By REV. (DR .) JOSEPH WANDER A, PROF. ESTHER MOMBO & DR . HALKANO WARIO
Mention St. Paulâs University and Jumuia Conference Centre in Limuru and one is wont to remember the biting cold of Northern Nairobi, a controversial 1966 conclave that set in motion Jaramogi Oginga Odingaâs exit from KANU and Kenyaâs vice-presidency, the big names heading the African Church that studied in the area, a seemingly harmless lecture by lawyer Gitobu Imanyara that would later see him detained during Kenyaâs one-party era, and the riveting literature of the areaâs foremost author â and father of the Kenyan novel â Professor Ngugi Wa Thiongâo.
Between July 4 and 8, 2016, however, the Center for Christian-Muslim Relations in Eastleigh â an initiative of St. Paulâs University â convened a conference on Faith and (in) Security in Africa at the Jumuia Conference Centre in order to create the opportunity to probe the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that can help explain the place of religious traditions and (in)security on the continent today.
For more than a decade, since the 11 September 2001 terror attacks in the United States, the world has witnessed the growing prominence of religious groups in local and trans-local conflicts that set them against States or members of rival ethno-religious traditions.
In an increasingly secularized world, the return of religion tothe centre of complex global political and security discourses is both interesting and worrying.
From the clashes between rival religious groups in Central Africa Republic to protracted skirmishes and kidnapping by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria; from sieges and bombings by Al-Shabaab in East Africa to large-scale civil wars by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); in numerous other similar examples in almost all continents, the need to interrogate the place of religions in global conflicts as both cause and potential solution is more than urgent.
In a mediatized world, people and ideas flow between regions,providing religious groups with the capacity to reach out to co-religionists across national borders, hence posing danger to the sovereignty of nation-States to monitor and deter threats.
Groups across the world in zones of conflicts offer convincing narratives, appealing ideological discourses and enticing benefits both in the world âHere-and-Nowâ and in the âHereafter.
Many governments across the world have enacted legislation geared towards curbing acts of terrorism by religiously-motivated political groups that are often associated with attacks on peace and security.
Resultant use or abuse of powers by State machineries targeting members of specific traditions under the rubric of fighting terror has also been cited in a number of countries as infringing on human rights and freedoms.
There has also been heightened strain in interfaith relations within individual countries and regions, especially in Africa, Asia and Europe, with a rhetoric that presents religious actors not only as disturbing to secular and democratic order, but also as potential allies towards a democratic order.
Thus, all is not lost, as similar interfaith alliances and intra-religious organizations have played an increasingly critical role in mediation and the peace building process at national and transnational levels.
However, in a world in which religious fundamentalism, conservatism, militancy, terrorism and radicalization have come to define the present day image of faith traditions, religion has been seen as a dangerous social phenomenon rather than as an ally in reining in insecurity, enhancing good governance, promoting inter-ethnic or faith cohesion and growing cordial citizen-state relations.
Causes and manifestations of religiously- motivated violence will be examined at the conference to explore the responses of State and non- State agencies, pressure groups, donor countries and interfaith forums to protracted religious conflicts.
The conference also problematizes media depiction, reportage and framing issues of religion and security in Africa and reflects on the impact of the âWar on Terrorâ on the human rights of citizens within post-colonial African States, in addition to examining how theological education can contribute towards an understanding of the relationship between faith and security.
As a model of multidisciplinary engagement and interaction, the forum aims for a balance of academic discussions and grass-roots-based deliberations on the place of faith traditions in relation to emergent issues of security and cordial co-existence.
As such, senior and junior scholars, religious specialists and practitioners, youth and women leaders, State actors, human rights advocates, security experts, the diplomatic and press corps l joined the St. Paulâs University community to reflect on theological, theoretical and conceptual reflections on religion and violence; the role of religious texts as a motivation for and solution to religiously-instigated violence and breaches of security; and the role of State and non-State actors inreligiously-motivated violence within and across Africa.
Already, Egerton University, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, the Centre on Religion and Global Affairs,Dan Mission of Denmark,the Volkswagen Foundation of Germany, Duke Divinity School and Columbia Theological Seminary have joined in ensuring that the Limuru conference enjoyed the widest possible participation from disciplines such as theology, religious studies, political science, law, anthropology, social geography, sociology, media studies and related areas.
As in the past, Limuru is securing its place as the home of critical thought.
The writers are the organizers of the conference. (@firstname.lastname@example.org)