Routledge Companion to Christianity in Africa

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Elias Kifon Bongmba
Routledge Religion Companions
  • New York: 
    Routledge
    , January
     2019.
     578 pages.
     $45.46.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780367190668.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Routledge Companion to Christianity in Africa is part of a welcome trend of publications that introduce readers to Christianity across the globe. There have been a number of one-volume “World Christianity” introductions. Now, we see substantial works engaging with a single continent. In various ways they provide the general reader and the student with an insight into key themes and important developments within Christian organizations and movements from a particular area of the world. They pay attention to regional specificities as well as noting international connectivities.

This volume is the first in Routledge’s “Religion Companions” series to take a continental approach, but it is likely that others will appear. Africa is a good first choice and Elias Bongmba, a scholar of African Religions based in the US, is a good guide to the history and developments of Christianity on the African continent. The rapid up-take of Christianity south of the Sahara confounded the expectations of those in the independence era who considered its presence would wane in the post-colony. Yet, as this book makes clear, Christianity is not solely a modern phenomenon on the continent. Bongmba’s and many of the contributors have a strong commitment to Africa and to Christianity, but their scholarship does not allow for triumphalism.

Bongmba has drawn together an impressive list of scholars, many from the African continent, to provide an introduction to many of the Christian traditions—Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Evangelical, prophetic—across the continent as they developed in history and continue in the present. The thirty-three chapters provide a wide scope but they do not attempt an even view across the continent. Rather, a number of key themes are addressed. Internal traditions like the role of the Bible (Gerald West), translations (Musa Dube), and music (Emily Achieng’ Akuno) are examined. Relations with Islam (Festo Mkenda) and indigenous religious traditions (Laurenti Magesa) are addressed. The place of Christianity in society and politics (Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, J.J. Carney, James Amanze) and human rights (Barney Pityana) show how the public nature of Christianity brings it into the corridors of power. Christianity has been complicit in oppressive regimes—sometimes in the name of pro-independence nationalism.

Christianity has also provided a counter-narrative to challenge their power, and has a profound impact on the nature of social institutions that provide education and health care. Tabona Shoko and Bongmba address different aspects of healing and Richard Maposa writes about its influence on development. Contemporary concerns are important in this volume: Ernst Conradie writes on “Approaches to religion and the environment in Africa,” while Adriaan van Klinken, Matthews A Ojo, and Adewale J Adelakun write on human sexuality.

This reviewer would have appreciated a thorough state of scholarship in Bongmba’s introduction, which would have allowed a new scholar coming to the field to develop a sense of the changes on the continent and how they have been assessed by academics and church leaders. Such an introduction would have allowed a further situating and connecting of the subjects of the five parts and the chapters within them. Bongmba does, however, offer a final chapter on “future trajectories.” He notes the way in which Pentecostalism—in all its diversity—has challenged church organization, Christian ecumenism, and given heat to debates on human sexuality and personal well-being and security. He calls for further research of human rights and economics in a geopolitical situation that keeps much of Africa poor, including a thorough examination of popular prosperity teaching. Prosperity teaching offers an immediate and personalized way of responding to hardship but, asks Bongmba, how far does it distract from a more equitable commitment to social justice? The impact of the digital age on African Christianity has rightly attracted growing attention as have the forms of missionary Christianity emerging from the continent across the globe. The aesthetics of sacred spaces—and, I would add, religious performance—remain under studied. The agenda for further investigation comes with a critique of some aspects of Christianity in Africa and an appetite to learn from the way in which the continent shapes Christian traditions.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emma Wild-Wood is senior lecturer, African Christianity and African Indigenous Religions at the University of Edinburgh.

Date of Review: 
October 18, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Elias Kifon Bongmba holds the Harry and Hazel Chair in Christian Theology and Professor Religion at Rice University and serves as President of the African Association for the Study of Religion.

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