Weatherhead Research Cluster on Religion in Public Life in Africa and the African Diaspora

Image of Africa Cluster conference panel

Our research cluster’s recent colloquium, “Religion and the Public Sphere in Africa and the African Diaspora,” held on December 7–8, 2018, brought together sixteen scholars to discuss the above-stated theme from various interdisciplinary perspectives. This group included both senior and upcoming scholars, who presented their research as historians, anthropologists, theologians, and scholars of religion more broadly. While we encouraged presenters to focus on historical and ethnographic analyses of religion in specific contexts—particularly those of central importance to such conversations—we also welcomed thematic approaches to the topic that cut across geographical areas and nationalities.

Participants discussed religion in the context of many other topics relevant to Africa and its diaspora, including law, politics, culture, economic development, and more. More specifically, we explored many questions during the conference, including: Why is religion emerging as a central site of contestation in twenty-first-century Africa? How does religion shape the social, economic, and political landscape of Africa and its diaspora? In what ways, if any, does the role played by religion in Africa differ from other (non-African) examples? 

This colloquium, convened by Harvard Professors Jacob Olupona and Marla F. Frederick, was the first of several in a series sponsored by the Weatherhead Research Cluster on Religion in Public Life in Africa and the African Diaspora, and was quite successful. All participants shared their work with one another and received feedback from fellow scholars on how to augment their ideas. We aim to publish articles based on these inspiring scholarly contributions, which will then be compiled into an edited volume—making this work available to other scholars and interested publics. Certainly these brilliant papers are indicative of a broader trend on the horizon, which we will continue to pursue, encourage and support as needed.


Speakers for the session on Race, Gender and Identity during the “Religion and the Public Sphere in Africa and the African Diaspora” conference held on December 7–8, 2018. Left to right: Mary Nyangweso, associate professor of religious sudies and J. Woolard and Helen Peel Distinguished Professor, Department of Religious Studies, East Carolina University; Laura S. Grillo, affiliated faculty, Theology Department, Georgetown University; Todne Thomas, assistant professor of African American religions, Harvard Divinity School; and Katerina Kerestetzi, researcher, French National Center for Scientific Research, Paris. Credit: DeVaughn Kindred Owens