Conceptualising religious infrastructures in Africa
Yanti Hölzchen, Frobenius-Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology, Uni. Frankfurt
Benjamin Kirby, Centre for African Studies (LUCAS), Uni. Leeds
This panel explores “religious infrastructures” in African settings. It asks how religious forms of sociality and spirituality are configuring (and being configured by) infrastructural networks, spotlighting how their operations relate to wider dynamics unfolding in African countries and beyond.
African countries are vital laboratories for rethinking infrastructure. Infrastructure is widely conceived as an inert supporting “scaffold” for social and economic activity. Recent studies have used African settings—from Cairo to Kano, and Dakar to Dar es Salaam—to instead conceptualise infrastructure as relational “ecology” or “socio-technical process. Infrastructural networks are populated by the very things—objects, people, and resources—that they gather, redirect, circulate across space. An expanded definition of infrastructure not only transforms how we understand systems that are conventionally bracketed under this category (e.g. electric grids, public transport, and waste management), but also incorporates more unexpected formations (e.g. languages, corporeal physicality, governmental technologies, and established cultural styles).As such, we take infrastructures to be emergent, “world-shaping” formations which constitute and reconfigure relational arrangements of objects, people, regulations, etc.
This panel welcomes empirically-grounded contributions from participants interested in “thinking infrastructurally” about religion in African settings—urban, suburban, or rural. Papers may address questions such as: How do religious infrastructures evolve in relation to wider dynamics (e.g. political, economic, historical) unfolding in African settings? How do they (re-)produce and transform mundane experiences of sociality and spirituality? How do religious groups insert themselves into infrastructural networks in meaningful ways (e.g. capitalising on the affordances generated by fibre optic networks, applying religious imagery to minibus taxis and roadside billboards)? What are the infrastructural operations of things ordinarily designated “religious” within shared ecologies (e.g. religious buildings, religiously-administered social services and legal institutions, distinctively religious styles and forms of sociality)? If weakened regulatory and governance landscapes have allowed religious organisations to become powerful development actors, how are the infrastructures that they configure variously distributed, contested, and shared among different groups?