29 Feb 2008 - 1 Mar 2008 All day CRASSH


Deadline for Registration: 22 February 2008

Convenors: Dr Harri Engund (University of Cambridge) 
                       Dr Derek Peterson (University of Cambridge) 

Religions that cultivate civic virtues, obligations and trust confound expectations among both Afro-pessimists and secularization theorists. Within the all too apparent affliction, conflict and exploitation in Africa's past and present, sources of hope and aspiration have persisted, their spiritual expressions often mistaken by outsiders for parochialism and intolerance.


By seeking to uncover Christianity's productive as well as problematic effects on African public life, this conference takes its cue from several recent developments in scholarship. One is to consider in the diverse contexts of Christian practice what some scholars of Islam have accomplished in other areas. It is a perspective that highlights as much lived experience as doctrinal niceties and organizational hierarchies. Critical is the effort to situate religion in the everyday circulation of arguments and aspirations, thereby resisting the conventions that isolate religion as a separate sphere of life and reduce its adherents to the discrete worlds of 'believers'.


Another interest is to attend to the multiple publics produced by complex interfaces between religious and civil inclinations, in colonial Africa no less than in postcolonies. The theoretical challenge is to move beyond those conceptions of the public sphere that overlook the significance of religion by subscribing to the awkward dichotomies of public/private and rational/irrational. Instead, this conference follows the lead of those recent perspectives that highlight the capacity of religion to mediate public argument, even as religion itself increasingly draws upon mass media and popular arts to have a public presence.


Public culture, in other words, is not the prerogative of persons in public office, such as politicians, although an interest in the political will inform several contributions to this conference. Rather, a revised concept of the public sphere enables the conference to deliberate on public culture as a process in which many publics participate, in which the boundaries between the religious and the secular can be blurred and asserted at once, and in which critical issues around health, governance and moral conduct come under public scrutiny in ways that may elude the more prescriptive notions of civil society.


The conference is organized as the culmination of the 2007-08 Visiting Fellows Programme at the University's Centre of African Studies. The five visiting scholars from Africa will be joined by speakers and discussants from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States.

Please address any administrative enquiries to events@crassh.cam.ac.uk.


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk