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Journal for the Study of Religion

On-line version ISSN 2413-3027
Print version ISSN 1011-7601


NTHOI, Leslie. Kereke Ya Sephiri: A Study of a Secret Society in Botswana and South Africa. J. Study Relig. [online]. 2022, vol.35, n.1, pp.1-24. ISSN 2413-3027.

The difference between esotericism and exoterism is unlike the difference between circles and rectangles. It is also not the difference between the size and relevance of a specific body of knowledge in circulation. It is rather the extent of the circulation, acceptance, understanding, and meaning of a particular body of knowledge, philosophy, or worldview, over the spiritual and socio-political life of diverse categories of people in society. The infancy of the academic study of esotericism, as well as its interdisciplinary nature, militate against the crystallization of a universally accepted definition of the term 'esotericism'. The various definitions of the term by researchers consistently relate to their research interests. In line with Faivre's concern with the forms of thought of esoteric movements (Faivre 1996), as well as the preoccupation that Versluis has with gnosis generation in esoteric movements (Versluis n.d), our study of Kereke ya Sephiri in Botswana and South Africa examines a) the cultural and religious contexts in which Frederick Modise, a gnostic in his own right, generated the underlying gnosis of his secret society, and b) the import of the content of this visionary mystical revelation in the spiritual and social lives of members of this secret society1. The study of the Setswana term, Kereke ya Sephiri (church of a secret, referring to a Christian-based secret society), is a study of African esotericism in South Africa and Botswana. The principal academic interest in the study of esotericism lies in our quest to identify the fundamental tenets of the worldviews of the specific esoteric society, the eclectic nature of its philosophy, and how this philosophy relates to the orthodoxy of the day (Christianity in this instance). We do so by concentrating on the form of thinking, engendered by esoteric practices. Esoteric groups do not appear or exist within cultural voids. For this reason, by identifying the eclectic or syncretic nature of the fundamental philosophy (gnosis) of these groups, we trace the cultural influences involved in the emergence and consolidation of these worldviews and philosophies. This study shows that African esotericism is not always antithetic or subversive of dominant or institutionalized Christianity.

Keywords : Kereke ya Sephiri; secret society; mystical gnosis; initiation; bakgethwa; bakulwane.

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