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On April 28, 2020, Dr. Jacob Olupona of Harvard University presented the GTU's Annual Surjit Singh Lecture in Comparative Religious Thought. Dr. Olupona's lecture is titled “Rethinking the Study of African Indigenous Religion in the 21st Century."
This lecture considers the study of African indigenous religions in the academy today. In response to often diffuse, misrepresented, and misplaced ideas on what African indigenous religions are, this lecture reconceptualizes African indigenous religions in the contemporary moment. Interrogating African religious performances, how their contexts shape them, and how the academy studies them, the lecture reframes and repositions pedagogical and methodological approaches for the study of African indigenous religions via a comparative lens. The lecture advocates for scholarly engagement that contemplates the complexity and diversity of African religions, and explores the future of African religious traditions in the 21st century. Additionally, it asserts the use of suitable frameworks able to address issues particular to the contexts these religions are in and encourages dedicated scholarship attentive to the vital and unique character of these religions, their practitioners and devotees both on the African continent and in the African diaspora.
Dr. Jacob K. Olupona is a noted scholar of indigenous African religions, who has served on the Faculty of Divinity and Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University since 2006. His current research focuses on the religious practices of the estimated one million Africans who have emigrated to the United States over the last 40 years, examining in particular several populations that remain relatively invisible in the American religious landscape: "reverse missionaries" who have come to the United States to establish churches, African Pentecostals in American congregations, American branches of independent African churches, and indigenous African religious communities in the United States. His earlier research ranged across African spirituality and ritual practices, spirit possession, Pentecostalism, Yoruba festivals, animal symbolism, icons, phenomenology, and religious pluralism in Africa and the Americas.
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