UKZN Academic Re-elected ASRSA President
Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics (SRPC), Professor Johannes Smit, was re-elected President of the Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA) at the Association’s recent annual congress.
Under the theme: “Emerging Trends and Trajectories in the Study of Religion”, the congress mapped out the main research focuses of ASRSA for the next few years.
To facilitate this, Smit together with Emeritus Professor Martin Prozesky, and two doctoral students, Beverley Vencatsamy and Cherry Muslim, conducted a workshop on: The Current State of Religious Studies in South Africa and Future Prospects. The outcome will be circulated as a report to members of the association as well as published.
Papers of exceptional quality were delivered with topics covered including the founding and significance of new religious movements; dialogues on the impact of religions in societies, especially in Africa’s developmental states; religion and gender advocacy; religion education and human rights education; the politicization of religion; religious migrancy, and the prevalence and significance of religion in social media.
‘On the African continent, religious organisations and institutions function at many levels, but none is more important as their work in the areas of emotional and community support, food security, housing, clothing and shelter provision,’ said Smit. ‘They often work with and support some of the poorest communities. Among others, this fact provides the strongest evidence that religion is one of the most significant social phenomena on the continent.’
Reflecting on the title of his address: “Intellectualising Religion”, Smit said the vast variety of religions active in post-militarised Africa also placed academia under an obligation to intellectualise them.
‘The religions have a vast variety of functions and we need to intellectualise them in terms of their broader cultural transformation impacts as well as their more local emotional, social and socio-economic significance. Even more important, we need to analyse the deeper dimensional levels in terms of which they function, ie their beliefs, narratives and motivational impacts, religious moralities and the value they add to the quality of life of people,’ he said.
‘Religious rituals and religious experience likewise form part of the deeper religious significance of the religions. The nature of these dimensions and the ways in which they articulate with health and wellness but also contextual developmental challenges, constitute very fruitful fields of research.’
Smit was also elected Editor of the ASRSA SAPSE publication: The Journal for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa, indicating UKZN’s leadership role in the area of the intellectualising of religion on the African continent.
Smit said during his term as Editor he hoped to lay the foundations for robust Humanities research in religion in Africa as well as further afield. This will be in addition to plans congress made for future research projects.
- Melissa Mungroo