Witchcraft and Its Implications for Women Reconsidered

Violence, Gender and Religion among the Yoruba

In: Religion and Gender
Judith Bachmann University of Heidelberg Department of Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology, Faculty of Theology Germany

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In Africa, witchcraft as both a practice and concept is characterized by diversity. A number of places such as Nigeria hold a general suspicion that women are more likely to be witches. This gendered social practice has been studied in anthropology. However, African women’s reactions and interests regarding practices associated with witchcraft (identification, deliverance, healing etc.) have not been studied sufficiently. And in particular, women’s multi-religious backgrounds have often been ignored. This article argues that research on witchcraft in Africa carries a burden of epistemic violence. It has often left the ascription of witchcraft to women unquestioned and at the same time, overlooked women’s own diverse religious perspectives and the interplay of this with witchcraft belief. Based on fieldwork among the Yoruba in Nigeria, the article analyses how witchcraft is ascribed as female, how women are impacted by this and how they position themselves within this social practice. It discusses these gender dynamics as related to the effects of epistemic violence and agency. Results show that women participate in the production of witchcraft as an imagined exclusive female practice, yet their dealings with witchcraft also implicate agency and the possibility of socio-religious change.

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