“Maps are all we Possess”

Critical Terms in the Study of African Theology(ies)


  • Claudia Jahnel Ruhr University




Africa, critical terms, religion, epistemic violence, postcolonial theory


“Africa,” “ancestors,” “animism,” “authenticity,” these and other terms have shaped the scholarly research on African religions as well as the discursive field of African theology(ies). Over and above, they are still prevalent in stereotypical images of life and culture in “Africa.” A network of scholars of religious studies and of intercultural theology from Europe and Africa called “Theology(ies) Africa” has focused on analyzing the genealogy of terms that have become crucial in the study of religion and theology. The guiding assumption is that there are no simple terms. Terms are products of powerful and even conflicting processes of generating meaning, creating knowledge and exerting epistemic violence. The essay at hand displays guiding assumptions and crucial insights of the network group that is unique in the German speaking academic context. Established in 2017 its goal is to further the exchange between scholars who work on the religious and theological negotiations between Africa and Europe and to further especially young scientists in the field.


Assmann, Jan. Das kulturelle Geda?chtnis. Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identita?t in fru?hen Hochkulturen. Mu?nchen: C. H. Beck.

Borges, Jorge Louis. 1975. On Exactitude in Science. A Universal History of Infamy.London: Penguin.

Casanova, Jose?. 2004. “Religion, European secular identities, and European integration.” Euro-zine. https://www.eurozine.com/religion-european-secular-identi ties-and-european-integration/

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 1992. “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” Representations 37 (Winter): 1–28. https://doi.org/10.2307/2928652 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/2928652

Chaturvedi, Aditya. 2017. “Story Maps: Bringing storytelling and mapping together.” Geospatial World. https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/art-esri-story-maps/

Chidester, David. 1996. Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

———. 2000. “Material Terms for the Study of Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68(2): 367–380. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/68.2.367 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/68.2.367

Clifford, James. 1986. “On Ethnographic Allegory.” In Writing Culture. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, 98–121. Berkeley: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520946286-007

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1994. What is Philosophy? New York: Columbia University Press.

Eckert, Andreas. 2003. “Die Jahrhunderte des Sklavenhandels. U?ber die Schwierigkeit, u?ber afrikanische Geschichte zu schreiben.” In Afrika. Mythos und Zukunft, edited by Katja Bo?hler and Jürgen Hoeren, 58–65. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. 2000. “Multiple Modernities.” Daedalus 129(1): 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298000290031201 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298000290031201

Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. 1940. The Nuer. A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of A Nilotic People. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 1956. Nuer Religion. Oxford: Clarendon.

Fabian, Johannes. 1983. Time and the Other. How Anthropology Makes its Object. New York: Columbia University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1976. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” October 1: 6–21. https://doi.org/10.2307/778503 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/778503

———. 1983. This is Not a Pipe. With illustrations and letters by René Magritte. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Giddens, Anthony. 1981. “Time-Space Distanciation and the Generation of Power.” In Anthony Giddens. A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism: Power, Property and the State, 90–108. London: Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-16638-1_5 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-16638-1_5

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1955. Die Vernunft in der Geschichte. Edited by Johannes Hoffmeister. Hamburg: Felix Meiner. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783112530887

Jewsiewicki, Bogumil. 1992. “Pre?sence Africaine as Historiography. Historicity of Societies and Specificity of Black African Culture.” In The Surreptitious Speech. Pre?sence Africaine and the Politics of Otherness 1947–1987, edited by Valentin Y. Mudimbe, 95–117. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Johnson, Wendell. 1946. People in Quandaries: The Semantics of Personal Adjustment. New York: Harper & Brothers.

King, Richard. 1999. Orientalism and Religion. Postcolonial theory, Indic and “the mystic East.” London: Routledge.

Korzybski, Alfred. 1933. Science and Sanity. An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. International Non-Aristotelian Library https://ilam3d.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/alfred-korzybksi-science-and-sanity.pdf

Maluleke, Tinyiko S. 1998. “African Traditional Religions in Christian Mission and Christian Scholarship: Re-opening a Debate that Never Started.” Religion & Theology 5(2): 121–137. https://doi.org/10.1163/157430198X00011 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/157430198X00011

Masuzawa, Tomoko. 2005. The Invention of World Religions or, How European Universalism was Preserved int the Language of Pluralism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226922621.001.0001 DOI: https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226922621.001.0001

Mbiti, John S. 1968. “African Concept of Time.” Africa Theological Journal 1: 8–20.

Mbiti, John S. 1969. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann.

Platvoet, Jan, and Henk van Rinsum. 2003. “Is Africa Incurably Religious?: Confessing and Contesting and Invention.” Exchange 32(2): 123–153. https://doi.org/10.1163/157254303X00190 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/157254303X00190

Rea, Naomi. 2017. “Will French Museums Return African Objects? Emmanuel Macron Says Restitution Is a ‘Priority.’” Artnet News. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/french-president-promises-restitution-african-heritage-ouagadougou-university-speech-1162199

Rothberg, Michael. 2009. Multidirectional Memory, Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Smith, Jonathan Z. 1982. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

———. 1990. Drudgery Divine. On the Comparison of Early Christianity and the Religions of Late Antiquity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

———. 1993. Map is not Territory. Studies in the History of Religions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Taylor, Mark C. 2004. Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tlostanova, Madina V., and Walter D. Mignolo. 2012. Learning to Unlearn: Decolonial Reflections from Eurasia and the Americas. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Völkel, Markus. 2006. Geschichtsschreibung. Eine Einführung in globaler Perspektive. Köln: Uni-Taschenbücher.



How to Cite

Jahnel, C. . (2021). “Maps are all we Possess”: Critical Terms in the Study of African Theology(ies). Interreligious Studies and Intercultural Theology, 5(1-2), 129–145. https://doi.org/10.1558/isit.19367



Round Table