Interreligious encounter in a West African city: a study of multiple religious belonging and identity among the Yorùbá of Ogbómòsó, Nigeria
Williams, Corey L.
The details of encounters between religious groups in multireligious African contexts and the intricacies of living, belonging, and identifying within such milieux have hardly been explored. In Yorùbáland, the cultural region of the Yorùbá people—and the geographic context of this thesis—the fine grain and vast array of possibilities of interreligious encounter between Christians, Muslims, and adherents of African Indigenous Religions remains largely undocumented in terms of detailed, quality accounts. While most regions of West Africa and even Nigeria exist with a dominant religious tradition, Yorùbáland is a microcosm of the wider region’s multireligious composition, with Christianity, Islam, and African Indigenous Religions all playing prominent roles. The Yorùbá ‘spirit of accommodation’, a phrase often used to describe how Yorùbá culture not only tolerates, but also embeds and synthesises the religious ‘Other’, has created a unique multireligious environ and is undoubtedly one of the optimum contexts in the world to study interreligious encounter within a single ethnolinguistic area. Comprised of fieldwork and research conducted from 2009-2014, this thesis works toward addressing the aforementioned gap in scholarship with two ethnographic case studies of people who simultaneously belong and/or identify with multiple religious groups and traditions in the predominantly Yorùbá city of Ogbómòsó, Nigeria. The first case study examines a new religious group known as the Ogbómòsó Society of Chrislam (OSC). Interreligious encounter in this instance features a group that intentionally combines elements from Christian, Muslim, and indigenous Yorùbá religious traditions, creating dynamic examples of multiple religious belongings and identities. The second case study examines multiple religious belonging and identity at the annual Ogbómòsó Egúngún festival. Interreligious encounter in this instance features 12 individual narrative accounts focusing on each individual’s religious belonging and identity throughout key points in their life. Beyond its important ethnographical contributions, the thesis offers methodological and theoretical insight into approaching religious belonging and identity as complex and fluid processes, rather than static and singular events. It argues that approaches that only allow for the possibility of classifying people in single, discrete categories masks the varied, dynamic, and complex belongings and identities of people in the lived world, many of who live across and within multiple religious groups and traditions.