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Title: Christian Fundamentalisms and Women's Rights in the African Context: Mapping the Terrain
Authors: Horn, Jessica
Keywords: Christian fundamentalisms
Resource Mobilization
Religious Fundamentalism
Progressive Activists
Anti-Fundamentalist Response
Issue Date: 2013
Abstract: "Pentecostal churches continue to grow in numbers and activism, the long-range political impact of Africa's vibrant Pentecostal community will become increasingly difficult to ignore. The PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life2. The time has come for us as a women's movement and as feminists to talk about our non-negotiables and the fact that we should not let the church define our rights. Solome Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe, Ugandan feminist and human rights defender. 3 This case study explores the dynamics of Christian fundamentalisms in sub-Saharan Africa and the impacts of fundamentalist doctrine, advocacy and mobilization on women's rights in the African context. It aims to begin to elucidate the ways in which activists understand and define Christian fundamentalisms, highlight the agendas and some of the impacts of fundamentalist activity on women's rights in different contexts, understand the strategies used by fundamentalists, and consider possible counter-fundamentalist strategies that can be pursued. The case study focuses on fundamentalism in Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, as well as fundamentalist actors in mainline Protestant churches. The working definition of religious fundamentalism used here is a morally conservative ideology based on, and justified by, a particular interpretation of scripture that seeks to promote and establish itself as hegemonic. While there is a great deal of debate among African feminists and other progressive activists around the growing impact of Christian fundamentalisms, there has been comparatively little research and written analysis on the agendas, trends and mobilizing tactics of Christian fundamentalist actors. In this context, this case study aims to contribute to the process of mapping the terrain and identifying potential areas for further research and strategic action. This case study draws on interviews with seven African activists and academics working on and/or affected by Christian fundamentalisms,as well as the relatively limited written material on contemporary Christian fundamentalisms in Africa. Religious belief and practice across African countries is dynamic and diverse. However there are also many common strands, aided by the fact that Christianity is global in nature, and by the fact that fundamentalist clergy actively network with, learn from, and replicate discourses and mobilizing strategies applied by fundamentalists in other countries, in particular by the Christian right in the United States. Assessing the perspectives of the activists and academics interviewed, my conclusion here is that religion is a vehicle rather than the root cause of fundamentalist doctrine. In the African context, religious discourses and institutions have been used opportunistically by politicians and extreme conservatives in civil society as a means of pushing their political, ideological and economic agendas on a range of issues from staying in power, to becoming wealthy, to maintaining legal and social gender inequality. The new wave of African Pentecostalism and its charismatic derivates in particular have proved a useful tool to this end because of four key characteristics: a mass popular base (crucial for mobilizing political pressure and votes); a theology that focuses on and celebrates prosperity and accumulation of capital (and can thus facilitate both wealth accumulation and lucrative corruption); a lack of regulation given the absence of a centralized religious authority and weak nonprofit oversight mechanisms in the respective countries; and the lack of a hermeneutic tradition and/or critical debate about scripture, both of the latter two characteristics enabling the doctrine to spread largely unquestioned.5 For politicians, the draw in aligning themselves with Pentecostal and charismatic churches and their influential pastors is the sheer number of people involved in the churches, which constitutes an important base of votes. The fact that the constituencies of these churches are predominantly economically disenfranchised women and men with limited access to information or social and political capital means that they can also be drawn to the church through promises of improvement in their material conditions."
Appears in Collections:Religion and Spirituality

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