Academic journal article Hemispheres

Religious Movements in Africa as Expression of the Sacral Trauma: The Explanatory Approach Reconsidered

Academic journal article Hemispheres

Religious Movements in Africa as Expression of the Sacral Trauma: The Explanatory Approach Reconsidered

Article excerpt


Religious movements are the one type of social visible expressions in the process of the formation of modern societies in sub-Saharan Africa. This article is focussed exclusively on those religious movements of post-Christianity and Afro-Christianity orientation which grew out in an Afro-European context.

In spite of numerous theoretical proposals, the explanatory issue of African religious movements is still an open epistemological question. A critical analysis of this proposal leads to the conclusion that an explanatory model should be formulated from an interdisciplinary perspective and it should be appropriated in the first to the African specificity of the phenomenon. In other words, it should be an Afro-model.

The unit-idea of the model proposed in this essay follows these prepositions and stands on the concept of sacral trauma elaborated as an expression of discourse of trauma (N. Smelser, P. Sztompka), as a particular configuration of cultural trauma. This is because sacral trauma is linked to a social metamorphosis of crisis that concerns the sacral order or sacral rules that are at the basis of a culture; the sacral trauma finds its congenial configuration particularly in the context of sacral society. In fact, traditional African societies are concrete expressions of the sacral type of society. Consequently it leads us to the consideration that religious movements in Africa represent an expression of sacral trauma in which traditional African society (the ethnic society) happens to exist because of culture clash and modernization. In summary, we can affirm that in a sense the religiosity of the movements corresponds and responds to the sacredness of the traditional cosmos; it is a suggestion of reproduction and reconstruction in a sacred sense in an environment in which the sacred takes on a dominant role in the definition of reality.

An endemic element in the process of the formation of modern societies in Black Africa, or rather sub-Saharan Africa, is made up of various religious manifestations, the most socially visible expressions of which are religious movements. They can be classified into two separate categories depending on the context in which they arose and developed. One includes the movements that arose from the contact between Europe and Africa that is Christianity with traditional religions. The other includes the movements that were created from the contact between the Islamic culture and the African one; a close bond that throughout a long history formed a religious and cultural symbiosis often defined as black Islam, an Islamic part present in Black Africa that Bernardo Bernardi1 calls Afro-Is lamism. In the presence of such a religious culture, dominant in certain countries, in particular in the area of Sahel, there are various forms of societies whose beliefs are a mixture of Islamic traditions merged with traditional African ones. It is a very interesting topic that has extraordinary importance when treated with regard to today's events, for reasons linked to the activities of various movements2 that have arisen as an expression of Islamic fundamentalism. It is therefore necessary to deal with it with a specific and autonomous study.

My interest, however, is focused in particular on those religious movements which began in an Afro-European context which do not constitute a homogeneous category but from a doctrinal point of view are distinguished in two kinds. Shaped in a context of contact and exchange between cultures, both retain a character of syncretism that does not always retain a religious connotation.3

In fact, one category, which we can identify with the term post-Christianity, not in the sense understood by Oosthuizen4 or Toynbee5, is a typical example of religious syncretism whose elements of traditional religious culture are integrated with various elements of Christianity, or vice-versa, regardless of any dogmatic coherence on a level of beliefs. …

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