Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals in East Africa

By Amy Stambach | Go to book overview

3 Using Anthropology for Christian Witness

Anthropology Class and Faculty

The anthropology professor's office at Stinton College was decorated after the style of a Kenyan Luo house: three-legged stools clustered in the center, thatched cross-supports hung overhead, and standing to one side, a wooden framed bed over which had been draped mosquito netting. Professor Block (the students called him Tim) described his office as a replica of a “wealthy Luo house” in that “most Luo sleep directly on the ground; few can afford mosquito netting.” Outside his office hung a map of East Africa on which missionary sites were marked with color-tipped pins. Many sites were clustered in eastern Uganda, several were in central and western Kenya, and four or five were widely scattered across the mainland of Tanzania. Like the ethnographic maps of students' fieldwork that hang in the halls of many university departments of anthropology, this map indicated where student-scholars had gone. The student-scholars here were majoring in mission studies.

Professor Block had lived and worked as a missionary in Kenya for thirteen years. He and his wife had traveled widely throughout eastern Africa. Two of their children had attended local schools, and all family members spoke some Luo (the local language) and Kiswahili (a national language). Notwithstanding his life's commitment to preaching, Block was openly critical of missionaries and evangelism. Like many of his faculty colleagues, he condemned what he described as the “damaging and destructive work” of evangelicals. “Missionaries often go in and try to change African culture without understanding people's inner values. We mess things up. We destroy cultures. We do a lot of damage.” To my surprise, he had adopted and repeated many of the views I had heard from Peace Corps volunteers and university researchers in Africa: that missionaries obliterated African culture and supplanted indigenous forms with Western values.

Unlike his critics, however, Block believed that cultural destruction did not need to accompany conversion. In a conversation we had in his “Luo house,” he questioned the putatively progressive argument that Africans were merely brainwashed by foreign Christians—as though Christianity

-65-

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Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals in East Africa
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • To Friends Here and There v
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • 1: Introduction: Schools of Faith 1
  • Part I - Preparation in the United States 33
  • 2: One Hundred Fifty Years of Mission Work 35
  • 3: Using Anthropology for Christian Witness 65
  • Part II - Evangelism in East Africa 97
  • 4: Teaching English in Tanzania 99
  • 5: Planting Church Schools in Kenya 132
  • 6: School-Community Partnerships in Uganda 154
  • Part III - Implications 179
  • 7: A New Anthropological Ethnography of Religion and Education 181
  • Epilogue 193
  • Reference Matter 197
  • Notes 199
  • References 209
  • Index 225
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