You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Christianity, Islam, and Orisa-Religion

Christianity, Islam, and Orisa-Religion: Three Traditions in Comparison and Interaction OPEN ACCESS

J. D. Y. Peel
Copyright Date: 2016
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Christianity, Islam, and Orisa-Religion
    Book Description:

    The Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria are exceptional for the copresence among them of three religious traditions: Islam, Christianity, and the indigenousorisareligion. In this comparative study, at once historical and anthropological, Peel explores the intertwined character of the three religions and the dense imbrication of religion in all aspects of Yoruba history up to the present. For over 400 years, the Yoruba have straddled two geocultural spheres: one reaching north over the Sahara to the world of Islam, the other linking them to the Euro-American world via the Atlantic. These two external spheres were the source of contrasting cultural influences, notably those emanating from the world religions. However, the Yoruba not only imported Islam and Christianity but also exported their ownorisareligion to the New World. Before the voluntary modern diaspora that has brought many Yoruba to Europe and the Americas, tens of thousands were sold as slaves in the New World, bringing with them the worship of theorisa. Peel offers deep insight into important contemporary themes such as religious conversion, new religious movements, relations between world religions, the conditions of religious violence, the transnational flows of contemporary religion, and the interplay between tradition and the demands of an ever-changing present. In the process, he makes a major theoretical contribution to the anthropology of world religions.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96122-7
    Subjects: Religion
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. (pp. 1-14)

    In May 2013 a young man called Michael Adebolajo, London-born and of Christian Yoruba background, hacked a soldier to death with a cleaver, in broad daylight, outside the military barracks in Woolwich, southeast London. He did this in the name of Islam, to which religion he had converted some years before. When he was charged in court a week later, he brandished a Koran and shoutedAllahu akbar!to underscore the point, and likewise his accomplice, another young man of similar background. The incident was shocking enough in itself, to people of all religions and ethnicities, though it was not...

  2. Part I
    • (pp. 17-37)

      At the most general level, comparison is not a special method or in any way unique to anthropology.¹ Comparison is implicit in any method of deriving understanding throughexplanation—that is, by determining the sufficient and necessary conditions for the existence or occurrence of any phenomenon or action. To saywhya thing is so is to indicate particular obtaining conditions, and it follows that where these conditions obtain otherwise, so also must the object of explanation. If it does not, the adequacy of the alleged explanatory conditions, or the description of theexplanandum, or both, are called into question....

    • (pp. 38-51)

      The last chapter ended with the assertion that culture is less a reflection of society than a reflexion on history.¹ The contrast between the two Latin formsreflectioandreflexioallows the expression of a distinction often concealed in English, between the thing made and the process of making it, as in the term “work.” Yet that ambiguity may have its uses, in pointing us to the intimately reciprocal character of the making of culture and history. In so far as Yoruba ethnogenesis was a cultural work,²it was mainly achieved through the efforts of those who worked on Yoruba language,...

    • (pp. 52-70)

      Clerical intellectuals like Samuel Johnson prided themselves on being the constructors of a more nearly unified concept of Yoruba society and culture,¹ including something that they called “Yoruba heathenism.”² Yet they were well aware of the variety that stood in the way of this task, since their very activity as evangelists introduced them to religious practices in dozens of communities across a large swath of Yorubaland, and their detailed reports necessarily document it. In this chapter my aim is to use this evidence in a deconstructionist spirit, suggesting that the sheer extent of regional diversity in Yoruba religious practice calls...

    • (pp. 71-87)

      The intellectual ambition of Harvey Whitehouse’s project on divergent modes of religiosity (hereafter DMR) compels respect:¹ no less than to develop a general theory of religion.² Though there have recently been others,³ what makes Whitehouse’s somewhat different is that it has grown out of the ethnography of a particular region, Melanesia: one marked by a religious scene of remarkable diversity, where the confrontation between local tradition and missionary Christianity has not only produced a range of movements drawing on both, but has forced the contrast between different kinds of religion to the center of analytic attention. The tension between anthropology’s...

    • (pp. 88-102)

      We live in a world of expanded limits and in an age that we are no longer certain how to categorize.¹ Our use of terms like “postsocialism” and “postcolonialism” (like several other “posts”) indicates our reluctance to give a positive definition to the character of our age at all and suggests that we may have finally thrown off a notion that has been basic to Western social theory since the Enlightenment, that the salient features of every age can be best made intelligible in terms of its place in an evolutionary sequence of stages leading to a determinate climax. Now...

  3. Part II
    • (pp. 105-124)

      The world religions present social anthropology with a serious challenge. It came to them relatively late but with a body of theory and method honed on the analysis of primitive or tribal religions. The larger project by which the classic monographs were framed was in one sense paradoxical: it was to use materials from societies few of which had so much as a concept of religion to develop theories about what religion (or else ritual) was in general. But now we have to move from a large number of small religions to a small number of very large ones; from...

    • (pp. 125-149)

      The Yoruba have a sense of themselves as being exceptionally tolerant of religious difference—and now particularly as having harmonious relations between Islam and Christianity. Let me illustrate the point through two vignettes from field research in Ibadan in 2009.

      The local-ward development committee in Yemetu Aladorin meets to launch a primary health-care program for women and children. It is chaired by a local imam, and the six committee members present comprise four Muslims and two Christians. At the end of the proceedings, the imam recites thesurat al-fatiha(the short firstsuraof the Koran) in Arabic, and I...

    • (pp. 150-171)

      There has been a reciprocal and long-sustained relationship between the making of the Yoruba and the efforts of the world religions to plant themselves at home in Yoruba society. For more than a century, Christianity has been at the forefront of this, through the CMS adoption of “Yoruba” as an ethnic designation and the creation of a Standard Yoruba form of language for use in church and school, which became the main vehicle for the modern Yoruba identity. Both culturally and politically, Yoruba ethnogenesis has had its high moments, of which the most notable were the efflorescence of cultural nationalism...

    • (pp. 172-191)

      In this chapter I go further into the complex and ever-evolving patterns of cooperation and conflict, of resemblance and difference, between Yoruba Christians and Muslims.¹ There is no fixed correspondence between these two pairs of terms such that resemblance must go with cooperation and difference with conflict. Chapter 7 explored the evolution of a situation wherein potential differences between Christians and Muslims were mainly overridden by resemblances grounded in the primordial values of community. If Émile Durkheim was our theoretical guide there, in chapter 8 it was Max Weber, since its focus was on how differences arising from within each...

    • (pp. 192-213)

      There are certainly empirical grounds for drawing parallels between Christian Pentecostalism and Muslim Salafism—whether the frame for the comparison is Yorubaland, Nigeria, the West African region, or indeed the world at large. Since their members (and even more their leaders) are so strongly aware of themselves as belonging to worldwide fellowships of faith and sentiment, the movements themselves draw us outward from local to national, regional, and finally global frames for their comparison. But what has made the perception of parallels so compelling is less their empirical points of resemblance than the primary conceptual lens through which they have...

    • (pp. 214-232)

      Once in 2008 I was flying back from East Africa and had to take a night’s stopover in Addis Ababa. The driver sent to collect me spoke such good English that I asked him if he had spent time outside Ethiopia, thinking he might have been a student in the United States or Britain. He replied that he had been to Lagos, where the headquarters of his church was. This turned out to be Winners’ Chapel, led by the charismatic Bishop David Oyedepo. Two years later I came across Oyedepo’s confidently smiling features on a weather-faded poster in a small...