A Scriptural Economy: Magics, Meanings, and Massages of Lagos (Abstract)

Definitions of “scripture” fetishize and sacralize the phenomenon. “scripture” is treated as sacred (texts to be revered), and most assuredly, written with a capitalized initial, “S”. But “scripture”, beyond its axial hegemonic characterizations, is forged through human relationships. Using comparative methodological approaches found in the writings of Wilfred Cantwell Smith (What Is Scripture?) and Vincent Wimbush (White Men’s Magic), this paper examines scriptural imaginaries in the ideation of Lagos as a city, a heavily-freighted terminology, as a modern invention.

As a signifier within Africa’s postmodernities Lagos embodies the consistencies and contradictions of “scripture”, namely opportunities for formations\ re-formations\ deformations\deform-(n)ations within pre- and postcolonial ambiguities, as windows unto understanding human complexities, or what it means to be human. Thus, while scriptures are not always about sacred writings, the British annexation of Lagos as its prized possession via the fiat of scriptural logics shows, as Wimbush argues, that “texts and literacy mark where power is in the world.” Yet, scriptures are not about texts per se; rather, performances of scriptures (signifying and scripturalizing practices) reveal that “individuals are the vehicles of power.”

In this paper references to (emergent historical) sites of scriptural formations establish the transmutability and translocality of scriptures. By citing the preponderance of religious presences within her, Lagos assumes the reiterations of the indwelling magics, meanderings, meanings, and massages of Henry Louis Gates’ significations or Wimbush’s scripturalization.

Finally, processes of nativization and normalization appear to transfer from the early empire dealers to new localized institution builders of society that would not spoil.

Terms: scripture, scripturalization, postcolonial, signifying, power relations

Dr. David Olali presented this paper during the 61st Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association held in Atlanta, GA (November 29-December 1, 2018).
The theme of the events was Energies: Power, Creativity and Afro-Futures.

Want more details about this presentation, contact Dr. David Olali: david.olali@cgu.edu.

III-P-2 The Crossroads of Spiritualities: New and Old Religions of Lagos in Transition (Lagos Studies Association)

Chair: Babatunde Babalola, University of Cambridge

Scriptural Economy: Magics, Meanings, and Massages of Lagos, by David Olali, Claremont Graduate University

Ecclesiastical Polity, Christian Nationalism, and Religious Freedom in West Africa, 1880-1884, by Adrian M. Deese, University of Cambridge

Muhammad Jumat Adesina and the Yoruba Madhist Movement in Lagos and Ijebu, by Oliver Coates, University of Cambridge

Discussant: Adedamola Osinulu, New York University

Heritage as Life-Values: A Study of the Cultural Heritage Concept — By Johan Josefsson and Inga-Lill Aronsson

This piece is a summary of an original research by CH Associates Johan Josefsson and Inga-Lill Aronsson.

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This article discusses the establishment and development of the heritage concept and how it finally found itself being called into question and at risk of being discarded. The article uses a multi-analytical frame including the phenomenological approach. The narrative begins in a European context with Sweden as the starting point.

In Swedish the word for heritage is ‘kulturarv’. The everyday notion and use of the separate elements kultur (’culture’) and arv (’legacy’) does not lead to any severe disputes as long as the words are not combined into kulturarv. In this compound, the semantic meaning becomes complex, ambiguous and diffuse, complicating the use of heritage in, for example, the tourist sector.

The authors also note the patriarchal overtones of heritage as expressed in the World Heritage Convention official emblem, where the Spanish and French denominations of our world heritage are Patrimonio Mundial and Patrimoine Mondial respectively (patrimonio < Latin ‘patrimony, fatherly heritage, fatherly descent’; pater ‘father’). Further, the authors argue that heritage nominations, or the lack of these, could be results of intersubjective processes governed by power groups such as ’heritage experts’ and politicians.

As a way of challenging the present heritage concept, enriching and bringing it into the 21st century, the article introduces the concept of ‘life-values’ that Josefsson during fieldwork in Albania formulated as an alternative (or complement) to the traditional heritage concept. Inspired from the phenomenological concept of lifeworld, life-values refer to phenomena that provide people with life-enhancing meanings.

Compared to heritage, life-value is a better term to describe the subjective dimension of things in general, regardless if they consist of material objects or abstract elements. Hence, life-values are free from the prerogatives and power aspects involved in the selection and interpretation of heritage, as in the present and much used “Authorized Heritage Discourse” (AHD). Life-values are omnipresent and transcendent and have no temporal or spatial limits. They might be a better description of how humans, seen as constituting of mind and body, to a higher degree respond to the world, before discourses, labels, and concepts such as ‘heritage’.

An interview study, conducted by Josefsson during his internship at the National History Museum in Tirana, showed that 56.9 % associated cultural heritage with the “past”, while 25 % associated heritage with “culture”. Furthermore, 22.2 % associated history with immaterial heritage. The result shows clearly the conceptual nexus of culture, cultural heritage and immaterial heritage are all associated with identity.  This is in accordance with the introduced notion of life-values.

This ambiguity can also be seen in all the different forms that heritage is manifested, such as in “uninherited heritage”, and “inherited non-heritage” – a term that Josefsson developed during a field trip to Mount Dajti National Park outside Tirana. The first mentioned refers to disputed heritage, and the last one refers to not officially proclaimed heritage, which is still heritage in the sense that it has been passed on to further generations.

Why heritage could be disputed, contested or ‘dissonant’, is because heritage represents different values for different groups and individuals – symbols that are strong enough to fight for. This is in conflict with for example UNESCO which, in its World Heritage List, assigns fixed, innate and universal values to something that is changeable, negotiable and non-universal. The interpretation and selection of heritages becomes subject of a subjective-objective dilemma.

The article concludes that the cultural heritage concept is ambivalent and shows similarities to the concept of culture that some years ago was said to be everywhere and therefore nowhere. Consequently, the heritage concept has slipped into a semantic vagueness and arbitrariness that makes it difficult to use analytically.

Insights and further research

In order to understand heritage in a holistic way, every dimension of it needs to be explored. This includes not being limited to the institutionalized heritage, but to go beyond the concept to see what else is there that can add something to the discourse. We argue that this “other things” could be explored through studies of the mundane and subjective aspect of heritage, and of cultural/natural “things” in general. In this sense, phenomenology is a useful theory to build the investigation of heritage on. Suggestions for methodology include an extended application of field studies involving the senses and the body, as well as visual research and in-depth interview studies. One option is to apply the research method of ‘grounded theory’, where the coding and memoing could play an important part. The memos do not have to be in the form of written field notes, but could also be photographs, videos, etc.

Besides continuing the studies of the phenomena in Albania, a holistic perspective on heritage requires analyses of other, in terms of (heritage) tourism, less recognized areas, for example, Kosovo. This opens up for a comparative study, where the grounded theory could be tested further.

Conclusion

This article is based on Josefsson’s master’s thesis in museum and cultural heritage studies, Uppsala University, supervised by Aronsson. The heritage research would benefit from a standpoint where the heritage concept and other related established concepts are not taken for granted, because when they are, they tend to block our mindset; it is hard to go outside the box, when the box is discursively closed. Albania offers a good opportunity to study the phenomena in a general way, let them be official heritage or mundane things, due to the lack of an intensive (heritage) tourism. Hence, there is a chance to explore heritage before it is called ’heritage’.

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Publication details: 
Johan Josefsson and Inga-Lill Aronsson, “Heritage as Life-Values: A Study of the Cultural Heritage Concept,” Current Science, 110: 11 (2016).

MLA Citation: Johan Josefsson and Inga-Lill Aronsson. “Heritage as Life-Values: A Study of the Cultural Heritage Concept — By Johan Josefsson and Inga-Lill Aronsson.” ComparativeHeritage.com. 26 Jan. 2018. https://comparativeheritage.com/2018/01/26/heritage-as-life-values-a-study-of-the-cultural-heritage-concept-by-johan-josefsson-and-inga-lill-aronsson

Institute for Signifying Scriptures 

‘The Yoruba Sango and Jesus in Judgement’ explores tropes of power in human relations, especially as these help our understanding towards comparative scriptures—in the things that scriptures do, are made to do/are used to do, rather than what they mean à la Vincent L. Wimbush, scholar of Religion and Director Institute for Signifying Scriptures  (Theorizing Scriptures). Persons and communities often arm and equip themselves with what they consider to be divinely-inspired explanations of the supernatural origins and ownership of their “owned scripture.”

Subsequently, as psycho-political instruments, users of scriptures activate and deploy same in socio-cultural contexts in order to allow scriptures do stuff for them, not merely as conduits of hermeneutics; after all, messages from the gods require a messenger to deliver them.

This paper uses the theme of fury from two cultures—ancient-contemporary Yoruba and first-century Christianity, in juxtaposition with the deployment and use of anger, threat, and punishment in the US Presidency of Donald Trump—to examine scripture as an Anglo-freighted concept for the imaginaries of power and privilege, or as a response to both power and privilege.

First of all, who is Sango, and what is his connection with fury? How does establishment of a Sango-fury nexus help our definitions in Religious Studies? Does engaging these subjects—Sango, fury, and scripture—help us in understanding Donald Trump as a Christian and politician: a businessman sui generis? Therefore, this paper is preoccupied with providing responses to the above issues, questions, and concerns, in relation to the use of scripture in a power forge.

Islam, Identity, and Postcolonial Politics in Nigeria

Proselytization proclivities downplay the historical and cultural significance of Islam and its civilization in West Africa. This is a general introduction as well as an entry into the making of contemporary Islam in West Africa: its routes and reasons for expansion. Considering the fact that a postmodern discourse on Islam in the region tends to ignore ongoing spatial contests between the religion and its other dominantly axial partner, Christianity, in establishing presence and de-stabilizing essence of the ordered other.

The piece uses the case of Nigeria as an example of the use of religious expansionism for purposes that Vincent L. Wimbush terms scripturalization: the phenomenon and use of scripture [a freighted concept for power] in negotiating community and stakes.

Why Comparative Heritage is Important

The reasons why “Comparative Heritage” is important are not immediately obvious, and for obvious reasons, too.  First, nearly everyone feels comfortable talking about the positive and nice sides about their history.  And again, that happens too often, for obvious reasons.  Conversations around “heritage” often always assume a monotonous definition about some distant past, woven around the fine memories of the heritage inheritors.  It feels like talking some nice things about an ancestor.   Or, in another way, with “heritage,” one might assume that by that is meant our collective memory of the past, and how those moments past had shaped (us into) the present. These are ways, but not the only ones, of looking at heritage.

Fundamentally, Comparative Heritage (CHER) transitioned from Living Effective Heritage, to accomodate some critical reflections and thought-provoking conversations on “what is often implied, meant, done, unsaid/stated with heritage.”

So what’s the significance of that?

While the Comparative Heritage in unable to claim that it has the perfect panaceas to the hydra-headed conundrums of psychosocial and econopolitical dilemmas,  CHER brings in a rather unique trajectory into the conversation on social and cultural formations, community understandings and transformations, as well as what humans do with themselves along the lines of defining heritage–individualistically and communistically.

Every culture of violence begins with the privileging of one heritage construct over and against (others).  Take some historical examples for illustration: Bosnia, Arab-Jewish, Nigeria-Biafra (Hausa/Igbo).  An even closer-at-home example is the subject of racism as a global evil domiciled in the United States.  While the dominant meaning/understanding of racism is often linked to color– many cultures around the world deem that “white people” are ghosts/spirits/apparations)–by racism here is meant racial bigotry, which is not exclusive to skin color imaginings!

Central, therefore, to understanding the work of the Comparative Heritage project and the conversations it facilitates are its inclusiveness of the subjects, social landscapes, and topics that fall beyond the center, straddling the peripheries, into the domain of human d/evolving and innovative capacity for invention; where there are no lacking in the foregoing, history is witness to the unrestrained will of the human person, not only to master nature or to conquer natural forces but also to desperately pursue after power for the ultimate subjugation of their fellow humans.

Comparative Heritage begins with the initial theoretical assumption that heritage is the cycle that wheels human beings. Due to the human imaginative power and capacity to draw from the past, both real or invented, heritage becomes a negotiating tool, which often develops into fully comprehensible suppressive political weapons of social ordering.

Whether for good or ill, “heritage” deserves a second, critical look.  It is this benefit of the doubt which permits us the opportunity to begin to develop basic initiatives for respect and understanding for the legitimacy of others who do not belong in our own circle of heritage.

A Preview of Biography of Darkness

As the center’s Research Fellow in Global Leadership (2012-13), I helped conceptualize ideas about African American heritage at the Interdenominational Theological Center; fortunately, I was the institutes’ defacto director.

Due to institutional dynamics, I repositioned my research activities (2013-beyond) with Living Effective Heritage (now Comparative Heritage, or CHERIT). One of my ideas was the conceptualization of “A Biography of Darkness,” an expeditious travel into the tortuous ascription of cultural heritage among Africans and African Americans. 

I am grateful to Professor Ademola Dasylva, who graciously accepted to attend, and indeed gave the keynote lecture for the conference. I am grateful also to everyone who supported the project, especially my supervisor, Dr. Charles E Thomas Jr

My special thanks to The Reverend Dr. Ronald Peters, the (then) ITC President, know no limits. In his address entitled “Ideology and Globalization: The Case for Omoluwabi the Yoruba Concept of the Personae,” Professor Dasylva knitted together culture tropes from Africa and their ideological embodiments relative to modernity and globalization trends and identity formations.

Continuing the heritage research, the CHERIT project invites partners and collaborators in various (intersecting) fields of academic and/or practicing scholarly pursuits. 

To watch Professor Ademola Dasylva’s full lecture, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDAIxf9NLss.