Syllabus Project

Religion and culture in the African historical narrative

Course Description: In this graduate level course, we will explore the role of religion in the African novel. The ties between religion and culture feature frequently in the literature to emerge out of the African diaspora, particularly when viewed as representative of oppression. Religion seeks to establish a norm, and members of a community are expected to conform to the religious expectations. The novels we will read cannot be classified as ‘religious literature’, yet feature religion as a commentary on the colonial, post-colonial, and neo-colonial environments. Looking at these fictional and theoretical works will allow us to ask questions such as what role does religion play in conversations about the historical narrative? Can we separate religion and culture? What do these discussions mean for the emergence of African literature? We will follow themes of religion, identity, and nationalism through a changing political climate, shaping our conversations by drawing on ideas of how these things are presented and represented in the African novel.

Course objectives:

  • to become acquainted with the plots, characterization, and tropology of a number of African landmark works of prose
  • to locate our contemporary understandings of the African diaspora within a context of colonial history
  • to understand the relationship between religion and culture, and to be able to critically apply that understanding to readings of African literature
  • to follow the changing notions of nationalism and identity through a select period of African history

Week 1: Religion and culture in African literature


ACHEBE, C. (1958). Things Fall Apart.


ASAMOAH-GYADU, J. K. (2010). ‘The Evil You Have Done Can Ruin the Whole Clan’: African Cosmology, Community, and Christianity in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Studies In World Christianity, 16(1), 46-62.

MACKENZIE, C. G. (1996). The metamorphosis of piety in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Research In African Literatures, 27(2), 128-138.


ADOGAME, A. (2010). Editorial: Religion in African Literary Writings. Studies in World Christianity, 16(1), 1-5

FANON, F. (1963). On National Culture. The Wretched of the Earth.

Week 2: Religion and nationalism in the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Primary (pick one):

WA THIONG’O, N. (1964). Weep Not, Child.

WA THIONG’O, N. (1977). Petals of Blood.


WA THIONG’O, N. (2004) Recovering the Original. World Literature Today, 78(3-4), 13-15

KAMAU-GORO, N. (2010). African Culture and the Language of Nationalist Imagination: The Reconfiguration of Christianity in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s The River Between and Weep Not Child. Studies In World Christianity, 16(1), 6-26.

URAIZEE, J.F. (2004). ‘Flowers in All Their Colors’: Natios and Communities in Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood. The International Fiction Review, 31(1-2), n.p.


PAGNOUELLE, C. (1985). Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “Journey of the Magi”: Part 2 of “Petals of Blood”. Research in African Literatures, 16(2), 264–275.

SICHERMAN, C. M. (1989). Ngugi wa Thiong’o and the Writing of Kenyan History. Research in African Literatures, 20(3), 347–370.

Week 3: Social morality and the pull of tradition


SOYINKA, W. (1973). Season of Anomy.


MADUAKOR, O. (1980). Soyinka’s Season of Anomy: Ofeyi’s Quest. The International Fiction Review 7(2), n.p.

WARREN, N. (2015). Unto These Hills: Soyinka’s Spiritual Journey in Idanre. Journal Of Pan African Studies, 8(5), 81-91


RAVENSCROFT, A. (1989). Religious Language and Imagery in the Poetry of Okara, Soyinka, and Okigbo. Journal of Religion in Africa, 19(1), 2–19.

KAMARA, G. M.. (2000). Regaining Our African Aesthetics and Essence Through Our African Traditional Religion. Journal of Black Studies, 30(4), 502–514.

Week 4: Religious struggle as a symptom of post-colonial identity


ADICHIE, C.N. (2003). Purple Hibiscus.


IFEANYI, U. (2011). Implications of Religious Fanaticism in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Publications Of The Mississippi Philological Association – 2011, 177-193.

STOBIE, C. (2010). Dethroning the Infallible Father: Religion, Patriarchy and Politics in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Literature and Theology, 24(4), 421-435.

TUNCA, D. (2013). The Confessions of a “Buddhist Catholic”: Religion in the Works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Research In African Literatures, 44(3), 50-71.


ADICHIE, C.N. (2010). A Private Experience. The Thing Around Your Neck.

WALLACE, C.R. (2012). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus” and the Paradoxes of Postcolonial Redemption. Christianity and Literature, 61(3), n.p.

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2 Responses to Syllabus Project

  1. mmagnero says:

    Engaging theme and great text choices presented here! Many of us have included Purple Hibiscus on our syllabi, and what I think is very interesting is seeing all the different ways that we are thinking about Adiche’s novel. Thinking about your focus on religion, one useful text might be Alaa-Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building and the film or TV adaptations, as this might be a way of thinking through representations of religion in Africa as portrayed by the mainstream.


  2. Anne Gulick says:

    Great stuff here. Soyinka’s Myth, Literature, and the African World would be useful, as would Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa.


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