Deze bijdrage aan het handbook Inleiding tot de studie van godsdiensten onder redactie van D.J. Hoens, J.H. Kamstra, & D.C. Mulder (Kampen, Kok, 1e druk 1984, 3e druk 1998): 45-60, voetnoten 225-226, heft als titel: “Drie stromingen in de godsdienstwetenschap: een korte geschiedenis van dit vak”. Ik bespreek, in historische volgorde, de “reductionistische” stroming, ontstaan in de Verlichting, de “religionistische” stroming, die voortkwam uit de vrijzinnige theologie van de 19e eeuw, en de “empirische” stroming”, ontstaan na 1950 in de postkoloniale tijd door interactie met de studie van godsdiensten in de antropologie.
The studies collected in this volume were presented as papers at an international conference in Leiden University on 14 and 15 January 1994 in order to study the role of religions in situations of religious pluralism, i.e. in what manner did religions respond to the presence of other religions in their societies, in ancient as well as in modern times. The volume has three parts. Part one consists of five articles of a mainly theoretical nature: Platvoet’s on ritual theory; Snoek’s on the conditions under which a group may feel a strong or weak, or feel no need at all to demarcate itself from other groups; Belier’s on the absence of that urge among Australian Aborigines; Drooger’s on a model for the study of the interaction among religions in a plural society; and ter Haar’s, on African Christian communities in The Netherlands which do not wish to demarcate themselves from Western Christian communities. Part two has three papers by Nugteren, Sadan, and Platvoet that deal with the ritualisation of the encounter between religions, peaceful, repressive, or aggressive. Part three has five papers by van der Toorn, Beck, Kaptein, van Koningsveld, and Wiegers that describe responses of religions to situations of religious plurality. They deal with processes of change internal in religions in response to the situation of religious plurality, internal or external, in which they find themselves.
The history of the study of the religions of (sub-Saharan) Africa may be divided into two, partly overlapping, phases: ‘Africa as object’, when its religions were studied virtually ex-clu¬sively by scholars and other observers from outside Africa; and ‘Africa as subject’ of the study of its religions, when the religions of Africa had begun to be studied also, and increasingly mainly, by African scholars. My article has, therefore, two main sections. In the first section, on Africa as object, I outline the development of the study of African traditional/indigenous religions, in chronological order, in three phases: that from trader to academic anthropologist; that by missionaries of liberal theological persuasion; and the recent studies of African traditional religions by historians. In the second section, on Africa as subject – or author – of the study of the religions of Africa, I follow the same order. I deal first with examples of studies of African traditional religions by African amateur and professional anthropologists; then by African Christian scholars in Departments of Religious Studies; and by African historians. ‘Africa as subject’ of the study of the religions of Africa is what this book is about. In this section I will, therefore, confine myself to only a few paradigmatic examples from its history to show how also in Africa itself, the study of its religions developed from amateur ethnography into their study in basically three distinct academic disciplines: anthropology, religious studies, and history.
In this contribution I present a ‘history’ of the religions of Africa. I order them chronologically after the moment they appeared on the continent of (sub-Saharan) Africa. The ‘indigenous’ as well as the ‘immigrant’ religions have been included in the category ‘the religions of Africa’, the sole criterion for inclusion being whether or not a religion has believers who are permanent res¬i¬dents in sub-Saharan Africa, irrespective of the colour of their skin and whether or not their sense of identity is an ‘African’ one. This criterion allows me to show that as many as thirteen distinct religions, or rather types of religions, are being practised in Africa, be it with very different spans of time, some being indigenous since palaeolithic times, and others residing in Africa since only a few centuries, decades or even years. They are, in historical order, the African traditional/indigenous religions (ATRs); Christianity; Islam; Judaism; Sikhism; the Parsee religion; Jainism; the Chinese religion; Buddhism; the new esoteric religions; Baha’i; and Afro-American religions returning to Africa.
The structure of this epilogue is as follows. I will firstly outline the semantic history of the Western concept of ‘religion’ in order to show the major shifts of meaning attributed to that term since its earliest attestation in the Latin language in the 3rd century BCE. I will point also to the ‘socio-genetics’ of those shifts and indicate how the contexts in which they emerged conditioned and constrained the various meanings of the terms ‘religion’ and ‘religions’. I will then briefly outline the three major, vastly different groups of ‘religions’ of humankind, in order to present some indication of their dense diversity in the past and the present. In addition, I will point, although only in passing, to the different semantics of certain key concepts in a few other religions, and to the complete absence of such terms and semantics in most others. All this points to the urgent need to revise our essentialism. We need to take a critical look at some of our naïve assumptions. One of them is that we know fairly well what (other) ‘religions’ are like. Another that we may establish by philosophical reflection on religion in Western society, or by its scholarly analysis, what the ‘nature’ of religion is, i.e. by what trait it is defined wherever and whenever it was or is found.
In this contribution I propose to deal firstly with the problem whether ‘religion’ can actually be defined. Are not the religions of men so diverse, and are they not each such poly-morph, poly-semantic and poly-functional phenomena that it is an illusion to conceive that they will ever, collectively or singly, be adequately reflected in a definition acceptable to all scholars of religions, let alone in one that is unambiguously accepted as universally valid for the whole of the human religious history in the full diachronic depth of at least 100.000 years and its world wide synchronic diversity? My answer is twofold. Firstly, such a definition must indeed be deemed to be extremely unlikely if not outrighly impossible. Secondly, however, definition has also more modest uses which may turn definitions of religions, that have shed this universalist ambition, into quite a useful tools in the academic study of religions. In the second section, I shall address the question of why one should bother to define ‘religion’ at all, if a definition of religion turned out to be merely a useful research tool. Can one not better dispense with it altogether? My answer will be that one may indeed well dispense with it, but that, despite its very modest usefulness, it would still be unwise to do so. In my third section, I shall discuss these modest uses of definitions of religion, as well as their strategic implications. In the fourth and last section, I shall discuss the operational, or instrumental, definition of ‘religion’ which I have developed for my particular line of studies as an illustration of the purposes for the achievement of which a definition of religion may serve in the academic study of religions.
In this contribution I deal with ‘spirit possession’ as it was found in among the Bono of West Africa. My contribution about this important and fascinating subject of research has four parts. In the first, I explain, by way of introduction, what ‘spirit possession’ is, in what religions it is found, how it may be studied, and what theories have been developed to better understand, and explain, certain aspects of it. The second part serves to create the settings, geographical, historical, social and religious, for the main purpose of this chapter: an analysis of a spirit possession session which ‘Captain’ Rattray, government anthropologist in the Gold Coast in the 1920s, witnessed at Tanoboase, a Bono village at the edge of the forests of West Africa. In the concluding part, I discuss how far theories on ‘spirit possession’ help us to understand it better.
The conceptual opposition between the material and the spiritual has become increasingly fundamental, paradigmatic and absolute in modern Western Christian cosmology since the rise of the natural sciences in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For Western scholars of religions, it is therefore very difficult to conceive of (other) religion(s) in terms other than the Western dichotomies of ‘the natural’ versus ‘the supernatural’. The opposition is so important that we multiply synonyms for it with great ease. One is ‘the material’ versus ‘the spiritual’, another the ‘physical’ versus the ‘metaphysical’, a third ‘the empirical’(world) versus ‘the meta-empirical’ (realm), and a fourth, the ‘seen’ versus the ‘unseen’. A fifth, finally, is the testable world, which is taken as the (one and only) object of research of the sciences, versus the meta-testable realm(s) postulated by religious beliefs (and by certain kinds of metaphysical philosophy). This rigid cosmological divide coincides with another modern Western Christian sharp conceptual dichotomy, that of ‘the holy’ versus ‘the profane’ of Émile Durkheim and Rudolf Otto.
Jan G. Platvoet 2014, ‘A Battle Lost or Won: The 1970-1975 Utrecht Ecumenical Experiment in Academic Theology’, in Cephas N. Omenyo & Eric B. Anum (eds.) 2014, Trajectories of Religion in Africa: Essays in Honour of John S. Pobee. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 49-84.