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The Occult Does Not Exist: A Response to Terence Ranger

  • Gerrie ter Haar and Stephen Ellis


In recent years, it has become common for academic writers to use ‘the occult’ as an analytical category to which are assigned various types of mystical belief and activity that are quite widespread in Africa, including those often described as ‘magic’ and ‘witchcraft’. It is notable that all these concepts generally go undefined. The present article argues that much of the current academic vocabulary used to describe and analyse the invisible world that many Africans believe to exist is tainted by an intellectual history associated with colonialism. Instead, we propose that much African thought and action related to the invisible world should be considered in terms of religion, with the latter being defined contextually as a belief in the existence of an invisible world, distinct but not separate from the visible one, that is home to spiritual beings with effective powers over the material world.

Au cours des années récentes, il est devenu courant, pour les auteurs académiques, d'utiliser « l'occulte » comme catégorie analytique à laquelle sont affectés divers types de croyances et d'activités mystiques assez répandues en Afrique, y compris celles que l'on décrit souvent comme « magiques » ou que l'on qualifie de « sorcellerie ». Il est intéressant de noter que tous ces concepts sont généralement non définis. Cet article soutient qu'une grande partie du vocabulaire académique actuellement utilisé pour décrire et analyser le monde invisible que beaucoup d'Africains croient exister est entaché d'une histoire intellectuelle associée au colonialisme. L'article propose plutôt de considérer une grande partie de la pensée et de l'action africaines liées au monde invisible en termes de religion, cette dernière étant définie contextuellement comme une croyance dans l'existence d'un monde invisible, distinct mais non séparé du monde visible, peuplé d’êtres spirituels dotés de pouvoirs réels sur le monde matériel.



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  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
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