H. Dilger u.a. (Hrsg): Affective Trajectories

Affective Trajectories. Religion and Emotion in African Cityscapes

Dilger, Hansjörg; Bochow, Astrid; Burchardt, Marian; Wilhelm-Solomon, Matthew
Religious cultures of African and African diaspora people
320 S.
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Édith Nabos, Leipzig University

The introduction chapter starts with an ambitious claim: "this volume is the first of its kind to focus comparatively on the multiple articulations between the varied affective and emotional states of people living in and beyond urban Africa, on the one hand, and the religious practices, ideas, and infrastructures present in African cities that impact them, on the other" (p. 1). Engaging with bodies of literature and theoretical schemes, namely affect, emotion, sentiment, religion, and the production of urban spaces in postcolonial African cities and beyond, which have not been studied and thought together before, this innovative ensemble of diverse and original case studies offers a more than relevant contribution to the different fields addressed. Furthermore, the book inserts itself into the relatively recent proposition in urban studies to question the study of cities beyond the normative and western-centered approaches. As an interdisciplinary call for rethinking the study of postcolonial African cities and beyond, both theoretically and methodologically, the book considers and explores the religious intimacies of the dwellers and (of) the city, through the study of experiences of affect and emotion building and co-constituting their interdependencies and vice versa.

As the editors suggest in the introduction chapter, in line with the choice of using "affective trajectories" as title and as guiding and theoretical concept (p. 15), the book does not aim at finding a consensus at defining what is affect (p. 4) in particular associated with religious practices, but, by contrast, attempts to formulate a panel of different theoretical and conceptual contributions according to each author’s research background and empirical case studies. Indeed, the manifold struggles of framing the meaning and use of affect, emotion or sentiment are emphasized by the authors (see particularly Peter Lambertz or Benedikt Pontzen), who also address methodological concerns. Numerous chapters, which are all based on extensive ethnographic research, highlight the challenges of investigating matters of emotion and affect, in particular along communities of city dwellers with different religious beliefs and belongings than these of the researchers or who deal with contexts of displacement and uncertainty. This includes reflections on privileges and unequal relationalities, on ethical responsibilities of researching - the chapters of the book are in most cases written by white male researchers - and its implications on the field and on academic writings. Alessandro Gusman's chapter is particularly outstanding in this regard; methodologically choosing not to analyze the affective trajectories of dwellers that one is "not able to feel", as a Congolese refugee the researcher was working with pointed out (p. 222f.). After an inspiring reflective part, he rather proposes to present what he calls a "documentary in words", leaving the words to the refugees, narrating their own perceptions, religious experiences and belongings in movement.

Indeed, the great part of the papers deals with case studies engaging with city dwellers in situation of movement or displacement, and in more or less persistent or repetitive transitional states of (re)framing identities and belongings. Such as explored on board of a Christian hospital Mercy ship on the West African coast (Isabelle L. Lange), in Pentecostalist Churches and communities in Bilbao and in Johannesburg (Rafael Cazarin & Marian Burchardt), or in Congolese Churches in Kampala (Alessandro Gusman), the integration into religious communities builds not only a refuge but also regulates the ambivalent emotional states of the participants, who often just lately converted. Providing a space where migrants can stay and wait, but also offering support and comfort for people navigating uncertainty in the fluidity of the quotidian, those religious infrastructures propose a material but moreover emotional and reflective mooring along their tumultuous trajectories. "Islam is thus fundamental to their home-making", Benedikt Pontzen states (p.185) citing Adogame 1998 and Eade 2012, in the only paper centered on Muslim practices, discussing the Muslim community in Asante, a predominantly Christian region in southern Ghana.

In this beautifully written paper, the author argues that the practice of praying, the salat, materializes the process of becoming and being Muslim and thus shapes, through its different ways of being practiced, the belonging to but also the division within a heterogeneous Muslim community in the city as well as transnationally. On a different level, the vibrant contribution of Murtala Ibrahim explores the construction of impressive architectural places of worship in the periphery of Abuja by a Muslim (NASFAT) and a Christian (Christ Embassy) congregation, as mirrors of the modern buildings of the new capital's city center. The author demonstrates that the frequenting and appropriating of these places of worship engage the dwellers with their own "city of dreams", while they are not explicitly participating in the effervescence of the city center. Through an interesting comparative perspective, this contribution is the only one which does not observe Christian or Muslim communities isolated, but compares them both in terms of building infrastructures, performances, collective religious and also extra-religious activities, exploring the role of the affective spaces in the dweller's representation of and relationship with the city.

Furthermore, the question of the collective appropriation and transformation of material spaces and infrastructures through religious practices is present in other chapters of the book. Isabel Mukonyora's paper deals with a community of Masowe Apostles engaging with the "urban wilderness" in the uninhabited outskirts of the city of Harare, as symbolic and spiritual fields. Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon's chapter looks at Christian rituals and ancestral practices of cleansing insecure "black buildings" in Johannesburg. In a similar perspective, Peter Lambertz explores the collective action of nettoyage of the unhealthy urban environment of Kinshasa by the followers of Église Messianique Mondiale; cleaning and cleansing streets, public and private spaces. In these representations, the transformation of material urban environment into spiritual, affective spaces chase the bad spirits and thus in a certain manner the uncertainty and fear, producing spaces to inhabit and belong. While these articulations clearly highlight the mark of the personal or collective religious experiences on the fabric of the city, they also show how the postcolonial city, by its constraints and fluctuations, also shapes religions and the way they will be experienced and improvised, embedding the creativity and needs of the city dwellers.

Overall, this collective work offers very rich and original reflections and case studies embracing diverse theoretical and conceptual challenges. The various methodological approaches add up to the quality and importance of this book. As the editors admit in the introduction there is a certain imbalance concerning the religions studied and the geography of the case studies: only two contributions (Murtala Ibrahim and Benedikt Pontzen) deal with Muslim communities, the rest of the contributions explores Christian communities in particular neo-Pentecostals religious practices. In terms of geographical representativity and diversity, this book only deals with capital cities or metropolises (except chapter by Benedikt Pontzen), and five of the present eleven contributions examine case studies from southern Africa. That being said, this book leaves a very inspiring mark for further research in other big or small African cities and beyond - revealing the potentialities of the intertwinement of emotion, (im)materiality and spirituality to see and navigate cities.

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