Christianity in Africa and the African Diaspora: The Appropriation of a Scattered Heritage

By Lado, Ludovic | African Studies Review, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Christianity in Africa and the African Diaspora: The Appropriation of a Scattered Heritage


Lado, Ludovic, African Studies Review


RELIGION Afe Adogame, Roswith Gerloff, and Klaus Hock, eds. Christianity in Africa and the African Diaspora: The Appropriation of a Scattered Heritage. London/ New York: Continuum, 2009. xiv + 354 pp. Notes. Tables. Index. $150.00, Cloth.

The book comprises twenty-six contributions from different authors who critically analyze the multifaceted evolution of Christianity in Africa since the 1884 Berlin Conference and the ensuing partition of the continent. Although this historical event and its far-reaching implications serve as backdrop, this study of the growth of African Christianity is not predominantly historical, as it covers a variety of topics ranging from its colonial connections through the rise of Pente cos talism to ecumenical issues facing African Churches both in Africa and in the diaspora, mainly in Europe. Its four main sections guide the reader through the reception of colonial Christianity in Africa, its local appropriation, and the ongoing exportation of African Christianity to the West.

The 1884 Berlin Conference, where the reshaping of Africa was decided by Europeans without Africans, is the target of some of the most acerbic critiques, especially from African contributors who describe its impact on African Christianity exclusively in negative terms. Although it is acknowledged that colonization, as an attempt to recreate Africa in the image of the West, contributed to the integration of the continent into the world system, missionary Christianity is on the whole branded as ethnocentric and accused of mistakes such as the institutionalization of "denominationalism and sectarianism in Africa," the systematic misrepresentation of the black continent on the world scene, and the replication in churches of the colonial structure of domination. In short, "to a large extent the European brand of Christianity that was introduced to Africa was that which embraced slavery, racism, segregation, discrimination, inequality and injustice" (260). However, some contributors underline the complexity of the role of Christianity during the colonial period, examining the collusion between some missionaries and colonial agents, while acknowledging the participation of some missionary churches in liberation struggles.

On the theme of the reception of Christianity in Africa, several contributions dwell on the creative appropriation of this import at the local level. Although the issue of the massive conversion of Africans to the foreign/ colonial religion is not discussed, the book on the whole emphasizes that African Christianity is bound up with processes of local appropriation and innovation. The rise of independent Christianity, including the most recent waves of Pentecostal churches and the charismatic movement, is explained against the backdrop of alleged shortcomings of missionary Christianity or as resistance to colonial domination through ritual innovation. As one contributor puts it, "The emergent new religious movements were a subtle protest to colonial imperialism operating into the Church" (289). Another set of predominant arguments addresses the shifting of the center of gravity of world Christianity from the North to the South, at least in terms of demographics. Some authors complain that this shift has not yet been properly acknowledged, as structures of thought in world Christianity are still dominated by the theological and ethical concerns of the West and Western cartographers and writers continue to ignore makers of Christianity in Africa.

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