New book out: Christianity, Sexuality and Citizenship in Africa

My latest book, entitled Christianity, Sexuality and Citizenship in Africa, has  just been published by Routledge. I co-edited this volume with Ebenezer Obadare, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA. It is the outcome of an international research workshop about Pentecostalism and sexual citizenship in Africa that I convened in November 2016 at the University of Leeds.

The book explores the interconnections between Christianity, sexuality and citizenship in sub-Saharan Africa, chronicling the ways in which citizenship in the region has undergone profound changes in recent decades as a result of growing interaction between Christianity and politics, the impact of the HIV epidemic, debates about women’s reproductive rights, and the growing visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

Case stuChristianity, Sexuality and Citizenship in Africadies examine the emergence of Christianity, especially in its Pentecostal-Charismatic forms, as a public religion, and how this emergence has meant that Christian actors, beliefs and practices have increasingly come to manifest themselves in the public sphere. The contributors assess how many political and religious leaders are invested in a popular ideology of the heterosexual family as the basis of nation-building, and how this defines narratives of nationhood and shapes notions of citizenship. Additional case studies focus on the emergence of sexuality as a critical site of citizenship and nationhood in postcolonial Africa, and address the difficulties that LGBT communities face in claiming recognition from the state.

Offering case studies from across sub-Saharan Africa and spanning several academic disciplines and critical perspectives, this book will be of interest to researchers seeking to understand the complex intersections of religion, sexuality, politics and citizenship across the region.

This book was originally published as a special issue of the journal Citizenship Studies.

Table of Contents

1. Christianity, sexuality and citizenship in Africa: critical intersections Adriaan van Klinken and Ebenezer Obadare

2. Masculinity, sexual citizenship and religion in post-apartheid South Africa: a field-theoretical approach Marian Burchardt

3. Pentecostal intimacies: women and intimate citizenship in the ministry of repentance and holiness in Kenya Damaris Parsitau and Adriaan van Klinken

4. The Charismatic porn-star: social citizenship and the West-African Pentecostal erotic Ebenezer Obadare

5. The fantastic fetus: the fetus as a super-citizen in Ghanaian Pentecostalism Nathanael Homewood

6. Pentecostal Apocalypticism: hate speech, contested citizenship, and religious discourses on same-sex relations in Nigeria Asonzeh Ukah

7. Citizenship of Love: The Politics, Ethics and Aesthetics of Sexual Citizenship in a Kenyan Gay Music Video Adriaan van Klinken



Featured as part of 16 Days of Activism Campaign

As part of the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, the Shiloh Project, an international project about “rape culture, religion, and the Bible” based at the University of Sheffield, currently features 16 scholar-activists working in the broad field of religion, gender, sexuality and power. I was invited to be part of the campaign and profile my research on religion and LGBT sexualities in Africa. Please read the original post (dated 3 December 2018) here. I have republished the interview below.

Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do? 

Hello you all! Thanks for the invitation to be part of the Sixteen Days of Activism campaign on the Shiloh blog! The Shiloh project addresses critical issues I’m deeply concerned and care about, so I’m really excited to be associated with it. My name is Adriaan van Klinken and I teach Religion and African Studies at the University of Leeds. Much of my work focuses on issues that speak to the interests of the Shiloh project: religion, gender and sexuality in contemporary Africa.

In recent years, my research has focused on the role of religion in the politics of sexuality in Africa, addressing the violence that is exercised – often in the name of religion – on sexual minorities. Much of that violence is discursive: through language and verbal expressions, LGBT people are demonised, denied their citizenship and human rights, and excluded from the families, communities and societies they are part of. Violent speech is deeply harmful in itself, and it is particularly painful when such speech comes from believers and religious leaders who claim to speak on behalf of God. Yet violent speech has severe consequences, not only for the mental well-being of the people subjected to it, but also for their social, economic and material well-being. Most recently in Tanzania, the governor of Dar es Salaam called upon citizens to report LGBT people to the authorities – referring to the country’s Christian and Islamic moral values. Ten alleged gay men on the island of Zanzibar were subsequently arrested and subjected to anal examinations – a direct violation of their bodily integrity – while many other members of the community live in fear. Obviously, such violence against sexual minorities is informed by socio-cultural and religious norms of gender, in particular masculinity (a theme I’ve worked on extensively in the past), and the patriarchal and heteronormative ideologies underpinning it.

It’s important to keep in mind that in as much as religion is a source of violence against sexual minorities in Africa, it also appears as a site of empowerment. I have just completed writing a book about the use of Christian language, imagery and symbols in LGBT activism in Kenya. As part of that project, I conducted fieldwork with a Christian LGBT community in Nairobi – an African “gay church” – and it was fascinating to observe how they creatively engage Christian belief as a source of affirmation, liberation and transformation.

Although I’m hardly able to make time for volunteering work, I do believe in the value of critical and engaged scholarship as a form of activism. Much of my work has been with local LGBT communities in Kenya and some other parts of Africa, and I try to take seriously the participatory nature of that ethnographic research method called “participant observation”. That comes with its own challenges, but it means that I try to build long-term relationships that are based on trust, friendship and reciprocity. The biggest compliment I received from one of my Kenyan research participants was that through my research I had become an “ambassador” of his community. He then commissioned me to not only share the struggles he and his community members are going through, but also their achievements so far and hopes for the future. In my book I write about the power of storytelling – both for the people and communities telling their stories, and for those hearing them. Indeed I hope that through research and writing I can help African LGBT stories of sexual violence and sexual empowerment (in the broad sense of both words) to be documented and shared.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

The Shiloh Project is already doing an amazing job in carving out a space for discussion and thinking about the problem of violence in relation to gender and sexuality, and as often driven by religious thought and practice. I’m genuinely impressed by the vision of the project and the energy that you have put in it – kudos to everyone involved, in particular to my wonderful colleagues and friends Johanna Stiebert and Katie Edwards! With the risk of broadening the scope of the project too much, I would like to see a broad conception of sexual violence to be explored and engaged in the project. I’m glad that recently the blog has paid attention to the question of male rape, foregrounding how not only women but also men can be violated by toxic forms of masculinity. Yet violence in the area of sexuality also comes in many subtle ways, and having real life effects on a wide range of people, including within LGBT communities. As a gay man myself, I’m personally concerned about, and affected by, the salience of heteronormative and hegemonic notions of masculinity within the male gay community – a community in which men of colour, so-called “effeminate” men, and men living with HIV often encounter discriminatory and stigmatising behavioursThese issues are not usually incorporated under the term “rape culture” narrowly defined, but they reflect deeply rooted violent modes of thought and practice in the area of sexuality.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

In the year ahead, I hope to make use of the publication of my earlier-mentioned book in order to break the silence on some of the issues I have just touched upon. I am also in a process of developing new research: one project with Ugandan LGBT refugees based in Kenya, and another project addressing questions of sex workreligion and activism in Africa. Both projects have the potential to explore new terrains of sexuality and violence, and to foreground the importance of intersectionality (an approach that acknowledges that sexuality is intersected with other categories and structures of power, such as gender, refugee status, social class, etc). I really look forward to working with some of my colleagues at Leeds, such as Johanna Stiebert and Caroline Starkey, on these projects, and to sharing it with members of the Shiloh project. As my research participants in Kenya keep reminding me, another world – a world that is not misogynistic, patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic – is possible. I’m excited to be associated with the Shiloh project that is based on the notion that academic scholarship, in collaboration with other communities of practice, can help advocate that cause for a more just, respectful and humane world.

Looking back at research workshop “Intersecting African, Queer and Religious Studies”

Last week I returned from Ghana, from a research workshop about the theme “Intersecting African, Queer and Religious Studies” (20-21 September 2018). I had convened this workshop together with Dr Rose Mary Amenga-Etego from the Department for the Study of Religions at the University of Ghana.

I met Rose Mary two years ago for the first time, during my first visit to the country when I attended the conference of the African Association for the Study of Religions, which she had organised and hosted at the University of Ghana. That conference addressed the theme “Religion, Sexuality and Identity in Africa and the Diaspora”,  and it provided a space – although contested – to discuss and explore matters of religion, lgbt sexualities, and queer politics in Africa. Following the conference, Rose Mary and I decided that we needed to look for opportunities to move these conversations forward.

In 2017, we applied for a collaborative research grant from the American Academy of Religion, proposing a project aiming at capacity building, training, and network development among African early-career researchers with an interest in African, queer and religious studies. The application was successful, and the workshop in September ’18 was the result.

The workshop brought together a total of 13 participants (including the conveners), from countries as diverse as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. They included master students, PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and lecturers. Their academic backgrounds were wide ranging: from literary studies to sociology, and from religious studies to law and politics. For many of them, it was the first time to be in a space where they could openly and freely engage in discussions about queer issues, and several participants shared experiences at their home institutions where they are discouraged and face institutional barriers to undertake research in this field. The two-day workshop was a safe space for them, and a stimulating space for that matter. The draft papers had been exchanged in advance, and each presentation was followed by a prepared response, after which the discussion was opened up.

In our initial conception of the project, Rose Mary and I imagined to make innovative intellectual moves:

  • Decolonising the methodological and theoretical apparatus in African and queer studies by acknowledging Africa as a site of theoretical possibilities to rethink sexuality and gender;
  • Queering the study of African religions by amplifying its relevance to the critique of mainstream religious studies as a disembodied and heteronormative field of inquiry;
  • Religionising the emerging field of African queer studies by interrogating secular assumptions that religion is inherently homophobic and by exploring how religious beliefs and practices are entangled with and enable queer formations.

The papers prepared by participants only partially delivered on this ambition, as many of them were of a rather exploratory nature. They were also often more concerned with understanding the politicisation of queer sexualities in Africa through religious discourse, than with radically interrogating these dynamics and developing alternative African, queer and religious imaginations. This made us aware of the different temporalities, depending on factors such as institutional context and academic exposure. Yet this is not to say that the papers, and the in-depth discussions following them, were not valuable in their own right. Many critical issues emerged, such as childlessness as a queer issue, changing kinship systems in African societies, and communal conceptions of human rights in relation to sexuality.

Many of the workshop participants are planning to continue their work in this area, and felt nurtured and motivated by the discussions during the workshop, by the new insights they had gained, and the contacts and friendships they had developed. Although the project is now formally finished, the workshop was the beginning of work that will continue, and I am confident that the results will begin to appear soon. I returned home from Ghana encouraged by the intellectual curiosity, academic passion, and political energy of the workshop participants. Clearly, a new generation of scholars probing the intersections of African, queer and religious studies is in the making!

Researcher of the Month – August 2018, Dr Adriaan van Klinken

Religion in Public

Dr Adriaan van Klinken is Associate Professor of Religion and African Studies and serves as Director of the Centre for Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds.

Tell us a little about your ‘research journey’ – how did you get to where you are right now?

 My research broadly focuses on issues of religion, gender and sexuality in contemporary Africa. My interest in this area developed when I was studying for my MA at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and I had a chance to study abroad in South Africa for a few months. I joined an MA programme in Theology, HIV and AIDS at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and ended up writing my MA dissertation on the response of African feminist theologians to the HIV epidemic. From there, I developed the idea for my PhD project, on church-based interventions in gender – specifically masculinity – in…

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Presentation of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo for an Honorary Doctorate of Laws at the University of Leeds

On 17 July 2018, the University of Leeds awarded an honorary doctorate to Reverend Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, for his outstanding work as clergyman and LGBT human rights defender in Uganda. I had the privilege of presenting Senyonjo to the University’s Vice Chancellor, during the graduation ceremony of the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science. At this occasion, I delivered the following citation speech.

Conferment on 17 July 2018 of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, upon Disani Christopher Senyonjo

Presentation address by Dr Adriaan van Klinken


There is a popular conception that Africa is a homophobic continent, and that religion is a force fuelling this homophobia.  If there is one figure who destabilizes this conception, it is Bishop Christopher Senyonjo. His life and work present a counter-narrative of how African religious and cultural traditions can promote human dignity and rights, especially in relation to sexual and gender diversity.

After a short career as a secondary-school teacher, Christopher Senyonjo studied at Buwalasi Theological College in Mbale, Uganda, and at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  He graduated from the latter as a master of sacred theology and with a doctorate of ministry.  He was ordained as deacon in the Anglican Church of Uganda in 1963, and a year later as priest.  Soon after completing his studies in the US, he was appointed as lecturer at Bishop Tucker Theological College at Mukono.  In 1974, Senyonjo was enthroned as Bishop of the Diocese of West Buganda, a position he held for 24 years.

Throughout his career, Senyonjo’s service has aimed at ministering to the marginalised in society and at reconciling divisions in the church.  This took a new direction after his retirement, when he came into contact with people ostracised because of their sexual orientation.  Senyonjo became one of the few religious leaders in Africa who actively support members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and advocate the recognition of their human rights.  Among many other things,

  • Senyonjo has provided pastoral counselling to many members of the Ugandan LGBT community;
  • openly testified against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and was part of a delegation to the Ugandan House of Parliament to oppose it;
  • was founder and executive director of St Paul’s Reconciliation and Equality Centre in Kampala;
  • has advocated within the Church of Uganda the acceptance of LGBT people; and within the global Anglican Communion has spoken up for the recognition of sexual diversity.

In 2012 he received the Clinton Global Citizenship award that honours outstanding individuals for exemplary leadership and ground-breaking work that has effected positive, lasting social change.

Senyonjo has suffered as a result of his courageous leadership.  In 2006 the Church of Uganda stripped him from all his entitlements as ordained minister and retired bishop.  Today is an opportunity for us to recognise him for his service.

Vice-Chancellor, Senyonjo’s commitment to defending the human dignity and rights of socially marginalised people reflects the vision of equality and inclusion upheld by our University.  It is an honour for us to have his name associated with our institution, and it is my personal honour to present to you, for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, the Right Reverend Bishop Disani Christopher Senyonjo.