David Graham Sizwe Jeffery

Thesis title:

Secularism within political parties in South Africa


This study investigates why South Africa has a very religious population, and yet a politics that has (so far) remained secular. I focus on the African National Congress (ANC), the long-dominant political party, and the role of religion in their members’ electioneering and debates about public policy at a branch-level. This study employs political ethnography at ANC branches, as well as an historical analysis of the changing relationship between religion and politics in the ANC’s history.

The study of secularism is concerned with how the categories of the religious and the non-religious are defined and negotiated. However, this scholarship has focused on the US and Europe, with some (limited) coverage of the Middle East and North Africa. There are still few studies of secularism in Sub-Saharan Africa – and this is especially true of South Africa. This impoverishes theories of secularism, which are strained in application beyond ‘the West’.

This study furthers a decolonial understanding of secularism in a post-colonial context that is significantly under-researched. It will further our understanding of the nuances of religion and African nationalism, both at present and in the 20th century, as well as how the boundaries of the public sphere and private belief are negotiated beyond the political and religious elite. It is the first study to comprehensively investigate secularism in South Africa through fieldwork, rather than archival research.

First supervisor:

Daniel DeHanas


13-Politics, Public Policy & Governance



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