John Mbiti (1931–2019)

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.

Professor Lamin Sanneh: In Memoriam

The following tribute was written by Professor Sanneh’s longtime friend and colleague Professor Andrew F. Walls.

We have learned with sorrow of the passing, after a short illness, of Lamin Sanneh, D Willis James Professor of World Christianity at Yale University, co-founder and joint convener of the Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of Missions and World Christianity. The Group’s annual conferences, meeting in Yale and Edinburgh alternately, have been an important feature of the life of our Centre.

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Studies in World Christianity, Issue 24.2

It is a truism to state that Christianity has spread across the world as a result of cross-cultural communication. Andrew Walls, who has done so much to set the approach, research questions and tone of World Christianity studies, has highlighted how scripture and Christian thought are translated into new languages and thought-forms as Christianity spreads. Walls, who celebrates his ninetieth birthday this year, has encouraged attention to the historical processes at work in communication that are examined in this edition of Studies in World Christianity. Between them, the articles in this edition illustrate the variety of form and effectiveness of cross-cultural communication in the modern history of encounter with Christianity. They also show familiar patterns. All these articles prioritise textual and oral communication. Reading, writing, preaching and proclaiming are the main modes of communication under scrutiny. (Continue reading Emma Wild-Wood’s introduction here.) Continue reading

Recap of Memorial Conference for John McCracken and Jack Thompson

To celebrate the work of John McCracken and Jack Thompson, scholars from around the world gathered at a conference in Edinburgh on 26 April. The conference, titled ‘Politics, Society and Christianity in Malawi and Beyond’, brought together emerging and established scholars to discuss some of the important themes in these two men’s work. Speakers presented papers on the academy in society, material and visual culture, Malawi and global history, Christianity and political change in Africa, and Christian missions and the making of modern Malawi. Continue reading

Looking Eastward: The Middle East in the Field of World Christianity

Elizabeth Marteijn is a PhD student at the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh. Her research brings together the methods of theology and ethnography in the study of Palestinian Christianity. Her post here continues our series discussing the conference titled ‘Currents, Perspectives, and Methodologies in World Christianity’ at Princeton Theological Seminary held 18–20 January 2018. Our series began with an essay by Jason Bruner on 30 January and continued with a post from Elizabeth on 13 February.

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the field of World Christianity, scholars regularly speak about the ‘global South’ and the ‘global North’. But what about the East? By asking this question, I would like to elaborate on the recent post by Jason Bruner, where he excellently reflected on the thought-provoking World Christianity conference held at Princeton Theological Seminary from 18–20 January. Bruner rightfully highlighted remarks being made about territoriality in the field, that areas like the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and denominations like Orthodoxy and Eastern Christianity have a marginal position. Continue reading