Dr Josiah Taru

/ April 10, 2023/ 0 comments

Introducing Dr Josiah Taru

The Re-imagining Reproduction project has five postdoctoral research fellows working in various African countries. Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing these incredible researchers to our community. We asked each of our fellows nine questions to get to know them better.

Please tell us who you are, what your area of interest/expertise is, and where in the world you work.

I received my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the University of Zimbabwe. Before pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Pretoria, I worked for five years at Great Zimbabwe University, where I remain affiliated as a faculty member. My research interest is in the study of everyday or lived religion. I mainly focus on Pentecostalism in Africa and how it mediates economic, political, and health aspects among believers.

What/who inspired your current research field?

The focus on religion came from the realisation that religion permeates most of life for many in Africa. With the current conversion rate, it is estimated that Africa may become the global centre for Christianity, this points to the centrality of religion among people in Africa. This shift has inspired me to imagine and focus on the religious landscape and the future of religion in Africa in the coming decades. Currently, I am working on a project that examines how religion mediates reproduction among migrants. This project is inspired by Nolwazi Mkhwanazi’s studies on reproduction and caring.

Who are your research/practitioner partners?

I have worked with various scholars working on religion in Africa. Ezra Chitando, Federico Settler, Afe Adogame, Katriena Pype, Thomas Kirsch, and Nolwazi Mkhwanazi provide guidance and mentorship.

What projects have you been working on recently?

I am working on two projects, namely the Nagel Institute-funded Engaging African Realities, where I am part of a team that explores how spirituality and religious affiliation influence responses to COVID-19 and the government-instituted containment measures.

I am also working on a Wellcome Trust-funded project on Reimagining Reproduction in Africa. I am exploring resources and support that religious communities provide for Zimbabwean migrants longing to reproduce in a xenophobic South African context.

What about your work challenges you, and which parts make you smile?

Working within religious spaces comes with a lot of challenges. In these spaces, you encounter people who are vulnerable, sick, and hopeless. Most Pentecostal spaces are emotionally charged. Furthermore, my experiences also shape my spirituality and understanding of the transcendent. Despite all these challenges, I am excited to contribute to the question of how religion attempts – or fails – to find answers to existential challenges that humans face.

What three positive things have you achieved in the last year?

In the last twelve months, I managed to:

    • Present papers at two international conferences. 
    • Organise and host a conference/event attended by scholars working on reproduction in Africa.
    • Publish a book chapter and a book review.

What advice can you give to people aspiring to work in your field?

The anthropological study of religion is an exciting field with endless possibilities. As Africa is emerging as the global centre for Christianity, more funding opportunities will arise. There is a need for a research agenda that aims to study and understand religion from an African perspective. Western concepts and approaches have limitations, and it is time to embrace African perspectives.

What impact would you like your work to have?

Through my research, I hope to dismantle stereotypes associated with Pentecostalism in African societies. For a long time, studies conducted in Africa showed that Pentecostal movements formed by local pastors and prophets did not do much to change the structural causes of poverty on the continent. In recent years there is a shift, as studies are showing that some Pentecostal churches engage in activities that complement government efforts in social welfare. We need to explore further the activities of such Pentecostal movements to understand better the place for religion in public life.  Religion should be considered in social policy, social welfare, public health, and well-being. I hope my research will contribute to conversations between religious actors and state institutions.

If you had the opportunity to change anything in your field: what would it be, how would you change it, and why?

The study of religion in Africa is structured along European models and epistemology. These thought patterns often fail to capture the depth and nuances of spirituality and religiosity in Africa. We need new methodologies that capture the realities on the ground and appreciate African spirituality and religion. This need requires rethinking our methodological and theoretical approaches in the study of religion. Adopting perspectives that speak to Africa’s realities is the starting point in the transformation of how we study and make sense of religion in Africa.

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