Christianity and Social Change in Africa. Essays in Honor of J. D. Y. Peel

By Shetler, Jan Bender | African Studies Review, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Christianity and Social Change in Africa. Essays in Honor of J. D. Y. Peel


Shetler, Jan Bender, African Studies Review


Toyin Falola, ed. Christianity and Social Change in Africa. Essays in Honor of J. D. Y. Peel. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2005. 696 pp. Figures. Photographs. Notes. Bibliographies. Index. $65.00. Cloth.

The title of this book should perhaps be reversed; it is as much a fitting tribute to J. D. Y. Peels's life work, rooted in the Yoruba past but reaching out to theoretical comparison and the analysis of larger social patterns, as it is about Christianity and social change in Africa. The authors of twenty-six chapters (and more than six hundred pages) represent a wide variety of Peel's students, friends and colleagues-anthropologists, sociologists, historians, political scientists, and theologians, as well as experts on development, refugees, drugs and gender, and others. While most chapters are set in Peel's familiar territory of Nigeria, many areas of Africa and the diaspora are represented. Collectively, they explore a wide range of the issues that Peel addressed throughout his life. M. C. McCaskie also contributes a biography that traces Peel's scholarly life-as a sociologist trained as a classicist, a scholar spending as much time in the CMS archives as in fieldwork.

The essays repeatedly seek to problematize the dualistic oppositions of African religion and Christianity, and between the concepts of "tradition" and "modernity." Following Peel, these essays treat Christianity as fully part of the African context rather than as an alien force, and demonstrate considerable continuity through, for example, the religious use of white cloth (Elisha Renee), the practice of sanctuary (Sandra Barnes), or the search for empowerment (David Pratten). Birgit Meyers picks up the theme of dualism in the invention of tradition represented in Ghanian popular films. Hermione Harris's study of Aladura and born-again Yoruba Christianity in London demonstrates the false dichotomy between continuity and rupture in the Pentecostal movement toward individual subjectivity. McCaskie explores the encounters of different religious systems through an exiled Asante ruler who sought to be "an Asantehene and a Christian, and not a Christian Asantehene" (490). Murray Last portrays healing practices in Muslim northern Nigeria, involving not syncretism, but two parallel gendered systems operating simultaneously.

Falola introduces the essays with his own stories about religious practice within the Yoruba diaspora of Austin, Texas, illustrating how Peel's idea of "religious encounters" can now be taken into a globalized, transnational context in which a "reverse mission" is in progress. Stephan Palmie's work on "Yoruba ecclesiogenesis" in Cuba and Brazil complements Peel's work on Yoruba ethnogenesis in Nigeria, demonstrating the cultural work of "becoming Yoruba" through religious organization and historicizing the analysis of "African survivals.

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