The Role of Religion in Development: Towards a New Relationship between the European Union and Africa – Haar and Ellis.

The article looks into the relationship between development and religion and discusses influences such as conflict, peace building and governance amongst others.  A well rounded case is built informing readers about the complexities of the combining religion and development.

Before reading the article I had limited knowledge on the topic and therefore found it insightful. The article made me realise that relgion as a tool for development in Africa is not straightforward due to the complexity and variation of religious groups across the continent. Using Christian or Islamic organisations will not appeal to the majority of citizens who practice ‘indiginious’ religions.

One of the most interesting areas of the article was the discussion about armed conflicts and the issues they posed on development. The argument was made that “the power attributed to religious experts is considered morally ambivalent, in the sense that their supposed spiritual power can be used both to harm and to heal.” This idea for me, was relevant to many issues of religious conflict that are occurring across the world today, not only in sub-saharan Africa. 

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Religion, Media and the Public Sphere.

In my opinion, the introduction to ‘BOOK’ did well in summarising the relationship between media, religion and the public sphere in a number of contexts across religion and countries. For those of us who have limited knowledge on the topic, there was enough discussion to introduce the main ideas. What I found to be of most interest was the brief outline of chapter 11 focusing on the relationship between media and religion in Turkey whereby the term secular Muslim was adopted. This was a term I had never come across before and made me interested to read more. However, at times, I found the text didn’t quite capture my attention and it required effort to get through it. 

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The Igbo Ijele Mask –Anaikor.

Anaikor’s article on the Ijele mask provides an interesting and elaborate description of the appearance, concept and role of the mask in Igbo society.  The mask is viewed with significant respect and awe within Igbo society, due to its elaborate designs and incomparable size; standing at 6 meters tall and 3 meters wide, no other mask matches its grandeur. However, its size alone is not the only reason for its power, the fact that it only makes an appearance every 25 years undoubtedly adds to its mysticism and sense of importance. Furthermore, the size and beauty of a mask within Igbo society portrays wealth and social status, understandably, Anaikor claims within this criterion, the Ijele mask embodies the very best of Igbo art. With all this in mind, one must question the reasoning why it is not brought out more often in performances.

What I found to be the most interesting aspect of the Ijele Mask was its design. Anaikor identifies that there are three main categories that dominate the masks design: man in his daily activities, the spirit world and animals and forestry. More specifically, the headdress contains depictions of important moments in life, for instance, images of women in labour, men climbing for fruit are placed besides key political experiences. The quality and range of depictions can provide anthropologists with an interesting visual social commentary which arguably adds to its uniqueness.

With regards to the mystic powers, Igbo masks do not represent specific spirits but rather dramatize specific attributes of humans, ancestors, animals or spirits. Anaikor identifies that the Ijele mask is said to incarnate the ancestors and spirits who revealed the land and how to prosper on it. The grandeur of the mask is said to be a representation of the economic gains that can be had from the soil. The mask, according to Anaikor, is a tool for uniting people with a sense of pride and social/historical continuity.

While much of the mysticism of the mask it seems comes from its illusively, when it is brought out in performances its size once again plays an important part in its reception. The mask is worn by one man and the sheer size and weight makes fast, brash movements difficult, rather than this causing a hindrance to the performance, Anaikor reports that the slow stop and start movements at the start of the show create a sense of anticipation and excitement. In conclusion, I found the article to be really interesting and informative and has opened my eyes to the fact that masks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – literally! 

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Short review of Nadel’s ‘Witchcraft in Four African Societies’.

To start simply, I found this chapter to be engaging, easy to read and most importantly interesting!  Nadel sets out, it seems, to provide the reader with the detailed accounts of the role and beliefs surrounding witchcraft held by the people in four societies, the Nupe, Gwari, Korongo and Mesakin all of which fall in Nigeria and Sudan. Nadel progresses to compare and contrast the and beliefs- or lack of- held by those in each of the societies and identify the roles they play in each individual culture.

What I found to be the most interesting feature in the chapter was the information provided about the beliefs of the Nupe, one of the two social groups in Nigeria. Fascinatingly, Nadel identifies the important relationship between witchcraft and gender, stating that ‘Nupe witches are always women’. (It is important to note that according to the Nupe, witches and witchcraft are negative forces in society, thus, the association between women and witchcraft can only be negative). furthermore, the role that men play in witchcraft is much more ambiguous; within the Nupe society, men are not deemed themselves to be evil but rather the ones who are able to block the evil projected by the female witches. However, although they can be the saviors – so to speak- the female witches need masculine influences for their magic to work to the fullest affect. I found the implications of gender in the Nupe society particularly interesting as I had encountered similar themes about the polluting nature of women and their role in the roots of ‘evil’ in previous readings – although in a different context.  The fact that such ideas transcend time, societies, cultures and even countries is fascinating.

 

 

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