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With Christian revivals (including Evangelicals in the White House), Islamic radicalism and the revitalisation of traditional religions it is clear that the world is not heading towards a community of secular states. Nowhere are religious thought and political practice more closely intertwined than in Africa. African migrants in Europe and America who send home money to build churches and mosques, African politicians who consult diviners, guerrilla fighters who believe that amulets can protect them from bullets, and ordinary people who seek ritual healing: all of these are applying religious ideas to everyday problems of existence, at every level of society. Far from falling off the map of the world, Africa is today a leading centre of Christianity and a growing field of Islamic activism, while African traditional religions are gaining converts in the West. One cannot understand the politics of the present without taking religious thought seriously. Stories about witches, miracles, or people returning from the dead incite political action. In Africa religious belief has a huge impact on politics, from the top of society to the bottom.
Religious ideas show what people actually think about the world and how to deal with it. Ellis and Ter Haar maintain that the specific content of religious thought has to be mastered if we are to grasp the political significance of religion in Africa today, but their book also informs our understanding of the relationship between religion and political practice in general.
Stephen Ellis, Director of the Africa Programme at the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Brussels, is a senior researcher at the African Studies Centre, Leiden, and author of The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War (1999). Gerrie ter Haar is Professor of Religion, Human Rights and Social Change at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. She is a specialist
in the religious traditions of Africa. Among her numerous publications is Halfway to Paradise: African Christians in Europe (1998).