Are religious traditions qualitatively different from other cultural practices?

Using at least two readings from the syllabus, analyze the significance of religious beliefs in shaping individuals’ and/or communities’ understandings of the relationship between tradition and modernity.

To analyze whether religious traditions are qualitatively different from other cultural practices, it is necessary to evaluate how religions utilize and contribute to the shaping of tradition. Specifically, we must look at how tradition is shaped by religion, relative to other practices. Religion, like other cultural practices is a main vehicle for societal evolution and the development towards modernity, and because of its influence on other aspects of social life has a greater effect and more pronounced influence on how communities, and the individuals within those communities perceive the relationship between tradition and modernity. Looking at Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya, he goes into great detail about the religious traditions of his people, the Kikuyu. He discusses the practice of ancestor worship, and specifically the organization of the different types of spirits that are believed to exist by the Kikuyu. He writes on how spirits are divided into different familial relationships and age groups as well as different clans. These differences among the spirits (which are considered to be part of the spiritual beliefs and religious traditions of the Kikuyu) reinforce and support the social and familial organization that is at play within larger Kikuyu society. For example, the differences and emphasis on age groups seen in the spirit world is also present in the physical world. Essentially, the spirit world supports the social structure that is already present in the physical world, thus showing that religion supports and reinforces practices in other realms of life. This ability of religion to move and affect different spheres of society (in this case the realm of social

organization) highlights its importance in shaping how engrained and set a society is. If religion emphasizes or supports changes to the existing social structure in its practices and beliefs (i.e. by putting more emphasis on gender relationships or equality) then it can over the social system of a society in that same direction. Likewise, if religion is rigid and does not support change, then other areas of society will also be more resistant to it. All of this can happen because religion has influence on social spheres outside its own. Another example of this sphere jumping ability of religion in affecting social views is seen in the relationship that Kenyatta paints between magic and religion and medicine/health. He discusses the role of magicians and potions/spices in Kikuyu society. Clearly, when religion in a given society prescribes using potions and magic to cure ills and a modern colonial view advocates the use of Western medicine there is a considerable disconnect between the two. In this way, religion does not only affect other spheres (such as medicine and healthcare) but also provides a direct opposition to the modernity that is being produced. This type of direct opposition is another way in which religion can affect the discourse on modernity and tradition in a society and influence the way each is perceived by the community. In many cases, it seems that religion tends to take up the view of opposing new and modern types of thought. This is likely due to the nature of religion to develop organically from a society’s beliefs and customs and concurrently through its history, and the fact hat religion has a stake in maintaining traditional beliefs because it was born out of them. Mda’s Heart of Redness also highlights the importance of religion in affecting other spheres and the great power that religion can have in shaping how people view the world and in specific, modernity. In the novel, we learn about the prophetess, Nongqawusem, who had a vision and predicted that the whites would be driven from their land and forced into the sea if they were to destroy their cattle and grain. The origination of the vision from the ancestors (who the Xhosa included in their spiritual beliefs) and the subsequent cattle killings highlights the role

of the religion as a powerful tool. Again, we see that this tension between modernity and tradition is reinforced and in some senses even amplified by religion. The desire to banish the whites and maintain their lifestyle in its traditional form (to some extent) outweighed and blinded the Xhosa of the need to modernize and bring about sustainable modernization to their culture. Religion often limits the view of individuals in seeing the need and sustainable benefits of modernization and modernity and instead leaves them to retain a veil of ignorance and try and maintain their traditional systems of belief. This is not to say that all people will try and maintain their traditional systems and oppose modernity even if religion supports this view, or that such opposition to modernity would even endure forever, but at the same time it seems natural for a majority of people to fall in line with religion when it resists change. Turning now to Death and the King’s Horseman, we see yet another manner in which religion impacts the relationship and modernity. In this example, supported by religious overtones, Elesin must commit ritual suicide as part of his socio-religious structural obligation to the king. Clearly in line with traditional religious beliefs of the Yoruba, the action of ritual suicide contrastingly stands in direct opposition to British colonial beliefs, as embodied by Pilkings. This direct opposition between the traditional religion of the Yoruba and the Christiancolonial beliefs is organic in nature and not necessarily a direct effect of religion trying to oppose modernity. However, just because religion doesn’t actively intend to go against and shape people’s views and actions against modernity doesn’t stop it from occurring. However, religion as powerful as it is in shaping people’s beliefs and actions in other forms of life (and in this case death) does allow for a reinterpretation of the actions and beliefs at issue in a different framework – which in the case of Death and the King’s Horseman is in a moral light. Reframing the relationship between tradition and modernity in a moral framework or attitude (as Elesin’s

son is able to do in the novel) allows for a transcendence of religion and a reconnection of the once competing but not agreeing beliefs of tradition and modernity. Appiah’s writings – specifically in In My Father’s House – also emphasize the role of religion in shaping the discourse between tradition and modernity. Appiah, writing on the changing nature of the state in Africa, discusses how churches began to take over the role running educational programs in Ghana. These churches and religious groups had previously been involved in education but they gradually began to officially take over running the education system – something previously done by the government. These pre-modern, traditional institutions increased their role in society and even as Ghana worked to modernize entrenched themselves as integral parts of the larger social system. Clearly this demonstrates yet another example of how religion is able to affect social systems and larger society, but also it shows a possible path of integration of tradition and modernity. While in this case religious institutions (traditional and pre-modern by nature in Ghana) did continue their traditional role and efforts in education, they did so with the consent or acquiescence of the nation-state government (a modern institution and structure). These pre-modern, traditional institutions were working within a modern system. Thus, perhaps a model of integrating traditional institutions to work within a larger modern system – rather than trying to replace all traditional institutions with modern ones – is a more appropriate path. Though hard to draw direct and concrete conclusions, it does seem that some general conclusions can be inferred regarding the role of religion in mitigating the relationship between tradition and modernity. First, religion is a powerful tool and force in any society and for any issue, because it has direct and indirect effects on many different areas of society; for example, religion affects the structure of social relationships in society and the power dynamics that are at play between different groups or classifications of people (i.e. gender, race, age, etc). Secondly,

because religion has often developed concurrently with a society and thus tends to have a conservative viewpoint, there seems to be a general tendency to resist change and efforts to bring about greater modernity. Essentially, religion has an investment in maintaining traditional systems of belief and thus will often advertently or inadvertently work to oppose efforts at modernization. This does not always have to be the case however, and if religion does support modernity and change then such change can be more easily accepted and implemented as religion is a powerful vehicle. Third, even when religion opposes modernity or creates tension between modernity and tradition, there is sometimes an opportunity to transcended the foundational opposition that religion includes by reframing the relationship between tradition and modernity in a framework that can bridge the seeming differences between the two. Finally in looking towards practical applications, it may be worthwhile to further investigate integrating traditional institutions into a modern framework or structure; allowing some traditional institutions – specifically those involving religion – to survive and contribute in a modern system may smooth the path for societal development.

Section 2

1. The Most Royal Lady She is a powerful female cousin who decides to send Samba to foreign schools. She advocates sending him there to learn the ways of the colonists as he and the other elites will be the best served by learning from them. She also understands the risk in having the children learn from the foreign schools- echoing a tension throughout African colonial history – that they will forget their past and heritage by learning form foreigners.

2. additive and substitutive selection

3. Umuofia This is the village in Things Fall Apart and is representative of the typical African village dealing with colonial encounter. Okonwo’s difficulties with adaptation to the new changes reflects the issues at stake with colonization.

4. hyenas (as a metaphor) Emphasis on the relationship between life and the valuation of each, and how societies will value (or not value) both of these.

5. Olunde From Soyinka’s novel, Death and the King’s Horseman, he is the son of the king’s horseman, Elesin. Olunde, in trying to convince the British not to arrest his father demonstrates his acknowledgement of the nobility of self-sacrifice for the greater good. He shows that he understands this concept both in his own society and in that of the British (with the ship explosion) and bridges the gap between the two societies.

6. Kikuyu land tenure Discussed in Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya, the manner in which the Kikuyu legally or politically treated ownership of land and the goods on the land changed with Europeans colonization. Europeans (specifically the English) implemented their understanding and appreciation of land rights (that reduced communal use and ownership from what the Kikuyu

were used to). This highlights another change and the related tension that came with the desire to modernize and colonization.

7. Kihika’s Bible

8. Negritude Movement that was began by Senghor and others that focused on the development of PanAfrican unity and the collective connections among all people of African descent. It focused on uniting Africans around the world and across the Diaspora as part of one community connected by a common heritage. This movement was essential in the and foundational in the development of modern African philosophy. 9. “altered states” From Appiah’s discussions on the nature of modern African political affairs, it refers to the role that non-state actors and associations play in political and economic activities. Specifically it refers to how these non-state actors that were pre-colonial and pre-modern in nature have taken on many of the activities that the state would be expected to do. It again illustrates the tension between the pre-modern (associations) and the modern or post-modern (concept of the role of the state in daily affairs). 10. Nongqawuse – prophetess of doom This is the young girl in Mda’s Heart of Redness who prophesizes doom for her people. She said that her ancestors told her to have her people kill all their cattle and in return the ancestors would

drive all the white settlers out of her land. Her integration into the story represents the tensions between colonization and the desire to modernize and adhering to traditional beliefs.