Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Evangelization of Slaves and Catholic Origins in East Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Evangelization of Slaves and Catholic Origins in East Africa

Article excerpt

Paul V. Kollman. The Evangelization of Slaves and Catholic Origins in East Africa. New York: Orbis Maryknoll, 2005. xxviii + 356 pp. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $25.00. Paper.

In this highly informative study, Paul Kollman, a professor of church history at Notre Dame, traces the origins of East African Catholicism through the missionary work of the French Holy Ghost missionaries (also known as the Spiritans). At the heart of the Spiritan missionary strategy in East Africa was the practice of slave evangelization. While not calling for an immediate end to the slave trade on the East Africa coast, the French missionaries bought slaves, baptized them, and through a comprehensive program of catechetical formation, evangelized them with the hope that these African Catholics would become agents for the conversion of other Africans in the interior.

A revision of Kollman's dissertation in religion from Chicago Divinity School (2001), The Evangelization of Slaves is both a detailed work of African history and a form of postcolonial reconstruction. As a historical account, it offers an in-depth analysis of the historical, social, political, and economic environment that shaped the missionaries who came to East Africa, and how this European milieu in turn shaped the goals, practices, and historical development of the East African mission. Woven within this historical account is a primary motif of postcolonial reconstruction through which Kollman highlights the agency of the evangelized former slaves within this missionary practice. As with a number of other postcolonial scholars (the influence of the Comaroffs is obvious), Kollman posits that African agency and identities have remained largely hidden within missionary accounts. In order to retrieve them, he employs, on the one hand, Edward Thompson's notion of "moral economy"-"the internalized sense of expectation within the Africans at the mission about how the Spiritans should have treated them" (19)-and on the other, Albert Hirschman's three-fold typology of "exit, loyalty and voice" (20). With these two constructs, Kollman is able to provide an account of how the moral economy of the Spiritan mission evolved, while at the same time depicting the multiple ways in which the Africans internalized and responded to that moral economy.

What emerges is not only a nuanced study of the origins of the Catholic Church in East Africa, but also a refreshing confirmation of African agency in that story. …

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