Displacing the State

Religion and Conflict in Neoliberal Africa

Edited by James Howard Smith and Rosalind I. J. Hackett
Foreword by R. Scott Appleby

From the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies / Kroc Institute Series on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding

In colonial Africa, Christianity has often supported, sustained, and legitimated a violent process of governance. More recently, however, following decades of violence and oppression, churches and religious organizations have mobilized African publics against corrupt and abusive regimes and facilitated new forms of reconciliation and cooperation. It is the purpose of Displacing the State: Religion and Conflict in Neoliberal Africa to illustrate the nature of religion’s ambivalent power in Africa while suggesting new directions in the study of religion, conflict, and peace studies, with a specific focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

As the editors make clear, most of the literature on conflict and peacebuilding in Africa has been concerned with dramatic conflicts such as genocide and war. In these studies, “conflict” usually means a violent clash between parties with opposing interests, while “peace” implies reconciliation and cooperation between these parties, usually with a view to achieving a social order predicated on the idea of the sovereign national state whose hegemony is viewed as normative. The contributors argue that this perspective is inadequate for understanding the nature, depth, and persistence of conflict in Africa. In contrast, the chapters in this volume adopt an ethnographic approach, often focusing on mundane manifestations of both conflict and peace, and in so doing draw attention to the ambiguities and ambivalences of conflict and peace in everyday life. The volume therefore focuses our attention on the extent to which everyday conflict contributes to subsequently larger and more highly visible clashes.

Displacing the State makes two important contributions to the study of religion, conflict, and peacebuilding. First, it shows how peace is conceptualized and negotiated in daily life, often in ways that are counterintuitive and anything but peaceful. Second, the volume uses African case studies to confront assumptions about the nature of the relationships among religion, conflict, and peace.

James Howard Smith is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis.

Rosalind I. J. Hackett is professor of religious studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Contributors: Rosalind I. J. Hackett, Abasi Kiyimba, Isabel Mukonyora, Charles Shaefer, James Howard Smith, Asonzeh F.-H. Ukah, Koen Vlassenroot, Grace Nyatugah Wamue-Ngare.

“Seldom have recent studies of African culture and politics directly treated ‘religion and conflict’ as such; Displacing the State remedies that omission. The authors collectively explore the ways religions and religious movements employ media, gender roles, social organizations, and translocal cultural values to challenge, reform, and otherwise shape political culture and social structures. Their insightful contributions are sure to push the ongoing scholarly debate on the complex relationships among ethnicity, religion, governance, and conflict in Africa.” — R. Scott Appleby, John M. Regan Jr. Director, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame


“In a Kony 2012 world, where activism often trumps analysis, there is a particular need for thickly grained studies that reflect the complex, multilayered nature of the encounter between African politics and religion. In this sense, Displacing the State delivers. Avoiding a spirit of either triumphalism or cynicism, the volume’s eight case studies explore how religious actors instigate conflict, contribute to reconciliation, and ‘foster conflict and peace simultaneously’ . . . . Hackett’s and Smith’s text warrants a wide readership among students of political science, religion, and American studies.” — Journal of Church and State