Original Research - Special Collection: Negotiating diversity in Christian Communities

Politics of faith: Transforming religious communities and spiritual subjectivities in post-apartheid South Africa

Haley McEwen, Melissa Steyn
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 1 | a3489 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i1.3489 | © 2016 Haley McEwen, Melissa Steyn | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 May 2016 | Published: 23 November 2016

About the author(s)

Haley McEwen, Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Melissa Steyn, Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


The enforcement of racial segregation during apartheid was aimed not only at regulating public spaces, residential areas and the workforce, but also at shaping the subjectivities of individuals who were socialised to see themselves through the lens of a white racial hierarchy. The ideology of white supremacy and superiority that informed apartheid policy was largely justified using Christonormative epistemologies that sought to legitimate the racial hierarchy as having basis in Holy Scripture and as an extension of God’s will. At the same time, apartheid policy fragmented religious communities, entrenching race as a central component of spiritual subjectivities. Twenty years after the end of apartheid, the legacy of apartheid continues to shape the lives and opportunities of all people living in South Africa, despite many gains made in working towards a non-racial, non-sexist democracy. While much scholarly attention has been paid to postapartheid contexts of work, residency and recreation, relatively little attention has been paid to spaces of worship. This is surprising, given that religious belief and practice are widespread in South Africa in the first instance, and that Christian belief, in particular, was so central to the social imaginary of apartheid, in the second. Thus, in efforts to transform society and advance social justice, it is imperative to consider diversity, difference and otherness from the perspective of, and in relation to, contemporary religious communities and contexts. This article will consider some of the factors shaping dynamics of diversity and difference within the context of religious communities in South Africa, over 20 years into democracy.


Diversity; Critical Diversity Literacy; Transformation


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1. Potentialities of faith-based organisations to integrate youths into society: The case of the Deobandi Islamic movement in South Africa
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HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies  vol: 74  issue: 3  year: 2018  
doi: 10.4102/hts.v74i3.5062