Colonialism in Africa was, among other things, a legal project. Once the period of conquest was largely over, colonial states turned to the task of governance and rule of law. In the process, existing systems of conflict resolution and criminal justice—whether based on Islam or what colonists labeled “African traditional religion”—became codified, and served as the basis for so-called customary courts. Thus, the process of colonial rule produced a particular type of knowledge about Africa that made claims to authenticity but–as we will see–was more often than not an invention of tradition imbricated in local politics and social change. The advent of colonial rule also roughly coincided with the arrival of Christian missionaries to the continent, which likewise gave rise to legal and social change. This was not the first time (nor would it be the last) that religion and law intersected in African history to produce significant change.
The course starts with a critical examination of theories of religion, African Traditional Religion (ATR), as well as the concept of human rights. The course then explores law and human rights in the context of the Atlantic slave trade, and how this time period intersected with Christianity, Islam, and different African Traditional Religions. Next, the course considers how various African religious practices and beliefs got translated into customary law, and in the process changed. Given that much of the intersection of religion and law impacts social relationships, the course then explores a number of case studies concerning gender and sexuality, in the colonial and postcolonial period. Other topics include Christianity and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, environmental human rights and religion in the context of southeastern Nigeria’s oil fields, and global Islamic fundamentalism in 21st century West Africa.
Course satisfies the History II requirement in the Loyola Core.