As a global religion, Christianity is also an African religion, and increasingly so. During the twentieth century, the number of Christians in Africa rose from an estimated 10 million to 350 million, a dramatic increase from less than 10 percent to nearly 50 percent of the continent's population. Within the predominantly Muslim region of North Africa, ancient Christian communities survive including the Coptic Church, the Ethiopian Church, and the Nubian Church. During the twentieth century, substantial and widespread Christian commitment was generated by new forms of African Christianity that have been variously identified as African independent, indigenous, or initiated churches. Revitalizing traditional African culture, these local innovations in Christianity have also responded to global forces—conquest, colonization, capitalism, and urbanization—while participating actively in the twentieth-century transatlantic expansion of intensely experiential forms of Christianity. This article briefly recalls the history of Christian formations in Africa before focusing on two forces in that history—intercultural translation and economic exchange—that continue to operate in African Christian responses to the challenges of globalization.
Marthinus L. Daneel
In the post-chimurenga years of independent Zimbabwe, the African Initiated Churches (AICs) heeded the prophetic call to earth-keeping. They joined forces with practitioners of traditional religion—the chiefs, headmen, spirit mediums, and ex-combatants of the country's liberation struggle—and formed their own wing of the green army. Thus, under the auspices of the Zimbabwean Institute of Religious Research and Ecological Conservation, two religiously distinct movements—the Association of Zimbabwean Traditionalist Ecologists and the Association of African Earthkeeping Churches—joined forces to wage a new chimurenga, a struggle for the liberation of creation, particularly the rehabilitation of the degraded environment of Zimbabwe's overcrowded communal lands, under the banner “war of the trees.” In Zimbabwe and much of southern Africa today, the AICs total between 50 percent and 60 percent of African Christianity. This article focuses on Africa's green movement and ecotheology as well as earth-keeping initiatives such as tree planting.
A very fundamental fact about African religions is that they are not institutional religions. They do not have an organization that one becomes a member of upon converting or being converted to the religion. Such an organization has a hierarchy of officials in charge of the propagation of a certain metaphysic and the promotion of virtue. One has to accept certain doctrines before qualifying to be a member of such a religion. If the religion is a God-oriented one, then a most important duty of the officialdom will be to arrange regular sessions of God worship. This article describes the traditional religion of Africa and then reflects on specific issues of religious diversity with respect to this traditional religion. It also focuses on God as creator and the problem of evil, African religion and Christianity, religious pluralism, and religious exclusivism.
This chapter analyzes a wide range of African customs and legends. It demonstrates that African traditional religion offers notions of a thriving spirit world which provides “sacred warriors” ritualized protections and martial enhancements when defense of community is urgent. African traditional religion remains primarily an African phenomenon and, as a result, is tightly associated with the cultures and realities of the continent. The role of religion in motivating violence and its role in carrying out the violence are addressed. The Lord's Resistance Army has revealed that a spiritual agenda and rhetoric is not enough to win the support of the people. A proliferation of news stories and images from across Africa of persecuted albino communities, victims of ritual sacrifice or magically empowered rebels might give the impression that traditional religion and violence are more intertwined than ever.
Karen McCarthy Brown
The product of an early and involuntary globalization of African culture, Haitian Vodou is arguably the most misunderstood and maligned world religion. The reasons for this are not so much theological as they are historical and political. The historical reasons are rooted in Haiti's revolution. Haitian Vodou was born from the interaction of groups of people brought to Haiti to work as slaves, people who had been taken from several areas in West and Central Africa. Vodou, whether in Haiti or in diaspora communities in New York, Miami, New Orleans, and Montreal, is still characterized, more often than not, as a primitive religion involved in magic. In an attempt to undermine this persisting consensus about the nature of Haitian Vodou, this article examines one of Vodou's most misunderstood aspects, the manufacture of charms, or wanga. It also discusses the charm called mare djol, the function of the wanga in healing practices, the ethics of wanga, and the belief that all healing is about the healing of relationships.
Bettina E. Schmidt
This essay gives an overview of the religious landscape of Brazil as well as studies about religions in Brazil. Starting with the situation of Christian denominations in Brazil the essay discusses vernacular religions such as Spiritism and Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda, religions that have arrived in Brazil by immigrants such as Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, and indigenous religions such as the religion of the Guaraní. The text highlights how social and political changes have impacted on religions in Brazil. Each section refers to selected publications representing the range of studies about these religions undertaken by scholars in Brazil and abroad.
Christopher C. Taylor
This chapter, which concentrates on the violent imaginaries that informed the reports and deeds of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, reviews the perseverance of pre-colonial notions of a sacred king whose “wild sovereignty” and inability to promote the flow of imaana earns him fateful sacrifice. The term imaana denotes a supreme being and, in a more generalized way, a “diffuse, fecundating fluid” of celestial origin whose activity upon livestock, land, and people brought fertility and abundance. As imaana's earthly representative, the king channeled fertility to the rest of humanity. The chapter also discusses symbolism of the sovereign's body and its implicit link with the process of liquid flow. Habyarimana is an inadequate conduit of imaana and thus not a worthy king. He is the antithesis of Ruganzu Ndori.
‘God has come Amongst us Slowly and we didn’t Realise it!’ The Transformation of Anglican Missionary Heritage in Sudan
This chapter examines the missionary origins, through the agency of the Church Missionary Society, of the Anglican Church in Sudan (the Episcopal Church of the Sudan) and its transformation during its 100-year history, with special reference to the last fifty years. It is a study of the cultural transformation of missionary heritage in the cauldron of war and devastation. In particular the experience of the Dinka and Azande people is reflected upon. The emergence of a truly vernacular Anglicanism is described, distinctive but also faithful to Anglican principle. The significance of Bible translation, vernacular liturgy, and hymns is assessed, and the role of this new indigenous expression of Christian faith in the emergence of a distinctive South Sudanese identity that would eventually lead to independence and the setting up of a new African state, South Sudan.
Christopher C. Taylor
One of the core metaphors in Rwandan traditional medicine concerns the flow of bodily fluids. This metaphor is a recursive one, extending into other domains of Rwandan symbolic thought, including notions of the person, ritual, and myth. Stated briefly, this metaphor opposes states of orderly flows to disorderly ones, including blocked flows and excessive flows. The healthy body is characterized by sufficient but not excessive or inadequate bodily flows. Unhealthy or afflicted bodies are often characterized by disorders in “flow” states. After the genocide, many Tutsi victims experienced post-traumatic stress in the form of a specifically Rwandan symptom that they termed ihahamuka. This symptom, as described by Rwandans, involves the blockage of breath in the lungs. Many Rwandans who had suffered extreme trauma during the genocide, but had managed to survive, complained of ihahamuka. Many were highly “Westernized” in terms of their education and religion but were experiencing a disorder that can only be fully understood via traditional Rwandan medicine, a medicine in which they expressed very little credence.
Jesuits have commanded scholarly attention in recent years, with Jesuit studies almost becoming an independent academic discipline. However, their involvement in Africa remains largely unstudied, even though they were in parts of the continent for close to two centuries. Moreover, after their restoration in 1814, the Jesuits played a significant role in the evangelization of Africa. This essay is an overview of Jesuit presence in Africa over the centuries. While it gives more prominence to the historical missions of the pre-suppression period in Congo, Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia, it also covers more recent presence in Madagascar, southern Africa and Egypt, and concludes with a brief analysis of the state of the Society of Jesus in Africa today. The essay underscores the challenge of locating Jesuit records related to Africa and the importance of understanding early missionary efforts on the African continent for the benefit of similar efforts in our time.
Pilgrim W. K. Lo
Luther’s catechism entered Asian cultures with translations into Asian languages in 1715 (Tamil, south India) and 1843 (Chinese). In the twentieth century a small number of other works appeared in Tamil, Chinese, and Japanese. Study of Luther’s writings took place at seminaries staffed by European and North American missionaries. Slowly, especially under the sponsorship of the Lutheran World Federation, Asian theologians from several cultures have begun to write on Luther’s thought, and further translations of his works have been published. Focus on justification by faith, the theology of the cross, and on social issues has dominated these studies. Issues regarding apt translations of his key concepts remain under discussion.
Rosalind I. J. Hackett
This article describes African millennialism, which is a blend of traces of Christianity, Islam, and indigenous religions. Prolonged suppression and suffering under colonial exploitation provided the subjective background to apocalyptic movements. The Xhosa cattle-killing movement and the practice of mumboism in the colonial period and the Satiru rebellion are described in this article. Post-independence, issues of political reorganization and national consolidation grew in importance, and these compiled the grounds for more movements such as The Holy Spirit movement and the Lord's Resistance Army, although the latter spent more time slaughtering civilians than taking stock. The African continent offers a rich tapestry of millennial and apocalyptic movements that go back at least two centuries and still emerge today and will continue to challenge researchers on a number of counts.
Jacob K. Olupona
The study of Africa's traditional religion and the environment can be termed the ecology of religion. The complexity of the relationship between environment and religion in indigenous and contemporary African cultures and societies requires a more multidisciplinary approach that draws from a variety of sources, approaches, and epistemological positions: phenomenology, ecology, geography of religion, indigenous hermeneutics, and traditional anthropological theories under which religion and spirituality is normally studied. This article examines the environmental referentiality of lived religion, especially rituals, in Africa. It argues that the core of religious worldview and the origins of ritual and the cycles of nature—the regularities and repetitions as phenomenon of nature—may account for the origins of ritual. Indeed, it may not be out of place to speak of the ritualization of the environment as a way to describe the intricate relationship between ritual and environment in African cosmology and religion. This article also looks at shrines and temples in Africa.
Media coverage surrounding war, ethnic conflicts, and religion in Africa were important worldwide stories of the late twentieth century. However, reporting on religion in Africa has been complicated for the American mainstream press because it is often filtered through the lens of U.S. politics and interests. Conflicts in Somalia, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Ethiopia all contained religious elements that either incited or resulted in hostilities among faiths. Two crucial moments in the past three decades stand out as exemplars of religion reporting in Africa: apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Rwanda. These two cases illuminate how the American press corps has covered religion in Africa and provide a variety of stories that demonstrate the challenges of covering religion in Africa, as well as the myriad ways in which religion touches many aspects of life and political action in African countries.
Jacob K. Olupona
The global dimensions of African religion sweep across the plains of the African continent and into the African diaspora. Contemporary “African religion” is itself a product of globalization, for it is less a single tradition than a sociological context in which the elements of a variety of indigenous religious experiences are combined with Islam and Christianity. New religious structures reflect emerging values and the adoption of new practices in a changing social context. In the case of the African religions, this process reflects a growing pluralism among religious institutions in Africa. There are independent churches in Africa, including the Celestial Church of Christ, the Christ Apostolic Church, and Cherubim and Seraphim in West Africa; Zulu Zionist churches in South Africa; and the Simon Kimbanque Church in Zaire. This article also discusses Pentecostal or charismatic churches, mainline mission churches, indigenous traditions and faiths, and civil religion in Africa.
Kofi Asare Opoku
African traditional religion is inextricably linked to the culture of the African people. Religion, culture, politics, and society were part of a seamless whole and no part of it could stand on its own. The absence of a specific word for “religion” in many African languages is an indication of this African holistic understanding of life. Words related to the concept of religion may be translated as “custom,” “tradition,” or “way of life.” Later scholars adopted special terms to designate the religious practices and beliefs found in Africa, all of which combined to show that the perspective of the African practitioners of their ancestral religion was not worth considering. As a result, the African religious traditions became synonymous with the idea of “otherness.” This article discusses the traditional religious society of Africa, focusing on the traditional African worldview, social organization and religion, charter myths, religion and public morality, social change, and religious change.
This chapter is a study of an encounter between the church and the socio-political and cultural milieu of West Africa, with particular focus on Ghana. It closely analyses the relationship between contextualization and the mission of the church by addressing several questions. Does the mission of the Church require contextualization in order to be fully effective? If contextualization is necessary, then how can it best serve and enhance Anglicanism in Ghana so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can take deep and lasting root in the lives of the people, and become both the organizing principle and unifying factor of their everyday living? This chapter is based on research conducted among various people of different walks of life in the church. It seeks to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the different responses and approaches adopted by them with a view to developing an appropriate Ghanaian response to Anglicanism.
Philomena Njeri Mwaura
This chapter interrogates the interplay between globalization, religion, and women in the East African context, and seeks to respond to the following questions: What aspects of globalization affect the spaces where women operate? How has globalization affected gender and family relations? How can justice-seeking feminist theological discourse respond to the challenges of globalization? The chapter begins by defining East Africa; analysing the religio-cultural context that has been shaped by the indigenous African worldview, Western Christianity, colonialism, and the current globalizing forces; and examining how women and religion have been impacted by these complexities and changes. Thereafter, the experiences of women under globalization are discussed with reference to selected issues such as poverty, economy, employment, environment, health, and education; issues chosen because they are critical to women's well-being. As major victims of globalization, women struggle daily to surmount the challenges it poses. In conclusion, ways of responding to globalization from an African women's theological perspective are discussed.