How to Measure Religious Plurality and Mobility in Sub-Saharan Africa? Lessons from Research in Rural Mali

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: 512
Oral Presentation
Aurelien DASRE , INED, France
Véronique HERTRICH , INED, Paris, France
The study of religious affiliation of individuals in sub-Saharan Africa faces distinct challenges to those encountered in Western countries. The strong influence of traditional religions, coupled with the recent implementation of universalistic religions (especially Christian religions in West Africa) contributed to the adoption of non-exclusive religious practices (syncretism , religion changes) . Even though debates on the plurality of religions and dynamics are present in sociology and anthropology, they are rarely based on statistical data, which would allow measuring the diversity of practices and resulting social differences. Conversely, quantitative studies, although they often collect information on the religion of peoples, ignore the diversity of religious practices and mobility. In this paper we evaluate, based on a case study, the relevance and feasibility of a statistical approach to religious practices, taking into account the complexity and variability of practices in the individuals’ lives. Our data covers a population followed over 25 years in Southeastern Mali, in bwa villages where traditional and Christian religions coexist. A particular strategy, balancing demographic and anthropological approaches, has been developed to capture the complexity of religious behavior. Thus, in the context of a comprehensive biographical survey (2 villages, 3165 biographies), a specific module has been dedicated to religious itineraries. It recorded for each individual the succession of religions over their lifespan, as well as information to approach the level of commitment to the Christian religion and the level of distance taking from the traditional religion. This study contributes thus to sociologists’ and anthropologists’ debates on religious mobility by proposing a formal quantitative perspective and other elements on the feasibility of a complex record of religion in quantitative surveys.