Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa

Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa

Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa

Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa

Synopsis

Wild Religion is a wild ride through recent South African history from the advent of democracy in 1994 to the euphoria of the football World Cup in 2010. In the context of South Africa’s political journey and religious diversity, David Chidester explores African indigenous religious heritage with a difference. As the spiritual dimension of an African Renaissance, indigenous religion has been recovered in South Africa as a national resource. Wild Religion analyzes indigenous rituals of purification on Robben Island, rituals of healing and reconciliation at the new national shrine, Freedom Park, and rituals of animal sacrifice at the World Cup. Not always in the national interest, indigenous religion also appears in the wild religious creativity of prison gangs, the global spirituality of neo-shamans, the ceremonial display of Zulu virgins, the ancient Egyptian theosophy in South Africa’s Parliament, and the new traditionalism of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma. Arguing that the sacred is produced through the religious work of intensive interpretation, formal ritualization, and intense contestation, Chidester develops innovative insights for understanding the meaning and power of religion in a changing society. For anyone interested in religion, Wild Religion uncovers surprising dynamics of sacred space, violence, fundamentalism, heritage, media, sex, sovereignty, and the political economy of the sacred.

Excerpt

During 1999, while Cape Town was celebrating a festival, “One City, Many Cultures,” and hosting the Parliament for the World’s Religions, the Cape Times published a series of profiles of religious communities, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu, all living in the same city. On March 1, this series featured a profile of African traditional religion, the indigenous religious heritage of Africa, in an article, “Going Back to Our Past with Praise.” Although the author shared her personal reflections on the loss and recovery of African indigenous religion, the centerpiece of this article was an interview with Gogo, or “Granny,” a 102-year-old grandmother living in KwaThema, near Johannesburg. Keeping alive the memory of ancestral myths and rituals, Gogo had learned the story of the origin of humanity as a child. “My mother told me that the first human beings emerged in the beginning from a hole in the ground in a rock at Lôwe,” Gogo related. “Our ancestors emerged from there and they left their footprints in the rock at the beginning of the world.” This classic indigenous myth of origin in southern Africa was also recounted in my own survey text Religions of South Africa, which related the Tswana tradition that “human beings emerged in the beginning from a hole in the ground. … [The Tswana] could point to a particular hole in a rock at Lôwe, near Mochudi, from which the original ancestors emerged, leaving their footprints in the rock at the beginning of the world.”

Against the background of this Tswana emergence myth, which even identified the precise place of emergence as Lôwe, forty . . .

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