In Religion, Media, and Marginality in Modern Africa, editors Felicitas Becker, Joel Cabrita, and Marie Rodet provide a timely intervention for media studies in the study of religion. This three-part, ten-chapter edited volume audaciously attempts (but only partially succeeds) in situating “media within a longer history of Muslims’ and Christians’ use of older media forms, including both print and penned manuscripts, not least among them their sacred scriptures” (1). Although the editors establish facts in abundance that “studies of religion and media in Africa typically treat new electronic and digital media in isolation from well-established scholarship on print and manuscript culture in Africa” (2), they fail to go beyond these kinds of orthodox religious studies arguments, which often restrict scriptures or “media” to otherized status, and thereby reify classical taxonomies of texts as scriptures.

The first chapter, Sean Hanrettta’s “Formal Care: Islam and Bureaucratic Paperwork in the Old Gold Cost/Ghana” (38-69), illuminates how imams in the Gold Coast found it necessary to co-opt British licensing, certifications, and “paperization” of weddings in order to be deemed authorized and qualified to perform such ceremonies. Jörg Haustein’s “Provincializing Representation: East African Islam in the German Colonial Press” (70-92), a good refresher on some significant antecedents for contemporary Islamophobia, is a powerful testament to the classical European gimmicks of “rescue” and the civilizing mission through the signing of treaties. Importantly, Haustein’s piece demonstrates both the “genius” of German conquest styles and the challenge that “a different historical logic” (87) ultimately presents to the invaders for the control of a multi-religious landscape such as East Africa. In “A Tin-Trunk Bible: The Written Word of an Oral Church” (93-111), David Gordon argues that “marginal texts hold special powers” (93) whereby imaginaries of marginality signify, and are made to become, proof of divine approbation. Questioning and contesting the use of photographic “figurative representations,” especially of women in Kenya, is the focus of Heike Behrend’s “Photography as Unveiling: Muslim Discourses and Practices on the Kenyan Coast” (112-32). Bruce S. Hall examines emergent forms of media in Mali in “Vernacular Media, Muslim Ethics, and ‘Conservative’ Critiques of Power in the Niger Bend, Mali” (133-53), but remains fixated on “self-consciously folkloric” negotiations of “‘traditional’ ideas” (134). Liz Gunner’s “‘The Angel of the Sabbath Is the Greatest Angel of All’: Media and the Struggle for Power and Purity in the Shembe Church, 2006-12” (154-74) reveals struggles over orthodoxy, contests for power, and the ensuing signifying practices within the community of faith represented by the Shembe Church founded by Isaiah Shembe in 1910.

Asonzeh Ukah takes on charismatism in “Charisma as Spectacle: Photography and the Construction of a Pentecostal Urban Piety in Nigeria” (175-201). Ukah advances a helpful method for the study of emergent media forms in Nigeria, stating that faith is seeing, and seeing is believing. The first piece to radically alter the volume’s overall bent toward orthodoxia  in religious studies scholarship, Kathrien Pype’s “Nzete Ekauka versus the Catholic Church: Religious Competition, Media Ban, and the Virgin Mary in Contemporary Kinshasa,” provokes thinking around the complexities and boundaries of religion and politics through meanderings from Brother Rapheal Minga Kwete to Nzete Ekauka to the pantheon of apparitions. Unlike Heike Behrend’s “Kenyan Coast,” where visibility is vehemently abhorred, André Chappatte’s “Exploring Youth, Media Practics, and Religious Allegiances in Contemporary Mali through the Controversy over the Zikiri” (229-55) offers renegotiations of both allegiance to “local elders” (236) and spiritualized morality, leaving an ever-expansive border interpretation in the use of new and social media. Last but not least, Maria Frahm-Arp admits that, despite Africa’s apparent lags in science and technology, Pentecostal Charismatic Christianity (PCC) manages to hold itself up through the deployment of “cutting-edge technology” (256). By ethnographically portraying the PCCs in South Africa, Frahm-Arp’s “Personal Charismatic Christianity and Social Media in South Africa: Mitigating Marginality, Prosperity Teachings, and the Emergence of a Black Middle Class” (256-79) offers a classic case study for contemporality, presence, and power within black congregations.

Religion, Media, and Marginality in Modern Africa is important because, according to the editors, “the fluidity of social borders as well as their sometimes quite sudden rigidity in situations of conflict, and the multitudes of people facing and seeking to mitigate one or another form of marginalization” (3). There is little to no doubt that the volume is a significant contribution to media and religious studies scholarship. Yet the disparity between the classic text-based study and the critically comparative “media” study, such as Kathrien Pype’s piece, is quite obvious for any serious scholar in that area. Not even “the editors’ specializations in Southern African Christianity, East African Islam, and West African postslavery societies” (3) could be used as justification for the wide gap.

The major drawback of this volume is the overemphasis placed on text-based “world” religions, but, on the whole, Felicitas Becker, Joel Cabrita, and Marie Rodet have done well for giving us even the slightest (additional) hint, through Religion, Media, and Marginality in Modern Africa, that Africa is neither a monolith nor a hopelessly static cadaver for Western examination. In sum, these various chapters weave an evidence-based web of media portraiture alongside a comparative analysis of religious practitioners._____________________________________________________________________________________________________About the Reviewer(s): David O. Olali directs multiple research projects including Comparative HeritageIjaw Project and Ijaw Journalamong others.Date of Review:July 11, 2018_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Details about the book: Cambridge Centre of African Studies, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, February 2018. 320 pages. $69.95. Hardcover. ISBN 9780821423035. 


About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Felicitas Becker is Professor of African History at Ghent University, and a specialist in the history of Islam in East Africa. She is the author of Becoming Muslim in Mainland Tanzania and coeditor of AIDS and religious practice in Africa. Her current work focuses on Islamic preaching, the rhetoric of development and aetiologies of poverty in East Africa.

Joel Cabrita is Lecturer in World Christianities at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of Text and Authority in a South African Church. Her forthcoming book is a history of the transatlantic Zionist movement (The People’s Zion: South Africa, the USA and a Transatlantic Healing Movement).

Marie Rodet is Senior Lecturer in the history of Africa at SOAS. Her research interests lie in the field of modern migration history, gender studies and the history of slavery in francophone West Africa. She is the author of Les migrantes ignorées du Haut-Sénégal, 1900–1946 and coeditor of Children on the Move in Africa: Past and Present Experiences of Migration.


Reviewed via Reading Religion, a project of the American Academy of Religion (AAR):

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


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.


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’.


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.” 26 Jan. 2018.

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.

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