The Role of Religion in Development: Towards a New Relationship between the European Union and Africa. HAAR and ELLIS

“Religion cannot be regarded as a force destined to retreat from public space in any society that aspires to a high degree of technological achievement or of sophistication.” (352)

In the article “The role of religion in development : towards a new relationship between the European Union and Africa,’ I thought that the link between religion and development was laid out in a clear and informative way. As I am unreligious it seems to me that in development bodies there would be very little point to use religion and development together however this article has made me realise the importance that religion can play to development. In sub-Saharan Africa, religion provides a way for the people to be connected to the rest of the world through their religious beliefs. Outside of political bodies and international organisations, religion for many provides an additional means for aid to development.

The idea that religion is now misunderstood was one which I thought really supported the articles main argument to the importance of religion in development. The existence of an invisible world which is integral and cannot be reduced to the visible or material form really helped me understand that belief and religion to many people is different to the overall perception of religion in a country like the UK. In Africa, religion is made out to be more of a joining of community whereas in western societies where society is becoming more secular, ‘religion is often equated exclusively with its institutional expression.’ (354)

Religion can play a positive role in development. Religion has been a way for conflict prevention although countries like the USA would like to say that religion in African countries starts conflict rather than prevents it. I found this quite interesting as many conflict preventions do to some degree have religious tones when dealing with the situation although that may not be integral to initiatives. 

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E.E.Evans-Pritchard – ‘The Notion of Witchcraft explains Unfortunate Events’

After starting the chapter with a very striking statement ‘Witches, as the Azande conceive them, clearly cannot exist’, (p18) Evans-Pritchard spends what I believe the entirety of the chapter talking about how the idea of witchcraft for the Azande is not as obscure as we are first made too believe.

Witchcraft for the people of the Azande, provides a way to explain the things which happen to people that are out of our control. The most significant point that I took away from this chapter is that ‘Witchcraft is to Azande an ordinary and not an extraordinary, even though it may be in some circumstances be an infrequent, event.’ (p30) Evans-Pritchard explains throughout that the Azande only use witchcraft to explain why some events have happened, for example a boy hitting his toe on a stump, a pot maker’s pot breaking, and a termite infested building collapsing on people seeking its shade from the sun. These parallels in the Azande belief of witchcraft could be to some extent similar to western culture beliefs in fate, bad luck, karma, superstition or even belief in higher beings in the form of Gods. The fact that the Azande have no concept of natural and supernatural, as we understand it only goes to show that from a different culture ways of looking at the world can be viewed in many ways and may only make sense in the culture it belongs in.

In order to acquire the knowledge to write up this ethnography Evans-Pritchard has spent a lot of time in understanding the role of witchcraft to the Azande. In Azande culture witchcraft is not used to explain every failure or every misfortune. Telling a lie, adultery, stealing, disloyalty and murder of another tribesman are all exceptions according to Evans-Pritchard, as in Zande doctrine, witchcraft does not make people do these bad things. Incompetence, carelessness, ignorance and laziness can all be selected as other causes for certain behaviour.  Witchcraft to the Azande people then has its own set of rules to adhere to and ‘belief in witchcraft is quite consistent with human responsibility and a rational appreciation of nature.’(p30)

I find this chapter intriguing as it makes you question how if witchcraft is a way to describe some actions that happen which are out of human control, then just because you don’t understand it doesn’t give you the right to say it doesn’t exist. I think Evans-Pritchard gives the Azande belief in witchcraft a lot of justice as it makes people reading question, in the simplest sense, how you think. One way I think anthropology is so invaluable is that it teaches you to look beyond yourself and your own beliefs to appreciate and try to understand how other people from other cultures understand the world.  

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