Black Religious Landscaping in Africa and the United States

by Joy R. Bostic (Volume editor) Itumeleng D. Mothoagae (Volume editor) Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs (Volume editor)
©2021 Monographs VIII, 206 Pages


Black Religious Landscaping in Africa and the United States uses the prism of spatial theory to explore various aspects of Black landscapes on the African continent and Black Atlantic diasporic locations. The volume explores the ways in which Black people in Africa and in the Diaspora have identified obstacles and barriers to Black freedoms and have constructed counter-landscapes in response to these obstacles. The chapters in the book present diverse representations of the Black creative impulse to form religious landscapes and construct social, economic and political spaces that are habitable for Black people and Black bodies. These landscapes and spaces are physical, psychological and conceptual. They are gendered and racialized in ways that are shaped by their specific religious, geographic and socio-historical contexts. These contexts are influenced by colonial systems and institutions of modern slavery. The landscapes that people of African descent struggle to construct, reshape and inhabit are intended to counter the effects of these oppressive systems and institutions and often include attempts to reclaim and adapt sources, concepts, tools and techniques that are indigenous to specific geographical contexts or ethno-racial groups. The contributors hope in this volume to offer a look at how the cartographic struggles and constructive engagements within these Black-inhabited spaces are rooted in Black movements that support the emancipation of Black lives and Black bodies from the oppressive forces of dominant geographies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Psychological, Aesthetical, and Religio-Cultural Landscaping
  • 1. In Search of a “Land Language”: Explorations of Race and Land in the African Diaspora
  • 2. The Struggle for the African Soul in the Interface between Koma (Christian Missions) and Thuto (Basotho Traditions)
  • 3. The Role of Religion in the Formation of White Nationalism: Exclusion, Race, Ethnicity and Identity in Shaping Democratic South Africa’s Identity
  • 4. Back to Africa: Towards a Re-imagination of “Youth” in Africa
  • 5. A Psychologist’s Perspective on Becoming Agents of an Unruly Transformation
  • 6. Affirmative Action1 and the New Jim Crow: Listening for and Living from the “Sound of the Genuine”
  • Part II: Sites of Religious Landscaping: Black Churches and African Independent Churches
  • 7. “To Be Relevant”: Black Churches, Education and Productive Engagement
  • 8. The Reconnectional Hope: Interfaith Transformation of Recidivism to Regeneration of Community
  • 9. Leadership Succession Practices in African Independent Churches in Zimbabwe: The Case of Zion Apostolic Faith Mission Church
  • 10. The Place of Women in African-Initiated Churches in Zimbabwe: The Case of Zionist and Apostolic Churches
  • 11. Pick Up Your Cash and Follow Me: Pentecostalism, Prosperity and Socioeconomic Empowerment in Southwest Cameroon
  • Conclusion
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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The production of this volume would have not happened without the support of many persons. We are deeply grateful for their contributions. We extend our heartfelt thanks to the contributors, this includes the conference participants who served as interlocutors when these chapters were presented at the 2014 Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race (TRRR). This conference was held in collaboration with the Voice and Voicelessness Project 2011–2015 sponsored by the University of South Africa, Pretoria. We want to thank Dr. R. Drew Smith and all of the TRRR co-conveners without whom this book would not be possible. We also want to express our appreciation to the College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, for the support the College provided for the conference. Special thanks also goes to Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) Department of Religious Studies in Cleveland, Ohio (United States) and CWRU’s Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities for travel grant support as well as Hood College Office of the Provost in Frederick, Maryland (United States) for an international travel grant. Finally, we want to express our thanks to the Diepsloot community leaders in South Africa as well as the broader community members for opening your space, and sharing with us the struggles and triumphs experienced by the community. We would also like to express our deep appreciation for the communities of Baltimore, Pittsburgh and other local spaces for sharing your stories of religious landscaping. We hope that this volume and these stories will inspire diverse communities to continue the ongoing work of community activism and social change.

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Over the centuries, black struggles against white supremacy and patriarchal power have occupied physical, psychological, cultural and religious space. During the twentieth century, these struggles for freedom brought about sweeping changes across the continent of Africa and the Americas. From the beginning of the twentieth century these struggles took on various forms in the pursuit of resisting colonization and struggling for political rights. For example, black people in the United States struggled for an expansion of political rights, against lynching, and against an array of discriminatory practices and policies. In the Caribbean and Latin America, black people were also making demands for greater political and economic rights. At the same time, Africans on the Continent were struggling against European imperialism and colonization in a variety of ways. By mid-century these persistent struggles yielded extraordinary achievements as black people on the Continent and throughout the diaspora began to win greater civil and political rights. Beginning in the 1950s many predominately black nations achieved political independence. For example, Ghana became independent in 1957 and in 1960—what many refer to as the year of Africa—nations like Cameroon, Senegal and Nigeria and over a dozen other African nations achieved their independence. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s dozens more countries in the Caribbean and on the African continent gained their independence including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Uganda in 1962; Barbados and Botswana in 1966; Mozambique and Angola in 1975; and culminating with Zimbabwe in 1980. These movements for independence transformed the cartographical space of black freedom on the Continent of Africa and in the Americas.

While South Africa gained independence from Britain in 1910, the black majority nation remained under a white minority rule for most of the ←1 | 2→twentieth century. It was not until 1994 that the nation’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, took office along with a multi-racial coalition led by the African National Congress (ANC). Therefore, it wasn’t until the end of the twentieth century that South Africa became the last nation on the African continent to elect a black president.

Meanwhile the geographical mappings of black empowerment continued to shift during the twentieth century as black people in the United States, fought for and gained important civil rights. In the 1950s and 1960s, mass protests by black Americans resulted in the passing of voting rights legislation and the legal desegregation of public and private institutions. The attainment of civil rights or the dismantling of apartheid did not, however, put an end to white supremacy or lead to full equality among blacks and whites in the United States or South Africa. In both countries, discrimination in housing policy, wealth disparity, job discrimination, land ownership, educational inequities and racial violence and intimidation prevailed. Despite the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president in 1994 and the unforeseen election of Barack Hussein Obama as the first black president of the United States in 2008, these times of apparent black empowerment do not offer simple solutions to the problem of black oppression. Moreover, these spaces of post-independence for African and Caribbean nations, Post-Mandela times for South Africa and a Post-Obama era in United States have given rise to paradoxes of empowerment that continue to impact black people around the world.

The political independence of predominantly black nation-states during the twentieth century and the election of a black president of a majority white nation at the beginning of the twenty-first provide historical markers for signs of black empowerment that have led to the establishment of classes of black elites who have attained positions of power at local or national levels. The African and Caribbean—countries that gained independence during the twentieth century established and reestablished geo-political, governmental, and social structures, boundaries, and balances of power. Even though positions of power within these nations have been occupied by black (although predominantly male) bodies, political and geographical changes within these nation-states have not necessarily translated into systemic changes that provide economic, political and social empowerment for most black people within their respective borders. The paradox of empowerment means that despite legal, political and economic changes, black people on the African continent and in its diaspora, continue to face various forms of injustice and deprivation on multiple levels across the globe. This injustice and deprivation takes not only racial, political and economic forms but also gendered, environmental, sexual, psychic, cultural, spiritual and religious forms as well.←2 | 3→

This ongoing state of geo-political injustice with respect to black and African people, is due in part to, as Edward Soja suggests, the fact that historical “[(in)justice] has a consequential geography.”1 As Soja goes on to explain, the consequences of geographical injustice involve not only geographies of physical and political boundaries but also involves the geographical mappings of ideas, images, and normative structures. Therefore, mere changes in the phenotypes of those who occupy political positions of power within the physical boundaries of a nation state cannot, in one stroke, eradicate the history of injustices done to the bodies, lands and cultures of those who live there. Black lives in independent nation-states on the African continent and in its diaspora have been complicated by histories of colonialism, ongoing forms of neocolonialism, segregation, gendered and sexual oppression, and economic exploitation and violence. These nations continue to bear the marks of the “dominant geographies”2 of Western, white, colonial narratives and histories that have resulted in a legacy of violence, marginalization and attempts at erasure of black political, cultural, religious and intellectual practices and ideas. The legacy of this violence (both physical and symbolic) and its consequential effects are indelibly etched into the landscapes of black communities and homelands. Colonial, neocolonial and white supremacist religious practices and theologies have played a central role in the mystification of imperial tactics and have served to justify forms of physical, economic and social violence against black people. In some cases, black leadership has taken on authoritarian dimensions and one-state parties that betray the original hopes and goals of struggles for independence. Thus, despite the advances made during times of apparent black empowerment, the colonial legacies of white supremacy, black disenfranchisement and poverty, and the marginalization of and violence against black women and men persist and continue to manifest in the geographical, political and cultural landscapes of spaces occupied by black people.

Notwithstanding, however, the ongoing violence of geographical oppression and injustice, black people have engaged in what Katherine McKittrick describes as “cartographies of struggle” in which they continue to claim and reclaim black homelands, black religion and black ideas from the grip of historical colonial and white supremacist power. Black bodies through means of protest, action and agency continue to rail against racial, economic and political injustice wherever they stand. In order to be effective, these cartographic struggles against the legacies of dominant geographies are often organized against geographic injustices that are, as described by Edward Soja, “situated and contextualized in three overlapping and interactive levels of geographical resolution” that include (1) the “external creation of unjust geographies through boundary making and the political organization of space”; (2) the ←3 | 4→local (including interpersonal) “distribution of inequalities” and “discriminatory decision making by individuals, firms, and institutions”; and (3) middle scale forms of regional or meso-geographical exploitation associated with “uneven development” and “ the globalization of injustice.”3

Black cartographies of struggle result in the exercise of geographical agency in ways that counter the dominate geographies of the colonial past on all three of these interactive levels. This agency involves the physical mapping of black ancestral homelands and sacred spaces. It involves political power in relationship to these physical geographies as well as methods of black social control and bodily freedom. It also involves struggles over ownership, control and distribution of profits regarding the mining of African resources and financial capital. Finally, black cartographies of struggle not only involve geographical locations and physical territories but also involves reclaiming black social, political and imaginative spaces and the integrity and validation of black bodies, black languages and religious and cultural practices within those spaces. These cartographies of struggle have profound implications for broader notions of black empowerment, identity and community.

Toward this end, black people across the globe have engaged in cultural and religious practices and constructed theological sites that enable them to construct and embody identities and notions of community that serve to counter geographical injustice. Rachel Harding suggests that within the context of the diaspora, people of African descent use “physical, cultural, psychic, and ritual-religious locations”4 as a way of creating and recreating “relationships and countercultural identities” that contest white supremacist ideas about Africa and blackness.—This creation and re-creation of physical, religious and cultural space is critical to the widespread empowerment of black people affected by oppressive historical legacies. Black religious spaces, which are the focus of this volume, serve as sites of creation and re-creation of black identity, community and the imaginative spaces of “an-other world.”5 In the creation of “an-other” world, black people create emancipatory spaces that work to undermine dominant geographies. In creating other worlds through religious practice and theological construction, black people, as Jualynne Dodson argues, “[construct] assemblages of shared awareness that articulate a three-dimensional symbolic expression of the body of knowledge that undergirds [Black peoples’] comprehensions about life and being in the world”6 within specific locales and, comparatively, across geographical and cultural borders. In other words, black people embody different forms of knowledge and enflesh7 theological ideas within these physical and imaginative spaces. Thus, black geographies and environmental landscapes express, establish, and reestablish bases for knowledge, expression and meaning in ←4 | 5→the lives of black people and the communities in which they live. Below, we provide two examples of what black people face—one in South Africa and the other the United States—as they engage in cartographic struggles against the dominant geographies they have inherited even as they attempt to employ and “construct assemblages of shared awareness” that provide remedies to the destructive effects of racial oppression.

Diepsloot, South Africa

In South Africa under the system of Apartheid, the white-controlled government created black townships that were separate from so-called white neighborhoods. These townships were created to prohibit black people from living in proximity to whites. Limiting black bodies to living in townships was a reminder to black people that they were not citizens of South Africa, and that they cannot occupy the same spaces as white people. In addition, the spaces black people occupied in the black township were temporary. Under apartheid, black townships were leased for 100 years. This meant that even with the segregated townships, blacks could not maintain total ownership. Failure to pay rent in these townships meant that the family could be evicted from their home or if the head of the family died, the family would be expected to vacate the house. The townships also served as reservoirs for cheap labor. Black South Africans were then relegated to live in permanent areas of what was referred to as Bantustans. In the 1970s, the South African government declared four of the Bantustans “independent.” These were the Transkei in 1976, Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981. The remaining Bantustans remained self-governing, but had no independent rights. Eventually, Bantustans were to become independent from South Africa.8

These were the geographical complexities of black people living within the then white-controlled, South African borders. It is within this context that we need to understand the formation of informal settlements. The Native Resettlement Act of 1954 gave the state the power to override local municipalities and to forcibly remove Africans and relocate them into spaces that were separate from that of white people. These spaces would later come to be known as townships. Scott reminds us that,

In the “struggle for the city”, which began in earnest in the early twentieth century in South African towns, the mutually exclusive, and implicitly racial categories, of “formal” and “informal” formed a broad implicit framework within which municipal authorities devised policies and legislation for replacing informal settlements with formal planned developments which were appropriate to the emerging industrial order.9

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VIII, 206
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. VIII, 206 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Joy R. Bostic (Volume editor) Itumeleng D. Mothoagae (Volume editor) Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs (Volume editor)

Joy R. Bostic is an associate professor in religious studies and director of the African and African American Studies program at Case Western Reserve University in the UnitedStates. She is also a program faculty member for the university’s Women and Gender Studies and Ethnic Studies programs. She is the author of African American Female Mysticism and chapters and articles on womanist and feminist religion and culture. Itumeleng D. Mothoagae is a lecturer of New Testament and Early Christian Studies in the Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, at UNISA in Pretoria. His fields of specialization are New Testament Ethics, Bible Translation, African Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Studies. His academic interests are Black Theology of Liberation, African Ethics and Identity Studies. Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs is the Virginia E. Lewis Professor of Political Science, chair of the Department of Political Science and an associate professor of African American studies at Hood College in Frederick, MD, USA. Her current research focuses on morality and the black politics. She is the author of The Black Megachurch: Theology, Gender and the Politics of Public Engagement and several book chapters and journal articles about black churches and public life.


Title: Black Religious Landscaping in Africa and the United States