Book: Textbook Gods
Chapter: Stones and Bones: Indigenous African Religions and the “Evolution” of World Religions
James R. Lewis examines the portrayal of indigenous African religions in world religion textbooks. The chapter is an updated version of an article originally published in 1990. In this volume the article is updated by examining the structures of the texts currently available for world religions survey courses. Thus Lewis’ article addresses a tendency which has been stable for over 20 years. The most significant criticism levelled in his survey is the implicit evolutionary structure reflected in the order of chapters, so that smaller-scale traditional religions, such as the aboriginal religions of sub-Saharan Africa, are typically placed at the beginning of these texts as if to suggest that such religions represent an earlier level of religious development. Lewis argues that almost all relevant textbooks continue to embody this structure, but not every survey text groups currently existing peoples together with prehistoric peoples, and not every such book discusses the religions of contemporary indigenous peoples prior to discussing the dead religions of the classical world. Lewis also comments on how textbooks are perpetuated by being reprinted in new editions and gives examples on how outdated misinformation continues to be reproduced in twelfth and thirteenth editions.