Annotated Bibliography: Religion and culture in the African literary narrative
Many African novels that have emerged from the colonial and post-colonial canon have featured religion as both part of the plot, and as a device for theoretical critique. The work of African writers has moved beyond the confines of specialist study to be relevant in the wider academic field, crossing both geographical and theoretical boundaries. Religion, like culture, has an oppressive quality that has continuously been exploited by the colonial West. 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 neocolonial environments. This bibliography serves to illuminate some of the issues surrounding the examination of religion and culture in the African literary narrative, with particular attention paid to representations of Christianity. It will look at religion as a literary theme, religion as a plot device, religious figures as characters in the stories, and the presence of religious teachings in the form of proverbs. By looking at depictions of religion in colonial and post-colonial African literature, one can see the juxtaposition of traditional values against the influx of Christian thought, which is important as we study the progression of such themes through the post-colonial era.
ADOGAME, A. (2010). Editorial: Religion in African Literary Writings. Studies in World Christianity, 16(1), 1-5
This editorial article looks at the presentation of religion in a number of pieces of African literature. Adogame argues that African writing deserves to be taught as parallel to traditional Western colonial narratives, citing classical African literary writings as representative of a genre that has been “translated from obscurity into the global community of the academic study of literature” (1). Adogame references Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) and Ngūgī wa Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child (1964), both of whom are writers featured in the longer research project. This article will be useful in providing a preliminary context for the rest of the research and will locate our understandings of religion in African literature within the contemporary diaspora.
ACHEBE, C. (1994) Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books. Print.
Things Fall Apart is a post-colonial novel written by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian writer whose novel follows Okonkwo, a Igbo village leader working to overcome the changing social climate. In the first of the three parts, Okonkwo relates his personal story through past recollection and current events, religion presents itself in the form of traditional African values. The second and third parts of the novel begin to put in place the British colonial structures that introduce Christian missionaries to Okonkwo’s community. It is these new structures and religions that Okonkwo resists, particularly when he discovers that white men have settled in his village. In Things Fall Apart, religion serves as both a source of conflict and springboard from which Achebe critiques the arrival of British colonialists. This novel will allow an analysis of the effect of colonialism on African religious beliefs while also introducing Christianity to the conversation.
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.
J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu’s article looks at the relation of relation to the wider concepts of community in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It assesses how the novel uses the arrival of British colonialists to reflect how traditional religious values were irrevocably changed and eroded by the introduction of Christianity to Africa. The article raises questions about the nature of community and, as Asamoah-Gyadu puts it, “how the Western Christian missionary enterprise affected the critical ontological value of traditional society” (46). The Evil You Have Done helps us to understand the close ties between religion and culture, leading to a critical application of that understanding to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
WA THIONG’O, N. (1977). Petals of Blood. Oxford: Heinemann.
Petals of Blood is a novel set in the period following Kenyan independence. The lives of the main characters are intertwined due to the ongoing rebellion, set in the village of Ilmorog, which itself faces a new Kenya. Petals of Blood sheds light on the hybridity of religion that arise from the influx of Western culture to Africa. In the novel, religion runs parallel to revolution – in this sense, Petals of Blood can be interpreted as metaphorical to theological conversation. Religion in this novel is a plot device that Ngugi uses to implicate religion, via the church, as a representation of colonial violence and oppression. This paper will examine Petals Of Blood in comparison to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the reaction of Ngugi’s characters to the effects and results of colonialism.
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.
Christina Pagnouelle’s article is a close examination of the second chapter of Ngugi’s novel that also looks in depth at the religious themes present themselves. From the title of the second part – ‘Towards Bethlehem’ – to the continuous references to religion throughout, Ngugi’s second chapter engages with our characters while they undertake both a physical journey, and a journey of spirit. Pagnouelle addresses some of the more blatant references to Christian Biblical narrative, such as the titular Journey of the Magi from Matthew 2, and the parable of the Good Samaritans, placing them against the critical framework of Ngugi’s Petals of Blood.
ADICHIE, C.N. (2003). Purple Hibiscus. New York: Anchor Books.
Purple Hibiscus is the first novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is set against the unstable background of post-colonial Nigeria, and follows Kambili, a teenage girl dealing with her own faith and the religious zeal of her Catholic father. The story deals with religious violence, also the ways in which religion can be used as both a divisive construction and an institution that unifies. In comparison to the other novels, where religion as a literary theme is almost secondary to others, in Purple Hibiscus, religion is the primary force behind plot, progression, character development , and allegorical insinuation. The research paper will examine Adichie’s representations of religion from differing perspectives: that of the devout Catholic, and that of Papa-Nnukwu with his traditional non-Christian religious views.
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.
Stobie examines how Adichie uses faith and religion to demonstrate the effect of Christianity, specifically Catholicism, on a post-colonial African family. Dethroning The Infallible Father argues that Adichie “espouses religious values associated with femininity, and she includes a luminous epiphany of the Virgin Mary” (421). The article examines the ways that Purple Hibiscus draws different cultural norms into a dialogical view of religion, one which illustrates the interplay between the Catholic church and colonial and post-colonial Eurocentrism. In conversation with Adichie’s novel, this article will illuminate some of the ongoing conversations between colonial theory, feminist critiques of colonialism, and how religion plays into both.