Nelly Mwale

Nelly Mwale

Nelly Mwale

Nelly Mwale is a PhD candidate at the University of Zambia (Religion and Education), holds a Masters of Education in Religious Studies and a Bachelor of Arts with Education from the University of Zambia. She is a lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Zambia. Her research interest include Religion and Education, indigenous Knowledge and Cultures, History of Christianity in Zambia and Religion in the Public Sphere. Her recent publications include:

1. 'University of Zambia: Contextualization and Contribution to Flagship Status in Zambia: Flagship Universities in Africa' (2017),

2. 'Navigating through institutional identity in the context of a transformed United Church of Zambia University College in Zambia' (2017) in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies,

3. 'Trailing a Missionary Teacher’s Position and Contributions in Zambian Religious Education' (2017) in Journal of Religion & Education.

Religion in the Public Sphere: Religious Identity and Discourse in Football in Contemporary Zambia

Cognisant of the fact that religion in the twenty-first century has become publicised, this paper explored the use of religion in football as a window for understanding the fusion of religious identities and the resulting portayed perspectives in twenty-first century. The inquiry arose out of the observable growing trend of outwardly using religious symbols and practices to evoke supernatural powers in sports. This is in light of the fact that in football, the display of religious, political or racial messages on the shirts is formally not allowed, players who display such are punished.

Being an interpretive case study, the paper drew on documentary analysis in the media, including video recordings of football using the 2017 AFCON under 20 games as unit of analysis. The study established that religious identities in football were largely protrayed through the use of religious practices (prayers before, during and after the games) and religious symbols (sign of the cross, charms). Prominent religious idenities were associated with Catholicism, Pentecostalism and African traditional Religion. The religious practices and symbols were used for purposes of attaining victory. The paper argues that the AFCON under 20 football demonstrated contested identities, with some religious practices and symbols (Christian) being condoned and others condemned as magic (African Traditional Religion). As such while football had continued to be a carrier of religious identities, and largely employed for attain victory, some religious identities (African Traditional Religion) in the public sphere had continued to suffer the negative public perception even when all religious practices and symbols were aimed at evoking the supernatural for the same purpose by footballers and fans. As such, there was need for religious literacy in order to deconstruct and reconstruct the use of religion in the public sphere to promote respect and apprecitaion for all religious identities in sports in Zambia.

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