Making African Christianity: Africans Reimagining Their Faith in Colonial South Africa

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9781611460810: Making African Christianity: Africans Reimagining Their Faith in Colonial South Africa

In Making African Christianity author Robert J. Houle argues that Africans successfully naturalized Christianity. This book examines the long history of the faith among colonial Zulu Christians (known as amakholwa) in what would become South Africa. As it has become clear that Africans are not discarding Christianity, a number of scholars have taken up the challenge of understanding why this is the case and how we got to this point. Where others have focused on the economic and political potential of conversion, this book argues that we need to understand what was embedded within the faith that Africans found so appealing. Houle argues that translation did not end with the bible, but extended to Christian theology which needed to be fully appropriated before the faith was secure on the continent. For Zulu, the religion was not a good fit until converts filled critical gaps in the faith, such as how Christianity could account for the active and everyday presence of the ancestral spirits—a problem that was true for African converts across the continent in slightly different ways. This book offers fresh insight into the history behind the contemporary success of Christianity on the continent and will be welcomed by African historians, those interested in the history of colonialism, missions, southern African, and in particular Christianity.

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About the Author:

Robert J. Houle is associate professor of history at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Review:

Historian Houle (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ.) explores the process by which Zulu congregants of the American Zulu Mission (AZM) in Britain's Southern African Natal Colony in the late 19th and early 20th centuries "naturalized" Christianity and made it a local religion. The stripping away of the US cultural traits of the AZM —a Congregationalist mission affiliated with the American Board of Commissioners— was achieved, ironically, via a characteristically US tool for conversion: the revival meeting. Zulu emotionalism made white missionaries uncomfortable, but like colonizers everywhere, they eventually conceded that while they could deliver the message, they could not control its reception and application. Underlying Houle's analysis is his desire to explain why a majority of Zulu converts stayed with the AZM rather than joining African Independent Churches that would allow them greater freedom of religious expression. To answer, Houle moves away from the political and economic explanations offered by Jean and John Comaroff, Elizabeth Elbourne, Paul Landau, and J. D. Y. Peel, and follows Benedict Carton by explaining how Zulu converts transformed AZM theology from within by incorporating Zulu beliefs. This transformation, Houle argues, helped ensure the survival of Christianity in rural Southern Africa. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. (CHOICE)

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