean geography, or the color of the skins, or don't you mean contemporary religions now existing on the soil of Africa, no matter who is living them?
Irving Hexham: I would want to say we are talking about religions in that geographical area we name "Africa," whatever it is.
Myrtle Langley: I agree fundamentally with what Eileen has said here. Some of our talking at cross-purposes comes from our being pitted against each other in a debate about one or many African religions. Whereas some are talking about pan-Africanness, African consciousness, and a search for identity in Africa, which is leading to an African religion, others are talking about methodology about religions.
Warren Lewis: The full agenda is being asked for, in a sense, and this is what I meant last evening when I said Africa has been theologically "ignored." Whatever the religion of sub-Saharan Black Africa is, and whatever cross-fertilizing of it Christianity and Islam have done, whether it is a unified experience or a radically pluralistic experience, or what not, it does not impinge upon the Western theologians of my acquaintance as a resource for theological reflection. You can still get away with quoting Plato and Aristotle, and prove your point as handily as you could by quoting St. Paul or St. John, but the idea that we have something to learn from Africa has not yet dawned on us.
It is of interest to me, because I work for a man who teaches his followers and employees that we must take with absolute seriousness the revelatory quality of everybody's religion. I have a professional-theological mandate to know what that is in Africa and to make something of it. That's my agenda. Now, Kwame comes along and indicates there is a substratum of Black African religion. Maybe there is and maybe there isn't. If there is, I'd love to have it defined and made available. If I can get it into a "canon of scriptures" so it would be a little more manageable and so I don't have to go to the wise people in every village to find out about it, that would be useful. I suppose that is not possible, is it? All I'm after is the mutual benefit of those of us who aren't Africans or anthropologists, and those who are. It would be nice to know what the Africans have to tell us theologically. The Congress we propose to stage in Africa would symbolize and facilitate that conversation -- of Africa with the rest of the world.
Stanley Mogoba: The present state of the religion of the people of Africa is a very important one for everyone else, too. Kwame mentioned the problem of a Western-oriented scholar bringing his training to his research and therefore extracting conclusions or looking for some things due to his training which are not there in the African religions. But there is another danger -- the danger of interviewing people today in Africa, and concluding that theirs is the original religion. Some parts of Africa have had Christianity, Whites, Europeans, Western people for nearly 300 years. Another level of danger is the exact dating of what you are getting. For instance, are you getting African traditional religion in 1978 or in 1940 or in 1900 or in 1800 or in 1400? We are dealing here with oral evidence. The two consultations we have had in Africa lately, one with the Kra and one with the Sutu, on the African and Black theologies looked at current trends rather than the African traditional religion, to try to find out what is going on in the minds of the people now, what they believe in now, and what things they think are important in their lives.
James Dickie: The chronological factor interests me on historical grounds. If there be such a thing as common substrata to all African religion -- and by African religion I am excluding the Islamic north, the legal religion -- then it behooves us to account for those common substrata. To do that, we would have to posit several different things: Is there a common ancestor to all Negroes? Is there any pattern of tribal migrations that would account for it? What of the existence of trade routes? In Islam, it is very easy to account for the unity we have: a) a religion with a fervent dogmatic structure; b) we have a series of sensational military conquests; and c) we have a pattern of trade routes stretching over centuries. Is there anything like that in the history of Africa that would account for these substrata?
Irving Hexham: I think that is a very important point. In Africa, there are trade routes.
James Dickie: But they are controlled by the Muslims. Were there any indigenous trade routes?
Harold Turner: You mean trade routes before there were Muslims?
Irving Hexham: But the fact that there were Muslim trade routes is important. Non-Muslim religious ideas could spread along them.
Warren Lewis: It could very well be that the Muslims took over the existing trade routes and took over some other things that were already there when they came, such as autochthonous religious notions.
James Dickie: That would presuppose sophisticated means of communication. Were the Negroes skilled in naval architecture?
Harold Turner: There were internal trade routes.
Warren Lewis: And there are linguistic trade routes, too, that can be traced, aren't there?
Irving Hexham: I think the point we are getting into now is important. When we come to Africa, everyone asks what has Africa to offer? "Nothing very much, because African religion has been static; it has never changed." But I think that is not true: African religion has changed; it is still dynamic, and it is important to see it historical dimension. Now we are getting on to methodology.
Kurt Johnson: David, you have been studying messianic movements that are basically Christian, but among Black people in Africa. What is the character of that combination from both worlds?
David Shank (Doctoral student of Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen): The whole messianic dynamic in Africa is not all post-Christian. There are some important pre-Christian messianic roots in some of the African religious expressions. One of the places where this broke out was in the old Congo, Zaire. It's clear that in the Balongo the political structure contributed to the messianic dimension, and Christianity latched onto that. Or, they picked up certain dimensions in Christianity and created a whole new messianic dynamic which is parallel to some earlier Christian messianisms. But you can't say it was all post-Christian; there was a mix.
Kurt Johnson: How much of native religion is expressed in any of these movements?
David Shank: A great deal, but each one makes its own synthesis. Each one makes its own new mix. Each one is different, and you can't always draw generalizations. You have to study each individual messianic movement. I'm concentrating on messianic dynamics in the Ivory Coast. I thought I was going to study "African Messianism," but you just can't do that. So, I'm doing the Ivory Coast. Some other people have worked very intensely on Zaire messianism and the Kimbanguists. We are not at the point yet where we can say which things are common in African messianism. Coulong tried to do it, in a limited way; Bastide did it a little bit, but we're not that far along yet.
Bill Wells (Student, Unification Theological Seminary): In talking about substrata, it seems to me we are talking about a past-history substratum, or traditional religion substratum. In Barrytown, we observed that contemporary Africa is also dealing with Christianity and Islam in a dynamic way. The contemporary African consciousness is all three -- Christian, Islamic, and traditional religion. If you look at contemporary political movements in Africa, they are willing to use all of Africa's religious traditions.
Irving Hexham: I think that is true. You touch on the point that we look at where it is going now; we also need to see where it has gone in the past. Christianity and Islam have been around a long time, in parts of Africa for over a thousand years. There has been an influence we must not overlook.
Eileen Barker: Can I come back to Warren? I just want to push this "why" a bit more. There seems to be this funny kind of paradox. You said in a nice little way, "Wouldn't it be fun if we could learn what we could get from the Africans!" -- and if you could find the underlying bit of the Africans, you get that out and we add it to the rest of religion. And isn't this super fun! Now, that is putting it a bit crudely, I know, but this seems to be what you are looking for. Then we say, how do we find out what the fundamental nitty-gritty of African religion is, and James Dickie comes in and says we've got to find out about the trade routes, and Bill comes in and says perhaps the political thing has something to do with it. What are you after? Do you want to find out what has been sociologically, historically successful because of trade routes, because of language, assimilation, acculturation, political forces, and has made dragons or ancestor worship more or less successful? Or are you, as you seemed to be saying when I tried pushing you last night, into some sort of pluralistic ontological reality; are you looking for some real "extra" which you can add to your dragons, or are you after a pragmatic thing that works in the present situation?
Warren Lewis: Our friend Francis Botchway, who was at Barrytown, is interested in the one half of your dilemma there; that is to say, the half that will work. He is concerned to identify a Black African perspective which can verbalize itself sufficiently to hold up its end of the conversation on a tripartite base with Christianity and Islam. He is an ex-Christian Muslim headed back to being a Black African in a religious sense, all with a thoroughly Westernized topping! (I doubt if he would like my putting it that way.) He represents Black Africa in the theological debate towards producing a new religious reality, which will be African-Christian-Muslim in its roots, but then something transcending all three. So, of course, he is very interested in pragmatic success. He studies politics, after all!
I, however, specialize in the history of heretical sectarian movements and am, therefore, just as interested to find the ones that were not successful. Maybe the Maasai, who are unaware of their ancestors, are heretics on the African scene. Perhaps we need to declare unto them the way of the Lord more perfectly, only that would be better done by some other Black Africans! At any rate, there are surely "heretics" in Africa, and they are interesting in their own right, and will no doubt have something contributive to say as a result. I'm interested in both sides of your paradox, Eileen. I want to appreciate the Maasai for what they are and support Botchway in what he is doing.
Kurt Johnson: There is another dimension here too. Theology is looking for new ways of looking at the scriptures. When I was in Japan and Korea with Dr. Matczak, a Roman Catholic philosopher, who has also written extensively on the Divine Principle, he pointed out that in Reverend Moon you have available now the way a Confucianist interprets the Christian scriptures, and a systemized, Christian theology from the Confucianist point of view. If Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius are important in providing a philosophical slant for Christian theology, I think what Kwame is doing is equally important. If there are any fundamental philosophical bases in Africa that can be articulated, these have a value all their own in relationship to Christian scripture and eschatology.
Eileen Barker: Does that mean, then, that you are going to put out a dragnet to see what will come up? Anything that you can add to the general collection, is that your quest? But if you're looking for the generalizations, more than the specifics, you are going to lose in the overall picture the exciting 12 percent.
Warren Lewis: It would be a shame to lose the 12 percent! From my heretical perspective and background, loss of the 12 percent would cut me out of Christianity.
Kurt Johnson: In science, you have to deal with both the specifics and the generalities at the same time. You work with the "laws," always on the lookout for whatever doesn't fit the general picture.
Fred Welbourn: Are you going to collect a whole lot of religious ideas and put them in a nice sort of collage? Just as ideas? For this reason, your dragnet is going to pull up all sorts of ideas, but it's going to leave out the social context. You asked about Maasai being heretical. I have no doubt whatever the Maasai have no ancestor cult. They are nomads, who leave their ancestors behind and move on. This is not a heresy; this is part of their society. Surely this has to be the way to see all African religion and philosophy -- in social context. I wonder whether Kwame has thought about what sort of African he is going to fit his philosophy into. Do you think you can work out a philosophy regardless of social structures? Can you work out an African philosophy relevant to all social contexts?
Kwame Gyekye: As I have been saying, one must study social structures in various African societies in a comparative way to see if there are some underlying affinities. It seems to me to be the only approach. I am not by any means saying that every element of African religion is universal. But I am saying that if it is possible to see certain trends that are common, then we do have a basis for constructive philosophy.
Now, about the Luo people not believing in a High God: I'll give an example from Mbiti, on what he calls the African concept of time. I have asked people from that area whether Mbiti is right in saying that when you use the future tense in the couple of languages Mbiti used, you don't imply any period beyond two years. All of them have denied the correctness of Mbiti's conclusions; they say Mbiti is completely wrong. I'm saying, therefore, that if P'Bitek Okot says that the Luo people don't have the concept of the Supreme God, maybe he is wrong; just like Mbiti is wrong. One has to do further research there. And what you are saying about your absolute certainty that the Maasai don't have ancestor worship, it is possible that this is wrong.
Irving Hexham: I think on that note it would be good to break.
Irving Hexham: This session is entitled "A Structured Discussion of Methodology." I would like to reformulate some of the questions about methodology which have been raised in our earlier session and, perhaps, reveal something of my own agenda being involved in the whole program. About two years ago, there was a book published called Zulu Symbolism and Thought Patterns by a man called Berglund. In it he sets out a very nice description of Zulu religion and talks about the Zulu High God. The problem with it is this: When I read the historical accounts of the Zulus, it seems that before about 1860, there was no High God amongst the Zulus. In fact, there is quite a lot of evidence from missionaries and others going to the Zulus and asking them about God, that the Zulus were quite puzzled about what the missionaries were talking about; although some of them said that they had heard that some people do worship a God and use this word, they themselves don't know him.
There is also another interesting piece of evidence noticed by Calloway, one of the collectors of Zulu ethnology. He was asking some Zulus about the "lord of the sky," who approximates to a High God. The African who is giving him the information says, of course, "When we talk about lord of the sky, what we mean is really the chief; the chief was the lord of the sky, because he killed like lightning; but today, people have forgotten this." A couple of other informants say that, in the past, what was meant by the "lord of the sky" was the ascription to the chief of the powers of lightning, the power to kill arbitrarily. Over time, as the circumstances have changed, the power of the chiefs had declined, and they lost the power to kill at will. This phrase, "the lord of the sky," became literally a LORD of the SKY for the ordinary people, and at the same time, of course, the missionaries were coming in, preaching about a Lord in the sky, a God. Thus, traditionally, the Zulus saw in their pasta High God who, in fact, existed only in their language. According to my reconstruction, then, why should one look back into the past and see a High God like this amongst the Zulus?
Another thing which seems clear to me is that when missionaries went to Africa, they spoke of Africans as being "people without a religion." "People without a religion" are very similar to people described by Aristotle as not having a soul -- like women and slaves. Of course, many Africans were slaves; one of the justifications of slavery was that they didn't have souls. As a result of this, within the historical situation of Africa is a need for Africans to have High Gods, when Europeans asked them if they had a High God, because in having a High God they are men, and, therefore, they are not people who are inferior. There is a psychological and apologetical need built into the situation on the part of Africans in the 19th century to have a religion in some way similar to European religion.
I would like to argue that some of this comes out in Kwame's paper and in many of the pan-African arguments which go on today. One wants to find an African philosophy, to discover in African tradition historical roots which are like what you have in Europe or in India or in other places. This may or may not exist, but one must be aware of the pressure to find such a tradition. And, of course, if the Zulus didn't have a High God, that doesn't say anything bad about the Zulus. If on historical evidence it could be shown that there was no High God in early Zulu society, perhaps they were more like modern society; perhaps they were more secular, more like we are today.
Our respective ideologies are thus overplaying the whole discussion. We have questions of unravelling the history, the present, and future situations; these three dimensions are working together.
Ninian Smart, in his inaugural lecture at Lancaster University, outlined four main dimensions of religious studies or methodologies, which I find useful. The first is the philosophical; one needs to examine the arguments within religions and look at religions philosophically. The second is the social; one needs to see how a religion works within its society and look at its social setting. The third is the psychological; one needs to ask questions about what religion does for the individual and how the individual responds to religion. The final one is the historical; one needs to know something about the development of the religious traditions, where they have come from and where the individuals in them come from. Taking these four methods, we can arrive at something like an approach to the study of religion.
In the study of African religion to date, we have been presented with philosophical and social studies in African religion which are placed in the present. The historical dimension is almost entirely missing, and the psychological dimension is just not being dealt with at all. It is important that more work be done in the historical dimension, for again, ideological reasons cause the tendency to look down upon Africa as a continent without a history. In fact, Africa has a very rich history, and this history must be made plain. Then African theologians can talk as equals with theologians from any tradition. But in discovering that history, there is no need, to my thought, to unify the African traditions. There are many African traditions, I suspect. There are possibly three major African traditions south of the Sahara: a West African, an East African, and a South African.
Finally, it seems to me that in studying African religion, as we have commented, we are looking at religions without scriptures. There is some of that in the West, as well; many of the new religious movements today, although they pay lip service to scriptures, essentially are religions without scriptures. They are in this way similar in their function and operation to African religions. One of the things that intrigued me in a debate at the Barrytown Seminary between a group of Evangelicals and a group of Unificationists, was that they did not seem to be talking to one another. A lot of the time, the Evangelicals were appealing to scripture, whereas members of the Unification Church were talking about other things. There was a level of communication which was not going on. McLuhan's distinction of "hot and cold" communication! In studying African religion, we face a similar problem of communication. With those thoughts, I would like to throw open the discussion to questions of methodology. How do we approach African religion?
Fred Morgan: In the Ninian Smart four-package of methodology you gave us, where do you situate in there the use of water in a religious rite, or a sacrifice in a religious rite, or prayer at an altar in religious usage? Is that philosophical, social, psychological, or historical?
Irving Hexham: I think Ninian would say that rites could be looked at in all four dimensions. Ninian would include the things you have mentioned. However, he doesn't think one can really define religion; all one can do is construct a model of what religion looks like. So he constructs his model which, I think, misses out on the dimension of commitment, which Fred has been talking about. I agree that dimension must be taken in, as well. I want to bring Fred's model and Ninian's together, and then open up the questions of methodology.
Warren Lewis: Could we refer again to what Fred said this morning, that if he could back up twenty years and have another go at it, he would like to study the reality of the world of the spirits in Africa? He said he wasn't quite sure what the methodology for mapping the spirit world might be, but that he was genuinely interested in its reality for the Africans. Asking the question in terms of serious methodology, how does one study the actual spirituality of African religion so as, presumably, to benefit from it? How do we study the apprehension of the spirit world historically, philosophically, socially, and psychologically in Africa?
Fred Welbourn: I think this is primarily a question of approach. Do you do your fieldwork with the basic assumption that the spirits are actually there? I think the point of departure would make a very great deal of difference as to what one would discover. I cannot myself see that one assumption is any more rational than the other; they are both totally legitimate.
Harold Turner: You can't discover what you firmly believe doesn't exist.
Bill Wells: Is it possible to assume that they are non-empirical, but that they do exist?
Fred Welbourn: If they are not empirical, I think you can't get in touch with them at all, can you?
Warren Lewis: If they are not, but the Africans do, then the answer is yes. (Laughter)
Eileen Barker: One should make many approaches when trying to understand an alien belief system. One just has to perform a very sincere opening of the self. You have to "resocialize" yourself. I personally find it extraordinarily difficult, but very challenging to do. When you are talking to people who see the world in a different way, you have to suspend your own beliefs; you have to try to get rid of preconceptions, be open as much as possible, try not to push everything into familiar phenomenological boxes. In sociology we say you have to use "empathic understanding."
I have a student studying the Children of God. He was out witnessing, "litmusing" they call it, selling things on the street, and he met somebody who was being very negative. Afterwards, he turned to the friend from the Children of God and said, "The devil's in him." But he told me he was absolutely astonished at what he said, because he doesn't actually believe in the devil; but, because he was performing the actions and doing the participant observation, he did really see the devil in this man in the middle of Oxford Street.
If we do open ourselves and suspend our rational, cognitive, and other presuppositions, then things do happen. I think any sociologist or anthropologist who has done this does find it to be true, although it is extraordinarily embarrassing sometimes. You suddenly find yourself in tears, or in some other strange condition, but, at the same time, there is something up there in your researcher's head which is aware that it is happening. It has got to be aware, so that you can go and write up your notes afterwards, in order to be able to communicate to other people. If you take on wholly and completely the world-view of the tribe you are studying, then you can't build a bridge to the people who don't see it their way. And there is no point in doing it if you become just another member of that community.
If we are to supply the Warrens of this world with a few more dragons and things, then we have got to learn a language which provides a bridge from one island of reality to the next island of reality. Now, you know how Warren makes mishmash with everything as his concern; but for the sociologist, the anthropologist, the social scientist, there is a continual dialectic between the "tummy stuff," as I call it, and the "head stuff." It is a very difficult thing to keep them apart; because if the tummy takes over, then you are lost, because you can't really communicate. But if the head takes over, then it is no good, because you haven't got hold of the thing there to communicate. Striking a balance comes only with experience, and it doesn't always come to everybody.
Fred Welbourn: A very good description, indeed, if I may say so Eileen!
Irving Hexham: Ninian's description is one which has been drawn from the study of books, rather than getting out and getting your hands dirty.
Eileen Barker: Ninian's approach is necessary, too, but it is no sufficient. We have to get our hands, our minds, our tummies, and everything dirty, if we are to understand each other and how we perceive.
Having said what I have said about the worldviews, as though they were discrete, I'd like to correct that slightly. One way to make a bridge solves what a lot of social linguistics people complain about, as though people and languages were entirely separate. But you can be bi-lingual, and you can go from one to the other. It's a learning of bi-linguality. Even within a particular group there is an enormous amount of variety. People who are Muslims don't all see the world through the same set of Muslim glasses, just as people who are Christians don't all see it alike, or even Presbyterians, or any particular group. There is always an overlap, things that are shared and things that are not shared.
Irving Hexham: Perhaps Angela would like to comment on this, how much one can really build a bridge and how much it is a quantum jump. One jumps into a culture; one takes it on; one operates within it, and then one comes back to one's own, to do another jump, and so on. But I don't know if there is really a bridge.
Angela Burr: I think the gap has to widen when you come back, if you are really going to be objective. One must avoid becoming too involved, I think. I am all for less involvement, rather than too much and it can be a real problem in terms of getting far enough away from people to do a study. The best anthropologists are usually not the terribly overt exhibitionist types. Those who don't get too involved can see better, I think.
Michael Wingfield-Digby: If one does not get involved, that excludes any kind of commitment. You are talking exclusively about academic study, aren't you?
Angela Burr: I am talking about going out into the field of work, coming back, and writing it up. You can write descriptions quite easily, but if you wish to become more analytic, and to put forward hypotheses, it's very difficult to do so if you have got all your friends crowding up your mind. I like to make people my friends, even if I am studying them; but those who are my friends I don't ask for information. Otherwise, it would be impossible ever to use them as statistics. When I was living in Thailand, I got general information about the culture from the people I was living with; but for real information about the village, I went around to other people.
Fred Welbourn: This in a way is not analogous to the African situation. If your study had been Zen Buddhism in Thailand, rather than Thai anthropology, you would have wanted to know the people intimately whom you studied. If you want to find out from experience what makes people tick spiritually, you have to experience and live and share with them.
Angela Burr: But I was, in so far as I lived in two different households, one with about 14 people in the house. All day I lived there; I ate their food; I used to go to Bangkok about once every three months. I didn't meet any English people. It was general absorption. I was trying to test certain theories, but I didn't do it on the people I was living with, because it is very difficult to think of them as a statistic. It depends on the individual of course. But I still have dreams about them.
Irving Hexham: That leads on from a general discussion of religion to a discussion of scientific methodology. How does one make an analysis and then a synthesis? How is this sort of research possible? This applies far beyond the study of religion. We are getting into quite deep water here.
Bill Wells: Does the anthropological approach really study and analyze religion as such, or does it rather catalogue and describe rites, rituals, customs, etc.?
Irving Hexham: That is why Ninian would have four dimensions. Anthropology would come generally under the social approach. But in addition, you must also have psychological study to bring it to wholeness. Fred, how do you get a holistic view of religion?
Fred Welbourn: Just the same as one gets a holistic view of humans in any way. But I want to challenge this idea that anthropologists don't get to the guts of religion. Look at Lienhardt's Divinity and Experience. It is all about how they feel, the insides of men. And Evans-Pritchard, who lived on the assumption that witchcraft works, found that it does. I'm quite clear that these two -- and others as well -- offer something much more than just description. They want to know what that religion means. Victor Turner, another example, got very deeply into the meaning of symbols at these three levels; one level is what it means to the people.
Michael Wingfield-Digby: Another who springs to mind, with tremendous sensibilities about Africans, is Laurence van der Post. I think he would not label himself as an anthropologist, but he has a kind of personal, individual sensitivity, and of course he spent most of his life among the people.
Irving Hexham: His material would provide source material for a discussion, though it isn't an analysis at all. Harold, would you like to comment on your views on methodology? How does one go about studying religion, and where does it get one?
Harold Turner: I agree very thoroughly with Ninian Smart's statement that the methodology must be plural, poly-methodal. But I don't think Ninian is plural enough. There are some important dimensions that were not in your list, and are not in his. I was just saying to myself, what have we heard thrown into the pool today? -- psychology, sociology, anthropology; probably at political science we were on the edge of one which isn't normally in Ninian's group. We were on the edge of geography of religion, a very important and totally neglected thing, along with the climatic factor. The geographical factor as it influences religion needs to be followed up and applied much more widely, as well as the religious effect on geography, which people don't conceive of at all.
We have heard of "religious studies," which is hard to define, as we're all aware. There are many notable works: Mbiti, Parrinder, Idowu, and one could go on over the list. But my feeling is that more of that kind of thing will not make the breakthrough we are waiting for in the understanding of what I call "African primal religions." More interaction between these disciplines, and all of them admitting that they are all reductionist, including theology and religious studies, reducing things to one bit of the vision, one abstracted set of the aspects of a total reality, is all we humans can do. The day of the poly-person is really gone. We have to recognize that we are reductionists, and that is the first healthy step to take. Later, along the line, we have to turn to the other folk to correct our reductionisms, our abstractions. But in the first instance, we have to accept our reductionist limitations.
The study of African primal religions is waiting for a breakthrough. New depths and new kinds of analysis, with new equipment, with new categories, are on the way; I don't think these have appeared on the African scene to any great extent. Dr. Parrinder, for example, actually describes his work as "accumulated description, roughly systematized in a common-sense sort of way." Professor Mbiti's work, I think, is fundamentally the same. I don't think any more of that is going to make the breakthrough, thankful as we are for it and for all the anthropological ethnography without which we would be in very poor case. The anthropologists were there, thank God, and got what they could get in their screening. That is all we will ever have, in some cases.
I see the first signs of the breakthrough in what I call "religious ethnography." We begin to get beyond what I believe is a stalemate in Terrance Ranger's work. The stress is falling on the historical dimension, which has been neglected. But every human being and every culture has its unique history. This is quite exciting, though it's rather limited in terms of geography; Ranger and his associates, including an increasing number of African scholars, have applied it to central East Africa. I wish it could be applied more in West Africa and other parts. One is grateful for this new direction; we feel here is a whole new vista opening up. We take these religions more seriously; we can put them alongside other religious traditions in other parts of the world, where we have and are aware of the histories. They emerge as religions in the full sense.
To do the history of a people's religion you need double equipment; it's a two-legged discipline. If you do the history of philosophy, you need training in both disciplines to be fully professional, and if you are going to do the history of economics, you have got to be an economist as well as a historian. Many of us have to make do with one half of the needed equipment, and some very notable works have been made out of what I would call one-legged scholarship, particularly the anthropological ones. I think these people contributed something beyond the strict limits of the anthropological disciplines. Out of their own personal experience -- the three referred to happened to be deeply religious men -- they understood beyond their professional limitations.
We now need a deliberate pursuit of the history of religions, encouraging people to get training in both the disciplines. None of the great "historians of religions" in the 20th century has worked on the African field, partly because we have been hung up on the history of primal religions in general, and for a variety of other reasons. For one, Britons have been primarily interested in the great Asian cultures.
I was interested in what Professor Deotis Roberts said at the Barrytown conference in reference to his work at Howard University in the African Studies department. One of the limitations his Ph.D. candidates have is that they do not get an appreciation for the study of religion as religion -- the kind of thing that Charles Long writes about, says Professor Roberts. I think what he means by the "study of religion as religion" is the religion of religion. There is the sociology of religion, the psychology of religion, the geography of religion, but what about the central thing -- the religion of religion. In the analogous fields, this would correspond to the economics of economics: the central, basic, nitty-gritty of the economic behavior of mankind.
Professor Roberts has put his finger on it and mentions Charles Long, which gives me the lead back to the people in Chicago standing behind him, whom I would regard as mentors for us all -- Peter Gaba, Deli Abe, and Joachim Wach; and from Wach, back to where he came from in Marburg, and the great succession there of Otto and Heiler, and then, in later times, Menschen, and in other European places, Christensen and especially in Holland, van der Leeuw and Bleeker, and Eron de Hoekrans in Sweden. Mostly these are unknown in our circles here.
There are other younger men coming on in the States, like J.Z. Smith, in the same succession. It is going to be increasingly sad if this whole body of scholarship is not applied to Africa. The breakthrough I'm looking for has started in Africa; some people are doing it. Dr. Gaba in Ghana is equipped in this way. One of our own students at Aberdeen is working on the Mendi people in Sierra Leone with this kind of equipment.
It hit me clearly first when I was teaching in the United States. I had a very good student, now in Sierra Leone, who did an intensive course in the analytical study of the place of worship across all the religions. (That is a basic religious phenomenon with family resemblances, and you can get a typology, analyze its functions and its forms, trace its origins, and so on, working it out pretty scientifically as a special kind of equipment for that particular type of religious phenomenon.) This chap took up the places of worship among North American Indians in particular, and found there was an abundance of anthropological material, ethnography in the first instance. He couldn't encompass it all in the one term. Resources were tremendously rich. He and I were both absolutely astonished at the way it had just been crying out for a kind of analysis like this. It just dropped into our categories. It was almost phony; it was too good to be true. Now it mightn't always happen this way; but it opened my eyes to the need for taking some of the existing resources we have, which are very rich, and doing something further with them, as well as going out into the field, gathering more resources, and perhaps using a somewhat different net.
James Dickie: This is that Africa, still the dark continent, and after 100 years, just as opaque to us as it was to Stanley and Livingston.
Harold Turner: I do give the anthropologists more credit than that!
Irving Hexham: I agree that there is an immense amount of work to be done in the African context. In history, for example, though there are lots of group studies in Central Africa, East Africa and West Africa -- in South Africa there is virtually nothing. The materials on religion in South Africa are very sparse. That is the place where they have had the most contact with whites, and yet it is the place where there is the least research really being done. It is also in some ways the area now where there is the greatest danger of research not being done, with Mozambique and Angola going Marxist, and the civil war in Rhodesia, which will greatly affect the religious situation.
Warren Lewis: With as much humility as a one-legged historian who is not an Africanist as well can exude, may I suggest that here, maybe, is where a Congress of African Religions in Africa comes in. We might all be of genuine service in drawing attention to those needs and new directions. Not, I suppose, that we could pack up and go over and solve all the problems; but if we could focus world academic and religious interest on these areas that have been ignored, we might do something worthwhile for ourselves and for Africa. This is why we at the Barrytown Seminary have asked you people to come together with us. Is it possible, and, if it is, how might we best go about it?
Fred Morgan: When I asked my earlier question about understanding the altar sacrifice, and the use of water, your answer made me feel foolish. You said you do it with the four categories. But, now, clearly, what I had in mind, the very question to which you are responding, Harold, is this one. It is not enough just to look at these matters from a philosophical, sociological, historical, and psychological perspective. How do you look at them religiously? How do you evaluate them for their religious content as such? This is what I hear you saying.
Harold Turner: That's it.
Warren Lewis: Without at the same time abdicating the use of the mind.
Harold Turner: Yes. Critically, scientifically.
Myrtle Langley: Rather than everybody coming down, as it were, on Africa (I mean it as a caricature!), would one of the ways forward be to ask that groundwork be done in some of the areas by qualified people? Then you would have something to start off from. The researcher would need a group of people to think it through with. That is only one starting point; otherwise it might only be another talk show.
Warren Lewis: Myrtle, when we addressed ourselves to this question in Barrytown, we came up with a three-stage approach: the first was to assemble those people whom we most respected in terms of their methodological abilities in the field to identify the problems in concrete, specific ways. These are the people who know the people, who have contacts with people in Africa who could lead the way, mediate and translate. At this stage, there would be a time spent working together with a group of international scholars to clarify questions, set agendas, improve methodologies, and set out the work to be done.
Stage two would follow: Quite small teams of select persons, two to three people, would go to a variety of sites in Africa to explore the aspects settled upon in stage one. At this point, there is the possibility of two extremes to be avoided: academic tourism, on the one hand, and setting up a twenty-year program of in-depth study of African religions on the other hand. We would be happy to stimulate interest, commitment, and funding for projects like that, and the intellectual-spiritual riches they would yield. But that cannot be the immediate purpose of the congress.
Stage three, whether we would organize it in terms of North, West, East, and South gatherings first, or directly in terms of a general coming together, would be the communication of what had been discovered and rediscovered together in appreciation of African religion, with anyone who wants to come to the congress and take part in the conversation. That's what we came up with in Barrytown. We didn't say how we would pay for it, you understand, just that we thought that it would be nice.
Kurt Johnson: It might be worthwhile to ask Kwame his views on the state of research in this area in Africa. Would a number of people be open and receptive to Europeans coming to compare notes on somebody's agenda about African religion?
Kwame Gyekye: Plenty of Europeans have been coming a long time! (Laughter) There are quite a number of research works going on in Africa, by both African scholars and non-African scholars, right now. The advantage that the African scholars have over non-African scholars is facility in language. When one is studying religion, language is so important. I really admire Rattray, because he studied the Akan language; every page of his book is replete with faithful statements and accurate proverbs. After 45 years, his books are quite standard on Ashanti culture, traditions, and religion. I think that scholars could go to Africa and actually talk with priests at the shrines, and ask questions about their thing. I am sure that some of the diviners and priests would not like to tell you everything, but you will certainly get a lot together. You ask questions, some not so direct, and then put some order into what you hear from them. A lot of African scholars are already doing great work on African religions. They would help.
Irving Hexham: To what degree is there communication between the different African scholars in these areas, and where does it stop?
Kwame Gyekye: From time to time, an association of scholars on African religion does meet; there's an association of anthropologists, and so on. They meet, of course, present papers, and publish works. The main problem, as we said in Barrytown, is how to collate what has been recorded. We need to create an African religious testament. There is no African Qur'an, there is no Bible, no Torah. Religion is there, in the hearts of the people. But since we want to produce a document, what we have to do is bring these scholars together so they can work out whatever religious document for Africa, from the indigenous point of view, can be produced.
It will not be a document of Christian religion, not "African Christian theology," which Lugira was talking about, but "African theology." Of course, there may be some problem in separating the original African religious beliefs from possible accretions. For instance, I was discussing things with a wise man, and somebody said: "Oh yes, but the Bible says this and that!" But then I said, "No! No, I am not interested in what the Bible says; we learned about that in school. I just want to know what our own people, what our ancestors, said." Then they said, "Oh! O.K. if that is what you want, then let us put the Bible aside." We have to find a way of getting at the authentic, indigenous, aboriginal beliefs of the Africans.
Irving Hexham: Out of that kind of information, you make your philosophy. I wonder how Stanley reacts to that sort of suggestion, coming from a different part of Africa, where there has been a lot of discussion of African theology. Would you like to comment?
Stanley Mogoba: Yes. First of all, in answer to the question why so little has been produced in Africa, the defects are fairly clear, and the answer to that question is a very meaningful one. Both the missionaries and the colonial rulers from 1910 to today have not been encouraging this sort of thing. Not only that, but they have been killing any form of positive approach towards the past, towards things that are typically African. The people, as a result, have developed an attitude of looking down upon anything that is theirs. In plain language, the creative spirit has been killed among the people, so that the task in that part of the world is initially that of resuscitating, of reviving the people, so that they can be able to value their past. For the researcher, this constitutes a lot of problems.
You go there to research, but people won't be open to you. They won't let you know the things you want to know, because they don't think these things are important. They won't understand why you are interested in these things which are not important. There are also problems in that they fear, within the present political climate, anybody who works in that area. Anyone who asks a lot of questions is suspect, even on very innocent things, like "How do you worship?" Particularly if you are white -- and even if you are a foreign white -- they are very suspicious. "What do you want this for? Perhaps you want to hand this over to the police!"
For the moment, the situation is not quite right for intensive research in that part of the world. This is why we believe that the primary task in that part of the country is to revive authentic Christianity. People would have a positive approach towards religion in the first place; and secondly, Christianity could be used to liberate them, politically, spiritually, mentally and in other ways. We believe, at that gut level, this is where the initial work has to be undertaken; all other work is consequent upon that.
Myrtle Langley: Perhaps area conferences might be what you would begin with. And may I add to what Stanley said that in doing interviewing work in some countries, your first project is to go to the office of the president, which can take months. Further, you would have to go out with people who are already involved, the scholars there. And again you must get involved with people themselves. The work I was doing dealt with the material about secret rites; I had to get information from people by being involved. I remember an old man saying to me, "Oh, you were a teacher; you were a 'melingo' in our area; so we have got confidence in you." If I had been an ordinary person with curiosity, I would never have got some of the material which I did get. It's a question of confidence. People don't want to be treated as curiosities, which has been so often the case in Africa. I don't intend to see just the problems, but you have to keep these things in mind.
Sandro Trabucchi: Is there an updated bibliography of what is already existing? I am sure there is a lot of material not classified anywhere, and very good things. What little I know of Uganda, I know of works from sixty, seventy, or eighty years ago, some published in the local paper in Uganda which started in 1911. There are beautiful descriptions of things which don't appear any more today, which even Africans don't know, especially the younger generation. The first thing, it appears to me, is to try to collect the existing material, lest we be doing research which has been done already. Especially when you think of Africa in three or more main languages: French, English, Spanish, Portuguese; and I have seen some good works in Italian, never quoted in the English bibliographies, never, never. A recent book, just published, fundamentally a study of Uganda, has seven hundred pages in Italian, and it is not quoted at all.
Eileen Barker: I would like to backtrack. Harold Turner is very right when he said that there is reductionism going on. There has to be. There is reductionism at all levels -- vertical, horizontal, diagonal; the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. We all do our own bit, and there is a terrific need to synthesize things between the different levels. Sometimes one person can do both the social and the psychological at one time, perhaps, or get on the two legs that Harold was talking about. But there is such a waste of people repeating things or just doing it from their own perspective and not learning to look around corners and see things from different perspectives. People just don't come together! And even when they do, they all sort of shout at each other, being rude to each other, "You are daft because you haven't seen that!" Yet, that is something important in itself, because it stops us from thinking that we know all the answers and makes us realize that perhaps there are different ways of looking at things. If the Seminary could just use what is available, bring it together, and start working out what can be done with it, it might save us all some wasted time. There is a lovely sociology of what gets noticed and what doesn't.
Bill Wells: This question came up quite a bit as far as the bibliography question is concerned at our conference in Barrytown. As a consequence, when I got to London, I went to the SLAS library and discovered there is an entire room there filled with bibliographies. More than that, there is a quarterly journal which lists publications coming out in Africa. I very much see the point that there are books published about everything in Ghana, Nigeria, and the others. But in the terms of this conference, I couldn't find books that were specific to religion and cult, a bibliography of cultic ritual. We do need that, in terms of analysis for what we are doing; but, I really believe that we are into the problem more of analysis of material than a lack of material. We have tons of material that is completely unrecognized.
Irving Hexham: I think that is true, and I don't know a bibliography of religion in Africa.
Harold Turner: In general terms, there isn't one, no ongoing one is available. Various individuals have their own, as we have at Aberdeen; but it is not published. Bill Wells: Most of the bibliographies I found have sections on religion. But I don't have a researcher's card.
Irving Hexham: That brings us round to something very practical. I'll remind you that, having looked at the past, we've come up with Kwame's question about the future. He is very much in the future. Although he presents one viewpoint of Africa's religious future, there are other competitors for African religion. There is also the pseudo-religion, Marxism, in southern Africa. I say "pseudoreligion," for however you want to call Marxism, there is this ideology which is certainly promoting a mythology in southern Africa, at least. This is the way in which the future is going. There are conflicts between emerging ideologies, and because people identify themselves in terms of their belief systems, it makes for a very exciting struggle for the new Africa in terms of the beliefs of Africa.