6th Europan Conference on African Studies (ECAS 2015)
The panel "Religious Revival, Secularism and Contested Public Spaces in Contemporary Ethiopia" addresses the coexistence and the competition between the Pentecostal movement, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam, in negotiating political identities and occupying public spaces within the Ethiopian secular state. (Deadline call for papers: January 15, 2015).
Ethiopia is a secular state constitutionally separating politics and religion, attempting to confine the latter to the so-called private sphere. While in the West secularism has been associated with decreasing religious allegiances and the emergence of competing narratives for orientations, in a context like Ethiopia we see continued religious commitment, intense revitalization activities and increasing religious pluralism and competition.
The panel examines the current dynamics of Ethiopia’s secularism and religious discourses and the multifaceted role played by religion in the context of political reconfiguration after the death of former PM Meles Zenawi. It points to how a hegemonic regime has limited the access of religious actors to the public space, and how the authoritarian enforcement of its assertive secular principle have exacerbated the relations between the government and religious communities, particularly the Muslims. At the same time, the panel analyses how the policies aimed at marginalizing religion have produced separate and highly dynamic religious spaces – also in the Ethiopian diaspora -, where spiritual actors compete among themselves and with the government in defining political identities, constructing social imaginaries, legitimising moral economies and occupying public spaces, leading to increasing political and inter-religious tensions.