The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians: Its Contribution to Ecumenical Formation

By Phiri, Isabel Apawo | The Ecumenical Review, January 2005 | Go to article overview

The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians: Its Contribution to Ecumenical Formation


Phiri, Isabel Apawo, The Ecumenical Review


In The Ecumenical Review of July 2001, whose theme was "Transforming Ecumenism in Africa in the 21st Century", a number of articles paid homage to the contribution of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in ecumenical formation in Africa. I pick only three examples: Sam Kobia concluded his article by stating that:

   The initiatives which led to contemporary ecumenical institutions
   and ethos were strongly male dominated and intrinsically
   patriarchal. The visions of African women must be allowed to
   determine not only the structures but also, and perhaps more
   fundamentally, the content of 21st century ecumenism in Africa. In
   this vein the insights of the Circle of Concerned African Women
   Theologians is absolutely vital. Serious dialogue between the Circle
   and the ecumenical organizations in Africa has yet to take
   place. (1)

Furthermore, Nyambura Njoroge said:

   Inevitably, the significant changes that have taken place in the
   20th century in the field of theology, including ecumenical
   theology, call for a critical look at how we structure ministerial
   ecumenical formation. We need to re-examine the theological voices
   that are emerging; such a move requires the women and men in
   leadership to be open-minded and discern what these new theological
   voices have to say to us today ... Hence, even though excluded from
   church leadership for a long time, African women theologians are
   making a contribution in the shaping of ecumenical theology. (2)

John Pobee also said:

   Now many publications by women are on the market and ecumenical
   formation will not be on target unless religious communities come to
   grips with these voices. If we seek to envision a new church in
   Africa in which women are more than one-half--and the vibrant,
   energetic part--then the mission-ecumenism agenda which defines
   church should seriously engage African women's theology. (3)

It is no wonder then that the "Journey of hope continued: A critical evaluation of theological education and ecumenical formation" conference, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, 16-23rd September 2002, embraced African women's theology as part of its ecumenical agenda. Furthermore, its five year plan of action pledged to promote the engendering of theological education in Africa. As a follow up to the 2002 plan of action, the Circle and the Ecumenical Theological Education programme of the WCC formed a partnership in 2003 to initiate a process of engendering theological education in Africa through curriculum development. It is the aim of this paper to discuss this effort of engendering theological education as part of the Circle's ongoing contribution to ecumenical formation in Africa. It becomes necessary, then, to discuss what the Circle is about and how it fits into ecumenical formation.

The Circle as a theological association in Africa

The history of the Circle has already been well documented by some of the Circle members. (4) Suffice it here to say that the Circle was launched in 1989 with the aim of creating theological space for African women theologians to find and mentor each other on how to produce theological literature that is based on their experiences. The Circle also uses their communal power to get involved in activism as they work towards the transformation of their communities and institutions for gender justice. The Circle understands ecumenism not only as working towards the unity and renewal of the church but embraces unity and renewal of the whole world. (5) Therefore the Circle membership is inclusive of African women theologians from African religion, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. The statement that the Circle is making is that in Africa, conversation on ecumenical formation cannot ignore the existence of religious pluralism, which must be included in our self-understanding. …

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