Despite lockdown my monograph is out now (international hardback and e-version), and will appear in East Africa next month with Twaweza press. Here’s some thoughts on its process and aims.
I was formally introduced to Apolo Kivebulaya in December 1993 – at his grave outside the Anglican Cathedral in Boga, Zaire. After contemplating the simple metal cross with stone plinth and the graves of other church leaders beside it, I was taken to meet one of his adopted children. We walked past the hospital and the schools which Apolo had instigated, to the house of Yoweri Rwakaikara, now an elderly man. Rwakaikara regaled me with stories of Apolo’s personal charisma and their journeys together during the 1920s as if they had happened the previous day.
Last week I was in Atlanta, Georgia, USA to discuss precisely that question. Invited by Jehu Hanciles and hosted by faculty and students of Emory University, 25 scholars grappled with the slippery entity we call ‘World Christianity’. Is it a field, or a lens or even a discipline? Who studies it and why? How did it emerge? Why is it found mainly in Europe and North America? Has it a Protestant bias? What is the relationship between the study of World Christianity and the Christians across the globe who are studied? How do our studies connect with other academic studies like missiology, area studies, demography and anthropology of Christianity? These questions have been asked many times before but I welcomed the opportunity to ruminate collectively with scholars who had carefully prepared and shared papers beforehand. Individual contributions were influenced by the primary discipline of contributors, the areas of the world with which they were most familiar, and how far their institution, post or programme deployed the term ‘World Christianity.’
The team at Emory will distil our papers and conversation for public consumption. In the meantime, I have attempted to articulate my description of the present state of World Christianity. I think that because we deliberately cross boundaries of other disciplines when we study World Christianity, it is similar to other emerging foci of study—Global History, intercultural theology etc. However, perhaps the combination of all the following elements does give World Christianity some distinctiveness beyond a useful ‘hold all’ term:
John Mbiti, a pioneer of both
modern African theology and the study of religion in Anglophone Africa has died
at the age of 88.
Mbiti was part of the pan-African
intellectual movement that influenced nationalist discourse as African
countries gained independence from colonial rule. His books, like African Religion and Philosophy (1969), New Testament Eschatology in an African Background (1971), Introduction of African Religion (1975)
and Bible and Theology (1986), became
best sellers. Mbiti critiqued the international disregard for African religion
and demonstrated the religious literacy of Africans. In his cross-continental
surveys and his classifications of proverbs and religious practice, Mbiti
identified a praeparatio evangelica of Christianity in the African past, with a universal deity at its
centre. For Mbiti the mingling of
Christianity and indigenous religion enriched the lives of African people. He
was not without his critics. Okot p’Bitek, his colleague at Makerere
University, Kampala, Uganda in the 1960s, railed against the making of African
spiritual beings into a God with Christian attributes. For Bitek this
diminished and destroyed indigenous practices. In later life, Mbiti continued to work from
his home in Switzerland – translating the NT from Greek into his native Kikamba
(Kenya). This project allowed him to reflect further on the intrusion of
western concepts into biblical translations. His thought continues to have a
profound influence on the work of African scholars and church leaders.