Ritual and trust: how religion shapes belonging in Africa and the diaspora
MetadataShow full item record
Debates surrounding immigration, state-building, and civil society all center on the same underlying question: what determines belonging? In this study, I investigate how individuals—in particular modern-day Africans on the continent and in the diaspora—make choices about institutional affiliations, specifically religious groups. I propose a view of collective participation in religious communities as a basis of trust and belonging in African societies. My research uses surveys and original ethnographic data in a three-part approach. In the first chapter, I look at the religious, ethnic, and geographic contours of Ghana, and explore whether trust networks on these bases appear to be politically integrated in an even and equal way. Chapter 2 expands the assessment to a sample of 13 African nations, showing how religious identity in concert with education and party membership shapes grassroots interest in the political system. Chapter 3 returns to the case of Ghana, but this time using ethnographic data to look at how trust networks are built through religious participation. I use data from Accra as well as from the Ghanaian community in Chicago. In this chapter, I show that 1) individuals choose religious congregations as part of a search for new social ties, and 2) religious participation is one of the major ways—and for many the primary way—that they expand and deepen their trust networks. Thus, rather than declining in importance as modern culture spreads its influence, or being less salient for the elite urban classes, religious participation seems to be increasingly crucial and for those who have moved to the cities and overseas. While most studies of religious Africans have portrayed them as traditional, conservative, and passive in their receipt of missionization, in this study I propose a vision of religious Africans as modern and cosmopolitan agents who, within the bounds of certain structural constraints, work collectively to pursue professional and educational aspirations. Through their religious participation, they make choices about their individual futures and that of their societies, as do other growing transnational communities.