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Seminar in African History / Moral Panics, Witchcraft and Ritual Murder in Colonial and Post-colonial Africa




It is a generally accepted principle that the deeper characteristics of societies become particularly apparent to the observer at moments of strain, or indeed when the society cracks in some way or other. In colonial and post-colonial Africa, such moments are manifested, above all, by the emergence of witchcraft cleansing movements, of an increased number of rumours of witchcraft, or witchcraft accusations, and by a rise in the number of murders for the purposes of ritual. In this course, a number of such episodes, spread across the continent and in time from the nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries, will be investigated. As with all such courses, the precise contents will be developed in the course of the interaction between the students and teacher, which is the prime site of discussion and thus of learning. Moreover, the contents will be driven by the regional interests of the students. Thus, while the main examples given below refer to Southern Africa, it is perfectly possible that in practice the cohort of students will prefer to concentrate on matters concerning West Africa or wherever. Should this be the case, then alternative cases will be chosen for more detailed analysis. It is also possible that the students’ interests will be widely spread over the African continent. Should this be the case, then broader intra-continental comparisons will be possible, to the great benefit of the students (and their teacher.) In the nature of things, practical instruction in the objects of this course will not be provided.


To gain a thorough understanding of African history of the 19th and 20th centuries, in order to critically engage with debates concerning moral panics, witchcraft and ritual murder in Colonial and Post-colonial Africa.
To conduct research with a variety of primary and secondary sources and present research findings in a coherent manner.




Research seminar.


Paper of +/- 7,000 words, presentation and class participation.




Robin Horton, Patterns of thought in Africa and the West, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993, esp Ch. 7, “African traditional thought and Western Science”, (also in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 1967), pp. 50-71 en No. 2 (Apr., 1967), pp. 155-187.

The rest of the literature will be announced during the first session.


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Prof. dr. R.J. Ross


Language of instruction English.

This research seminar is also offered as part of the BA curriculum in African studies = Werkgroep Afrikaanse Geschiedenis code: 5733V2070