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Christian Leaders and the State in Africa: Religious Field, Moral Authority, Politicization

Scholarship on the relations between Christianity and politics in postcolonial Africa has generally focused on the individual and social transformations fostered by religious practices and producing a moral transformation of the State. However, little has been written about the connections between Christian leaders and the State, beyond a merely institutional approach that emphasizes State’s interests and strategies. Christian leaders may combine institutional positions (bishops, church leaders) with spiritual functions (prophets, healers), and they may play different roles in the religious and political field, such as moral guides, ecumenical leaders, civil society leaders, peace-building actors, etc.
It is all the more interesting to note that there has been a shift from Christian apoliticism in the early post-independence period to a strong presence in the political sphere from the late 1980s. In fact, religious leaders have generally emerged from a highly competitive religious field, and they can incorporate and overlap different types of legitimacy, whether charismatic, institutional, or political, challenging traditional sociological categories. In any case, their affirmation needs to be understood within its specific historical context.

For this reason, we would like to focus on certain figures of Christian leaders, trying to understand how to rethink the relationship between Christian leaders and the State from various points of view and how their figure can contribute to make State’s authority negotiated. We are looking for proposals for papers that focus on case studies of Christian leaders (Pentecostal, Charismatic, African prophets, etc.) and that ideally will address one of the following three entries or combine them, although other themes are also welcome.

  1. Religious leaders’ politicization: what factors influence whether Christian leaders join (or not) a political party? How can they reconcile their role as party members with their broader role as religious leaders? What kinds of conflicts and compromises may emerge, whether within the church or in the political sphere? What kind of political support may religious leaders provide?
  2. Religious leaders’ legitimacy in the religious field: what kind of spiritual or historical “capital” do religious leaders bring to the table, compared to other leaders? How does their legitimacy shape worshippers’ relationship and behavior towards the state? What space is left for believers to challenge the legitimacy of the leader and “exit” their religious relationship?
  3. Religious leaders’ moral authority: how did Christian leaders come to embody a moral authority within a particular country, without necessarily being overtly partisan? Which imaginary and discourse do they mobilize to establish their authority? What practices do they foster and what instruments do they use to frame their space for action and influence?

Please send your paper proposals to Federico Carducci (University of Geneva) federico.carducci@unige.ch and mike.ajayi@mail.utoronto.ca by April 11th.