By Francis B. Nyamnjoh
This website provides an interactive platform for robust discussion, interchange and cross fertilisation of ideas and insights emanating from and feeding into an exciting new research initiative funded by the John Templeton Foundation in collaboration with the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, USA.
“Religious Innovation and Competition: Their Impact in Contemporary Africa” is part of the $2.07 million (USD) funded projectthat benefitted significantly from the input of more than 30 African scholars who attended and inputted into two consultation meetings.The project materialised from wide ranging consultations with African scholars involved in and committed to engaging Africa through the prism of contemporary religion and religiosity. Drawing on the ideas and enthusiasm generated by such engagements of Africa,Burkinabe theologian TiteTienou, Kenyan anthropologist Mwenda Ntarangwi,and Nagel Institute director Joel Carpenter –an indefatigable friend of Africa’s,worked closely together on the design of the research programme from the start.
The project design and approval phase took over two and half years, and culminated in the making of 23 grants – 11 in theology and 12 in social science. As evidenced by a total of 188 (88 in social science and 100 in theology) letters of interest examined and 56 (32 in social science and 24 in theology) invited to prepare full proposals, the role of religion in African societies as a critical area of intellectual contemplation and research excites the theologians and social scientists of the continent in equal measure.
The selection committees were constituted entirely of African scholars. At a joint selection committee meeting in Accra, Ghana (December 2015) and the orientation workshop in Cape Town (February 2016), the expert social scientists and theologians invited to assist with selection, and as facilitators and mentors were most gratified by this fact, especially in view of the seriousness, richness and outstanding quality of the various applications and their contents. This augurs well for and justifies our optimism about a bumper harvest of excellent findings distilled into publishable journal articles which we are anticipating at the March 2017 culminating conference in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
I am particularly excited by the myriad possibilities of thematic conversations that link the various projects, especially as the journal publications envisaged include special guest-edited issues of relevant journals. Possible themes in this connection include: Religious innovation and competition/competition-induced innovation; Religion and health; Gender dynamics in religion and religiosity; Urban change and urban vulnerability; and religious fundamentalism.
Our desires and hopes are to be able to enhance understanding of these and related themes, through the quality of research produced under the current project. We are interested in going beyond doom and gloom perspectives that are overly fixated with African problems and victimization. We are keen to explore pockets of opportunities, however circumscribed, for understanding African agency and African wellsprings of hope. This entails focusing in particular on sources of resilience, resourcefulness, and hope among Africans that are brought to the fore or reinforced by contemporary religious innovation and competition.
Conceptually and methodologically, a core aspect of this project has been and remains collaborative and critical multi-disciplinary research around non-zero-sum-game articulations of change and continuity in African religiosity, both from theological and social scientific perspectives. The project, most innovatively, encourages intellectual conversations, co-elaboration and co-production between African social scientists and theologians with shared research interest in religion, social change and African dignity and agency. This website is intended to encourage and exude evidence of this core value of humility, interconnection and interdependence in knowledge production, andin Ubuntu as claimed and shared by Africans.