Handbook of Research on Development and Religion
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Handbook of Research on Development and Religion

Edited by Matthew Clarke

With eighty percent of the world’s population professing religious faith, religious belief is a common human characteristic. This fascinating and highly unique Handbook brings together state-of-the-art research on incorporating religion into development studies.
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Chapter 10: Indigenous religions and development: African traditional religion

Namawu Alhassan Alolo and James Astley Connell


The recent resurgence of interest in the significance of religion for development has of yet provided little illumination of traditions described as ‘indigenous’, ‘traditional’, ‘folk’, or ‘ethnic’ religions, and the ways in which they influence development. Unsurprisingly, given the number of these traditions, such neglect remains problematic. Although portrayed as marginal, these religions underpin the spiritual identities of many Africans, and they collectively constitute the majority of the world’s religions (Harvey, 2000). While globalization, modernization and the rapid growth of the ‘missionary religions’ may have precipitated the decline of some, in a number of regions, such as South America, China, and parts of Africa, indigenous religions have experienced revival, or have been adapted and incorporated alongside these new faiths (Olupona, 2004). The historical significance of such revival is revealing in its own right, but the fact that these religions are so often clustered around the social, political and economic ‘margins’ of society should more immediately signify their salience for development, particularly in light of concerns over social difference and exclusion, indigenous rights and rural development. If the need to understand the role of religion in development is justified, the place of indigenous religions may prove especially important.

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