Religion and the Variety of Culture: A Study in Origin and Practice

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Religion and the Variety of Culture: A Study in Origin and Practice.

By Lamin Sanneh. Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1996. Pp. viii, 87. Paperback $8.

This brief study is a revised and expanded version of chapter 1 of Sanneh's Encountering the West: Christianity and the Global Cultural Process: The African Dimension (1993). The author is the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale University, and also chairs the University's Council on African Studies. In the context of a critique of modern Western concepts and formulations of culture, and the representation of religion as a barrier to the development of freedom, reason, and progress in cultures, the author argues for a recovery of the mutual reciprocity of religion and culture. He rejects ideological definitions of culture that seek to exclude the human sense of transcendence from serious consideration or to present culture as an enlightened alternative to religion. Over against the conventional viewpoint that missionaries are at best cultural meddlers and at worst may have endangered the cultures they penetrated, the author does not seek to discount the negative aspects of missionary activity but argues convincingly for a more realistic assessment that takes account of all the evidence available. …