The African Research Interest Group
The African interest group is the most active and covers a nest of disciplines with a clear understanding of their need for interdependence. The focus is on history and culture, both being accessed through or by politics, sociology, anthropology, religious studies, missiology, African philosophy, and theology. This is not to exclude any acknowledgment of the important role of economics, law, military history, archaeology, or the massive areas of environment, medicine, and the natural sciences, but to recognize that other centres, particularly in Oxford, have greater competence. However, the way that all these are currently approached, and the great emphasis in African Studies on current political affairs, where journalism is increasingly becoming the source, method, and test of the subject, does less than justice to the religious dimension in African culture and history.
Students of Africa who have researched at length in Africa outside the media/UN circus, are, with the majority of Africans today, more aware and appreciative of the various ways in which religious elements are welcomed by the actors in their shaping and imagining of their lives and communities. There is no need to fear empirical or inductive study. Given the nature of the subject of study and the strengths of our researchers, sources will often be primarily oral, supplemented by archival and manuscript material. Thus, the method will accordingly be largely qualitative or historical, involving the comparison of different kinds of sources at as many points as possible.
The functions of the research group are to:
- Acquaint research students with past and current theory
- To lead students, graduates, and faculty towards publication in journals on Africa
- To pool contacts
- To initiate lectures, seminars, colloquia, conferences, etc. bringing academics from outside OCMS
- When the group has grown and skills have been honed, publish collected works
- To be a centre of academic interest in OCMS and Oxford as well as the theological (OCMS-founding) group, INFEMIT.
- To offer a substantial claim for funding resources to further the above functions
Methods will include physical meetings here, the sharing of and commenting on texts by e-mail. We have ideas to invite a series of researchers to lecture on topics relevant to religion in Africa. We have ideas to conduct workshops among ourselves on contemporary study and writing issues. We can help you towards publication. We have ideas to conduct an annual workshop to bring together researchers in the area around the UK and from Africa. For the latter we obviously need additional funding, for which we are applying.
Oxford's African Studies are characteristically diffuse. There is no single centre nor any recognised degree programme yet. Nevertheless most aspects of African reality are covered in Oxford. The Centre for the Study of African Economies and Queen Elizabeth House provide for the study of African development and underdevelopment. Professor William Beinart is focussing on African environment. The Refugee Studies Programme covers crisis and displacement in Africa. There are many doctoral students working on African topics in History, Geography, Politics, Sociology etc. The Centre for Middle Eastern Studies and the Islamic Studies Centre cater for North Africa and for African Islam. But there is no systematic provision for the study of the Christian religion and its interaction with 'traditional' religion. Historically there has been a distinguished tradition of anthropological study of African religion in Oxford. This tradition is now represented, with great distinction, only by Prof. Wendy James.
New initiatives are now necessary as religion is clearly central to the study of contemporary Africa, when the domination of secular Western understanding fail to do justice to the religious aspect of culture. In 1900 Africa had 8.7 million Christians. It now has 343 million, a majority of its total population. Within two decades it will have more Christians than Europe. The centre of Christian gravity is moving South. Moreover, almost all changes in Africa - colonialism, neo-colonialism, post-colonialism - have to be understood in terms of religious change. It is not possible to understand African politics, society, or economy without understanding religion.