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African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings and Expressions

African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings and Expressions

by Jacob K. Olupona

As Africa moves into the 21st century it faces new spiritual, social, and economic challenges.


As Africa moves into the 21st century it faces new spiritual, social, and economic challenges.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
With contributions from African and non-African scholars, editor Olupona (African Traditional Religion in Contemporary Society) provides a comprehensive analysis of African spirituality. The book is divided into four parts: "Cosmologies and Sacred Knowledge," "Authority, Agencies, and Performance," "Africans' Encounters with Other Religions," and "African Spirituality in the Americas." The discussions range from a general analysis of African spirituality through a description and evaluation of religious symbols and traditions to an examination of the impact of Islam and Christianity on indigenous African traditions. Common to all the writings is an attempt to bring Western rationality to bear while remaining sensitive to the peculiarly African nature of the phenomena addressed. The intellectual depth is commendable in this rare collection of valuable writings on a complex subject. Highly recommended for libraries with religion and/ or social science collections.DEdward K. Owusu-Ansah, Murray State Univ. Lib., KY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
A soul is as resilient and as sure to return as a soccer ball tossed back into the field of play: this sublime metaphor for a West African concept of the soul's endurance livens up the collection of essays on African cosmology.

Dominique Zahan, from whose essay the soccer metaphor is lifted, sets the tone of the book by explaining that traditional African religion has no concepts of original sin and redemption. That huge departure from what many Westerners see as the basis for Christianity is a gulf of understanding the authors work to bridge.

Issues such as the endurance of traditional African religious imagery and symbolism to the strains of incorporating new religions into old societies are examined. The size of the text reflects the variety of expressions of African spirituality, as the authors discuss not only traditional practices, but the impact of the revealed religions of East and West. The volume is part of an encyclopedic series on world spirituality produced by Crossroad Publishing. Its editor, Jacob K. Olupona, was well-chosen. The book's major theme is one of religious understanding and tolerance, goals which have become the life work of Olupona. The Nigerian professor, who now teaches at the University of California at Davis, was a leader in the push for multi-faith education in Nigerian schools.

The authors speak with different voices but deliver a similar message: understand what you see before you pass judgment. G.C. Oosthuizen, in his essay on South African religion, makes a persuasive plea for less dogma and more understanding of African modes of modern worship: "It thus becomes disastrous... to produce theology for its own sake. Its usefulness to the religious and cultural situation should be closely analyzed and evaluated. This means that the emphasis is not to be put on the church as an institution but rather on the church as an organism."

The writers of the twenty essays do a careful and caring job of describing African religious organisms. They help a reader understand not only how religions work, but also why men and women, of Africa or any continent, would let faith rule their lives. (February)

Product Details

Crossroad Publishing Company
Publication date:
World Spirituality Series
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.47(h) x 1.42(d)

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Meet the Author

Jacob K. Olupona is professor of African religious traditions at Harvard Divinity School and professor of African and African American studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. He is the author and editor of many books, including "African Spirituality, Beyond Primitivism," and "African Traditional Religions in Contemporary Society," Terry Rey is associate professor of religion at Temple University. He is the author of "Our Lady of Class Struggle: The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Haiti and Bourdieu on Religion."

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