The history of the African Association for the Study of Religions (AASR) is intimately connected with that of the International As­so­ci­­ation for the History of Religions (IAHR). The AASR was founded at an IAHR Regional Conference at the University of Zimbabwe at Harare, Zimbabwe, in September 1992. And since it was formally admitted as an IAHR affiliate in the XVIIth IAHR World Con­gress in Mexico City in 1995, AASR members have increasingly played prominent roles in the IAHR, as witness the recent IAHR elections during the XIXth IAHR World Congress in Tokyo, in which Prof. Rosalind Hackett and Prof. Gerrie ter Haar, who are both founding members of the AASR and served for many years in AASR executive positions, were elected as IAHR President and Vice President.

AASR Roots

The roots of the AASR lie in an IAHR conference con­vened in Marburg, Germany, in June 1988 by Prof. Michael Pye, IAHR Gen­e­ral Secretary since 1985. Its theme was The Institutional Environment of the Study of Religion. Its purpose was ‘to explore the in­sti­tu­ti­onal and ideological constraints on the study of religion to be met with in various parts of the world’ (Pye 1989: 7). It sought to un­der­stand why the academic study of religions was strong in rich industrialised nations with a secular constitution and either a liberal Prot­­es­tant­, or laicist, or a Buddhist/Shinto tradition, but weak where Catholic and Orthodox traditions ruled; and weaker still in the Mar­xist nations behind ‘the Iron Curtain’, and in the Muslim world.

Apart from pa­pers examining the strengths or weaknesses of the study of religions in those particular parts of the worlds, two papers on its de­vel­opment in Africa south of the Sahara were also read in that conference by McKenzie (1989) and Platvoet (1989). Their analyses caused the IAHR Executive to commission Platvoet to organise a working group towards establishing an IAHR af­­fi­liated structure for African scholars in religions outside the two IAHR na­tional affiliates in Africa: the Nigerian Association for the Stu­dy of Religions (NASR), which had been founded in 1976 and admitted as IAHR affiliate in 1980; and the Association for the Stu­dy of Religions in Southern Africa (ASRSA) that had been founded in 1979 and admitted to IAHR also in 1980. Though ASRSA had am­bitions wider than the Republic of South Africa, it was isolated academically by apartheid and had remained restricted to South Af­ri­ca.

When Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 and apartheid began to be de-established, the IAHR-working group contacted the ASRSA-executive with a proposal to organise a conference on the aca­demic study of the religions of Africa, indigenous as well as im­mi­grant, in Africa. Its outcome was the first ever IAHR conference in Africa, organised by Jim Cox, then a Lecturer in Dept. of Reli­gi­ous Studies, Classics & Philosophy in the University of Zimbabwe, as local organiser, and Jan Platvoet as international or­gan­i­ser on behalf of the IAHR. It was held from 14 to 18 September 1992 in the University of Zimbabwe, at Harare, Zimbabwe, con­ven­ing 36 participants from Africa, Europe and North America. Its theme was the study of the religions of Africa in academic institutions in Af­ri­ca.

The papers read in this three day conference were all presented by scholars posted in universities in Africa except for three. Two were read by Jacob Olupona, a scholar of Nigerian descent posted in an American university; and one was read by Michael Pye, IAHR General Secretary on the intercultural strategies of the IAHR. The papers read were published in 1995 together with two papers by Platvoet surveying the religions of Africa and the study of religions in the universities of Africa (Platvoet, Cox & Olupona 1995).

AASR Foundation

In the concluding session, the participants unanimously voted to establish the African Association for the Study of Religions and to seek IAHR affiliation at the next IAHR World Congress in Mexico City in 1995 as its first regional and global association: re­gi­onal by be­ing open to any scholar of religions posted in academic institutions in Africa, and global by gathering in also scholars of the re­li­gions of Africa posted in uni­versities outside Africa.

To achieve this, a steering committee was appointed which consisted of a co­or­di­na­tor, a treasurer, a publications’ officer, and the repre­sen­tatives of the five AASR ‘regions’. Prof. Jacob Olupona (University of Ca­li­for­nia, Davis) was elected as coor­di­na­tor; Dr. Rosalind Hackett (University of Tennessee) volunteered to serve as Treasurer and Dr. David Westerlund offered to head the AASR publications sub-committee. The representatives appointed were Dr. Friday Mbon (University of Calabar, Nigeria) for West Africa; Dr. Teresia Hinga (Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya) for East and Central Af­ri­ca; Dr. Ab­dul­ka­der Tayob (University of Cape Town, South Africa) for Southern Africa; Dr. Rosalind Hackett (University of Tennes­see, Knoxville, USA) for North America; and Dr. Gerrie ter Haar (KTU, Utrecht, The Netherlands) for Europe.

Aims were formulated and in order to finance them it was resolved that a substantial annual membership fee was to be paid by AASR members in Europe and the USA. A first aim of the AASR was that it should serve as forum for multilateral communications be­tween scholars of the religions of Africa. One means to do so was to establish a newsletter. Abdulkader Tayob and Gerrie ter Haar volunteered to serve as its editors. The promotion of publications on the religions of Africa, especially by scholars posted in African universities, has been another major aim of the AASR for two reasons. One is to assist scholars in African universities to have their books published both in and outside Africa. By the latter, in order that they may participate in the developments in the academic study of religions worldwide. By the former, they may combat Africa’s ‘book famine’: due to the ever deteriorating exchange rates between the leading currencies and those of the nations of Africa, the libraries of African uni­versities have become ever more depleted of foreign periodicals and books because their prices are exorbitant. Dr. David Westerlund (University of Uppsala, Sweden) volunteered to serve as AASR Pub­li­cations Officer.

IAHR Affiliation

AASR at once applied for IAHR affiliation. In 1993, the International Committee of the IAHR met in Paris and recommended that the AASR be affiliated. In 1994, it had grown to over 120 members. In 1995, the AASR was formally admitted to the IAHR during the XVIIth IAHR International Congress at Mexico City from 5 to 11 August.

First AASR Elections

The first AASR General Meeting was also convened during that congress, and in it the first AASR Executive was elected. It con­sisted of Prof. Jacob K. Olupona (University of California, Davis) as President; Dr. Jan G. Platvoet (Leiden University) as Vice Pres­i­dent; Dr. Abdulkader Tayob (University of Cape Town) as General Se­­cretary; Dr. Rosalind Hackett (University of Tennessee) as Treasurer; and Dr. Gerrie ter Haar as Member of the Executive.

The re­pre­­sentatives for the several AASR regions continued in their offices with two exceptions: Dr. Mary Getui (Kenyatta Uni­ver­si­ty) was ap­­pointed AASR Representative for East and Central Africa after Dr. Teresia Hinga had moved to DePaul University in Chicago, USA; and Dr. Friday Mbon shared his post as AASR Representative for West Africa with Dr. Christopher Ejisu (Univer­ity of Port Har­­court). Dr. David Westerlund, Dr. Gerrie ter Haar and Dr. Abdul­ka­der Tayob continued in their offices as AASR Publication Of­fi­cer and Editors of the AASR Newsletter.


Important events in this period were the following. The AASR Newsletter was published twice a year from April 1995 onwards. The AASR Constitution was published in AASR Newsletter no. 5 (April 1996). It stipulated in article 4 that members are required to pay an annual membership fee; and in article 5 that the AASR will endeavour to hold a major regional conference in Africa at least once every five years. In 1998, Prof. Rosalind Hackett resigned as Representative for North America and AASR Treasurer because of her work as Director of the academic programme of the XVIIIth IAHR Congress, that was to take place in Durban, South Africa, in 2000. She was replaced in these two offices by Dr. Simeon Illesanmi (Wake Forest University).

Dr. David Westerlund, together with prof. Jacob Olupona, edited the AASR-series Religions of Africa. By 2000 four volumes had appeared in it with dif­fe­rent publishers: Plat­voet, Cox & Olupona 1995; Cox 1997; Ilesanmi 1997; and Tayob 1999. In a projected series of minor research pub­li­cations, one vol­ume appeared: Amanze 2000.

From 27 to 30 July 1999, the First AASR Conference in Africa was held in the Amani Conference Center in Nairobi, Kenya. It was organised by Prof. Mary Getui (Kenyatta University) and Dr. Jan Platvoet (Leiden University) and supported financially by the IAHR, which granted it the status of an IAHR Regional Conference; by the AASR; by the Dutch Association for the Study of Religions (NGG), and most significantly by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. Its theme was ‘The Religions of East Africa in the Age of Globalisation’.

It served three purposes:

survey developments in East African religions, indigenous, Chris­ti­a­n, Muslim, oriental and new religious move­ments as well as secularism in East Africa, and developments in their study in East Africa;
produce a text­book on them for use in the universities of East Africa;
to assist in the foundation of an IAHR-af­fil­iated Eastern African Association for the Study of Religions (EAASR
The conference was attended by some sixty scholars, forty five from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and fifteen from other parts of Africa, Europe and North America. All papers, some twenty, were presented by scholars from East Africa. Fourteen of these have been published re­cently (Mugambi & Getui 2004). The EAASR was founded shortly after the con­fe­rence and admitted into the IAHR in its XVIIIth Congress at Durban, South Africa, in early August 2000

In 2000, the IAHR, together with ASRSA and AASR, organised its first ever IAHR International Congress in Africa, in Durban, South Africa, from 4 to 10 August, with Prof. Rosalind Hackett in charge of its academic programme as IAHR Deputy General Secretary, and Prof. Pratap Kumar of the University of Durban-Westville, as congress director.


In the AASR elections during that congress, Prof. Jacob Olupona was elected for a second term as AASR President; Dr. Grace Wamue (Kenyatta University) became AASR Vice President; and Dr. Jim Cox accepted to serve as both AASR General Secretary and Treasurer.

Dr. Abdulkader Tayob resigned as Representative for Southern Africa and as Co-Editor of the AASR Newsletter. He was succeeded as Representative for Southern Africa first by Prof. Isabel Apawo Phiri (University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa). When she resigned in 2001, Prof. Johannes A. Smit (University of Durban-Westville) graciously accepted to serve for the remainder of that period. Dr. Adam K. arap Chepkwony (Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya) took over from Dr. Mary Getui as AASR Representative for Eastern Africa, as did Dr. Umar Dan­fulani (University of Jos, Nigeria) from Dr. Friday Mbon for West Africa, and Dr. Teresia Hinga (DePaul University, Chicago, USA) from Dr. Simeon Ilesanmi for North America. Only Prof. Gerrie ter Haar continued in her office as AASR Representative for Europe.

Prof. ter Haar, however, resigned as Co-Editor of the AASR Newsletter. Dr. David Westerlund too resigned as AASR Publication Officer. He was succeeded in this office by Dr. Simeon Ilesanmi. Dr. Jan Platvoet and Mr. Patrick Maxwell (University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg) were appointed editors of the AASR Newsletter. When major changes in his university forced Maxwell to abandon that post in 2002, Dr. Matthews Ojo (Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria) was aked to serve as co-editor for the rest of that period. They published another ten issues of the AASR Newsletter since then, but of a substantially larger size, improved lay-out and more academic content. From no. 21 onwards, its name was changed to AASR Bulletin to reflect these changes.

Dr. Platvoet also took charge of the AASR Register of Members, of which he published a printed version in 2001, together with the AASR Constitution. By that time, the AASR had grown to 144 members.

Due to a major shift in Dr. Ilesanmi’s field of stu­dy, he was not able, as AASR Publication Officer, to develop David Wester­lund’s sig­ni­fi­cant work in the field of AASR Publication. Since 2000, however, three new series of publications have emerged which are linked to the AASR in various ways.

One is explicitly as an AASR-series. It is Religion in Nigeria published by the AASR Pub­li­cations Bureau in Ni­ge­ria. The series and the bureau are directed by Prof. Joseph Kenny o.p. and Prof. Jacob Olu­pona. However, as the title states, this series is limited to the stu­dy of the religions of Nigeria. One volume has appeared in this series (Ige­no­za 2003).

The second series is Re­li­gion in Con­tem­po­rary Africa directed by Jim Cox and Gerrie ter Haar. Though it has no formal link with the AASR, it breathes its spirit and pursues its aims in that it attempts also to further ex­­plicitly opportunities for publication for Af­ri­can scholars of the religions of Af­rica and make their publications available out­side and inside Africa. The series is published by Afri­ca World Press in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, USA. So far one volume has appeared in it (Cox & ter Haar 2003).

A third is the se­ries African Religion in Global Con­texts, directed by Prof. Jesse Mugambi of Nairobi University and published by Acton Press in Nairobi, Kenya, which has also several other series of publications by scholars of religions and theologians in East Africa. Acton Press negotiated permission with some North Atlantic publishers for an African edition of books on the religions of Af­ri­ca in Africa and the ‘diaspora’ in African Religions in Global Contexts. Two volumes by Gerrie ter Haar have been published in it so far (ter Haar 2001a; ter Haar 2001b). Acton Press has also published the revised and selected proceedings of the First AASR Con­fe­rence in Africa, held in Nairobi in 1999, at which the Eastern African Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) was found­ed (Mu­gambi & Getui 2004).

The Second AASR Conference in Africa was held from 5 to 8 February 2004 in the University of Ghana, at Legon, Ghana. It was or­ganised by Prof. Elom Dovlo (University of Ghana) as local organiser, and Prof. Abdulkader Tayob on behalf of the AASR. They were later joined by Prof. Matthews Ojo. It was supported financially by the IAHR, which granted it the status of an IAHR Regional Conference; by the University of California, Davis; by ICCO in The Netherlands; and most liberally by the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Mod­ern World (ISIM) at Leiden, The Netherlands.

Its theme was The Role of Religions in the Socio-Cultural Transformation of West Africa, with special reference to the role of religion in conflict and peace in West Africa; the relations be­tween religion and the state in the region; the role of voluntary organisation in the development and articulation of West African re­li­gions; and how West African religions were affected by globalisation. It drew some forty participants, in particular from Ghana and Ni­geria, but also from Kenya and The Gambia, and outside Africa from UK, USA and The Netherlands.

Apart from five keynote ad­dresses, by Profs. Jacob Olupona, Kofi Asare Opoku, Brigid Maa Sackey and Abdulkader Tayob, some twenty papers were pre­sented in five panels. Many of them focused on aspects of the violence and strife that have resulted in recent years from religious radicalism and contestation between religions. The keynote addresses and some of the papers are being edited for publication by the conference organisers.

Again another AASR foundation member played a prominent role in the preparation of the next IAHR World Congress: Prof. Gerrie ter Haar served as Chair of the Academic Programme of the XIXth IAHR Congress, which was held from 24 to 30 March 2005 in Tokyo, Japan.


During that congress, AASR elections were held for the period 2005-2010. Prof. Jacob Olupona, who had served the two terms which the AASR Constitution allowed, was succeeded by Prof. Elom Dovlo as AASR President. Dr. Grace Wamue was re-elected Vice Pres­ident, and Dr. Afe Adogame (Bayreuth University) succeeded Dr. Jim Cox as General Secretary. Dr. Cox, however, consented to continue as Treasurer for another term in order to supervise the development of an overall financial accounting system for the five AASR regions.

As Prof. Gerrie ter Haar had also served as AASR Representative for Europe for two periods, she was succeeded in that office by Dr. Henk van Rinsum (Utrecht University, The Netherlands), as was Dr. Teresia Hinga as AASR Representative for North America by Prof. Kathleen O’Brien Wicker, who had just retired from Scripps College, Claremont, California, USA. In Africa, Prof. Adam arap Chepkwony and Prof. Johannes A. Smit were re-elected as Representatives for East and Southern Africa, and in West Af­rica, Dr. Umar Danfulani was succeeded by Prof. Matthews Ojo, who also continued to serve as AASR Bulletin Co-Editor together with Dr. Jan G. Platvoet, who was also appointed as AASR Web Master and charged with the task of developing this AASR internet site. Lastly, Prof. Jacob Olupona was appointed AASR Publication officer in the first meeting of the new AASR Executive Com­mit­tee during the Tokyo Congress.

During that meeting, a few important decisions were taken. One was that the general dispensation from an annual membership fee for AASR members in Africa was to be discontinued: all AASR members were to pay an annual membership fee, and only fee-paying members were entitled to receive the AASR Bulletin and to receive a password enabling them to read the Members-Only page of the proposed AASR internet site. That site was to have three pages: a static, public page; and two dynamic, interactive pages: one for AASR-members only; and one for the AASR Executive. An electronic version of the AASR Register of Members will be included into the Members-Only page. It will show that the AASR had grown to 190 members in 2005. Lastly, the new AASR Executive decided that the Third AASR Conference in Africa was to take place in 2007; and that possibly a fourth one would be organised before 2010.

The Third AASR Conference in Africa has taken place in Botswana from 8 to 13 July, 2007. It was granted the status of IAHR Regional Conference, Its theme was Health, Healing and the Study of the Religions of Africa

The Fourth AASR Conference in Africa will be held in Nigeria in 2009.

01.04.2008 Jan G. Platvoet, AASR Web Master


Amanze, James N., 2000, Islam in Botswana, 1882-1995. Uppsala: Uppsala University / Almqvist & Wiksell International (= Uppsala Research Reports in the History of Religion, 15; published in cooperation with the AASR).

Cox, James, 1997, Rational Ancestors: Scientific Ra­ti­o­nality and African Indigenous Religions. Cardiff: Car­diff Academic Press (= Re­ligions of Africa, 3).

Igenoza, Andrew Olu, 2003, Polygamy and the African Churches: A Biblical Appraisal of an African Marriage System. Ibadan: African Association for the Study of Reli­gions (= Studies in Nigerian Religions, 1)

Ile­sanmi, Simeon, 1997, Re­ligious Pluralism in the Nigerian State. Athens (Ohio): Ohio University Center for In­ternational Studies, (= Religions of Africa, 2).

McKenzie, Peter, 1989, ‘The History of Religions in Africa’, in Pye 1989: 99-105.

Mugambi, J.K.N., & Mary N. Getui (eds.) 2004, Religions in East Africa under Globalisation. Nairobi: Acton Publishers.

Platvoet, Jan, 1989, ‘The Institutional Environment of the Study of Religions in Africa South of the Sahara’, in Pye 1989: 107-126.

Plavoet, Jan G., James L. Cox & Jacob Kehinde Olupona (eds.) 1995, The Study of Religions in Africa: Past, Present and Prospects; Proceedings of the Regional Conference of the International Association for the History of Religions, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1992. Cambridge: Roots and Branches.

Pye, Michael, (ed.), 1989, Marburg Revisited: Institutions and Strategies in the Study of Religion. Marburg: diagonal-Verlag.

Tayob, Abdulkader, 1999, Islam in South Africa: Mosques, Imams and Sermons. Gaines­ville: University of Florida Press (= Religions of Africa, 4).

Skip to content
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Facebook