Religion – God as Commodity: Religion in Africa and the Diaspora

The breadth of Pentecostalism and Charismatic movements are expanding. Violent extremism informed by so-called religious associations are also rising in Africa.  This panel will engage discourse on religion in Africa and the Diaspora beyond the dualistic trap of hostile cynicism or the complete obliteration of individual consciousness that further infantilizes African peoples. In addition, it will invite the audience to interrogate the significance of religion and its implications on youth, women, social and interfaith relations, economic development, and most importantly Africa’s future.


Jacob Olupona
Professor of African Religious Traditions, Harvard University

Professor Olupona is an immense ocean of knowledge. His current research focuses on the religious practices of the estimated one million Africans who have emigrated to the United States over the last 40 years, examining in particular several populations that remain relatively invisible in the American religious landscape: “reverse missionaries” who have come to the United States to establish churches, African Pentecostals in American congregations, American branches of independent African churches, and indigenous African religious communities in the United States. His earlier research ranged across African spirituality and ritual practices, spirit possession, Pentecostalism, Yoruba festivals, animal symbolism, icons, phenomenology, and religious pluralism in Africa and the Americas.


John Taden

John Taden ,
Doctoral Candidate
University of Texas at Dallas

John Taden is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Dallas. His research areas include the political economy of natural resources, industrialization, international trade, institutions, and religion. Taden explores how factors such as institutions and religion combine to cause or aggravate the effects of resource curses, interfere with the labor-market choices of workers, and stifle industrial growth. He also investigates how resource curses may present both positive and negative spillovers to neighboring countries through cross-border trade and labor migration.

John Taden teaches a class on the Political Economy of Africa and is motivated by the ability to use mathematical models to analyze seemingly nonmathematical phenomena in politics and economics. Taden, an award-winning researcher and young scholar, is also a volunteer host and researcher for the Public Policy Podcast hosted by the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences

Ayodeji Ogunnaike

Ayodeji Ogunnaike
Doctoral Candidate, Harvard University

Ayodeji Ogunnaike is a doctoral student in the Department of African and African American Studies with a primary field in religion. He received his Bachelor’s degree in African Studies and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard College in 2010. After graduating from the college, he served as an apprentice to an Ifá priest and diviner in Nigeria, and has worked with Prof. John Mugane to create an online Ifá library. His current research deals with traditional Òrìṣà worship, Islam, and Christianity in southwestern Nigeria with a special focus on religious identity and the interaction of these three traditions. Deji’s other interests include education, Òrìṣà worship in the diaspora, mythology, and Ajami texts (African languages written in arabic script). He is also a resident tutor in Pforzheimer House.

Zikho Pali is an LLM. candidate at Harvard Law School. Prior to coming to Harvard, she practiced as an attorney for several years and worked for Bowmans South Africa (previously Bowman Gilfillan.Inc), one of the largest law firms in Africa. During this period, she was nominated and appointed by the provincial government as the youngest serving board member at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, the largest hospital in Africa and the third largest in the world. She is currently one of the Co-founders and Vice President of Quro Medical, a private company that is incorporated in South Africa. Quro medical combines the use of technology, mid-level healthcare professionals and specialist oversight to deliver an affordable, quality at-home medical healthcare service.

Damarius Persitua

Damarius Persitua
Research Associate, Harvard Divinity School

Damaris S Parsitau is Associate Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Egerton University, Kenya. Her research interests include Pentecostalism, Gender and Sexuality in Kenya. She is currently a Research Associate at Harvard University’s Women Studies in Religion Program (WSRP) carrying out research on Pentecostalism and Women Bodies in Kenya.