The School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics (SRPC) in the College of Humanities hosted the 40th Annual Congress of the Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA), from 15 to 16 August 2018.

The Congress, held at UKZN’s Howard College campus, brought together more than 50 religion scholars from across southern Africa, the UK, EU and Japan. Themed Religion, History and Materiality, the Congress featured a wide array of sessions including witchcraft, clothing, gender, language, marginality, ethics, aesthetics, economics and education.

ASRSA President, Professor Maria Frahm-Arp, said, ‘This is an exciting and historic year for ASRSA as we celebrate our 40th anniversary. It is exciting because it provides us with an opportunity to not only celebrate the history of ASRSA, but also launch the Festschrift for Professor Martin Prozesky, one of our celebrated intellectuals and world-renowned ethics specialist, who is also a founder member of ASRSA and founding editor of our journal.’ ASRSA was founded at the then University of Durban Westville (now UKZN) in 1978.

UKZN’s Dr Federico Settler, a specialist in the Sociology of Religion, delivered the keynote address titled Race and Materiality in African Religious Contexts.

As an expert on race and religion, Settler examined recent scholarship on materiality and religion, pointing out that ‘race has been neglected when religion scholars privilege materiality (visuality, space, senses) and ritual studies at the expense of Black subjectivity, often leaving the Black subject as an extension or artefact of the religious and ethnographic contexts being studied.’

In his argument, Settler also explored the importance of the ‘turn to Black/ African materialities’ of existence, especially with regard to what this turn implies for the ‘location of the Black body in the taxonomy of things,’ and ‘how particular bodies are scripted or erased, in the critique of imperial religious discourse,’ in the study of religion in postcolonial contexts.

He also importantly pointed out that ‘we cannot ignore Black embodiment, as it represents disruptions to what constitute religion, and [also] then centring race with respect to ways of knowing and being in African religious contexts.’

Another highlight of ASRSA 40 was the hosting of a Gandhi Memorial Lecture commemorating the historical, philosophical, spiritual and ethical legacy of Mahatma Gandhi 70 years after his assassination in India. A renowned Gandhi scholar, Professor Judith M Brown (Oxford), was hosted by SRPC, UKZN, and delivered the Gandhi Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, 15 August 2018.

Frahm-Arp said, ‘This particular conference has given us an opportunity to reflect on the history of religion in southern Africa as well as some of the key trends in religious practices at the moment. In the age of Neo-liberal Capitalism, religions are deeply engaged with questions of materiality and the different papers reflected and examined how religions engage with the material world.’

Reflecting on the conference as a whole, Frahm-Arp said, ‘It was an exciting programme and the line-up of papers reflected the interesting work that is happening in the scholarship of Religion Studies over a broad spectrum.’ She also indicated that the ASRSA editorial team will devote at least one of their journal issues, of the Journal for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (JSR), to the best of the conference papers following the review process.

The JSR is available at:

https://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_issues&pid=1011-7601&lng=en&nrm=iso

and, on JSTOR’s Open access platform at: https://www.jstor.org/journal/jstudyreligion

The Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, Professor David Spurrett congratulated all those who helped to organise the conference, including the local organising committee under the leadership of Dr Sibusiso Masondo and Ms Beverly Vencatsamy, who both did a sterling job. ‘They set a standard that will be difficult to achieve in upcoming conferences at UKZN,’ he said.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photograph: Albert Hirasen