Race and Materiality in African Religious Contexts

  • Federico G Settler University of KwaZulu-Natal
Keywords: Race, Materiality


This article intends to explore the various approaches to materiality and religion that have been used in the study of religions in Africa, and in South Africa in particular. It explores recent scholarship on materiality and religion advanced by David Morgan (2012) as well as Dick Houtman and Birgit Meyer (2012), and then turn to David Chidester (2018), with some attention to Johan Strijdom (2014) to examine the framing of the debate in the Southern African context. The aim is to point out specific ways in which religion scholars privilege materiality of visuality, space, and ritual studies, at the expense of other ways of knowing and being. The article then advances some suggestions as to why or how these regimes are sustained and point out some problematics.
It examines the use of everyday material objects in new religious movements in South Africa and interrogate their contested reception. The article moves to unpack how contemporary debates about the indigenous and new religious movements or cults in South Africa represent conflicts on what ‘things’ may possess sacred qualities and how they may be endowed with religious authority. In this regard, the article will focus on the taxonomies and afterlife of things in the work of Arjun Appadurai (1988, 2006) and its location in relation to the black body, to explore how black bodies are scripted and imagined in relation to material religion. Finally, it raises some questions on how local debates about religion and materiality – with respect to the embodied and things – represent not just disruptions over what constitute religion, but also about how contests over the use of everyday objects signal the emergence of indigenous ways of knowing and being in African religious contexts.