The intellectualisation of religions in Africa and the African diaspora

Early on, the authors noticed that more than their peers in academia, the bulk of the readers of their scientific productions came from their own research contexts. This is particularly evident with regard to African-American religions. The eminently hypertrophic ritual character (Prandi, 2000) of these religions, where the doing constitutes the religious ethos itself (Ferreira Dias, 2013a) overcoming the cosmological dimensions, the aspects linked to collective memory and the normative importance of the processes of learning and transmission of knowledge (Berliner & Sarró, 2007), does not avoid, by comparison with the so-called Abrahamic religions, hermeneutic challenges for their members. The production of a new religious dynamics, resulting from globalisation and with it the growing transnationalisation of religions and New Age movements, where religion takes on a market dimension, leads to a ‘rational choice’ (Stark & Bainbridge, 1985) in the selection between religious offers, also giving rise to an intense search for religious knowledge which contests the classic logic of learning. It is not surprising, then, that Sérgio Ferretti (2001) reports the normative importance of his and his wife’s work for the Xangô of Pernambuco or that Salamone (2001) reveals the occasion of a Yorùbá bàbáláàwó who presents himself as an ‘anthropologist in training’. The classic transit between academia and the terreiros of Bahian Candomblé (Seeber-Tegethoff, 2007; Castillo,2010) not only brought a ritual importance to reading (it is enough to see the impact of the work of Pierre Verger or Juana Elbein dos Santos), but also a scientification of the religious discourse, accelerated by the departure of devotees to universities (Seeber-Tegethoff, 2007; dos Santos & dos Santos, 2013), after an initial wave of researchers who moved from the academy into the terreiros. This process of intellectualization of the religious discourse led Paul Christopher Johnson (2002) to coin the term ‘Protestant Candomblé’. In other ‘afro-religious’ scenarios, one can find similar processes. Umbanda, considered ‘ the Brazilian religion par excellence ‘, which perpetuates the myth ‘of the three races’ (Furuya, 1974; Ortiz, 1978), has been marked by the permanent intellectualisation of its discourse and praxis (Birman, 1978; Brown, 1985; Novaes, 2017). The so-called Afro-Cuban religion, which includes various religious segments, contains imprinted the same mark (Palmié, 2007, 2013), evidencing a transatlantic process of religious intellectualisation. In the African context, the emergence of a Yorùbá ethnic and religious identity is not undressed by an intellectualized cultural revivalism (Peel, 2000; Matory, 2005), in which an attempt is made to trace a continuum with respect to Egypt (Lucas, 1948, 1995; Wescott, 1957; Lawal, 1975; Imhotep, 2012) in order to legitimize and superior local religious practices.

Cite this article as: João Ferreira Dias, "The intellectualisation of religions in Africa and the African diaspora," in Adarrum, accessed in 6 de Outubro, 2022, url: <>.

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