Recent Trends in the Historiography of Christianity in Southern Africa

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During the last decade there has been a notable upsurge in publications about religion in African history. The trend is also noticeable in writing specifically concerned with Southern Africa though it is not spread evenly across regions and disciplines. Male writers with religious connections still predominate. There have been some important studies of mission Christianity and African evangelism, although inordinate attention is still paid to nineteenth-century origins and biography. Writing about the relationship between colonialism and Christianity is still permeated by disputes about the role of organised religion in sustaining white supremacy, despite an emerging consensus among historians that Christianity was a two-edged sword that could undercut as well as sustain domination. Understanding the position taken on these issues by active clergy and departments of religious studies requires some knowledge of the debates provoked by the advent of 'African Theology', 'Black Theology' and 'Liberation Theology'. One of the most interesting trends in historical studies of religion is renewed attention to the question of religious conversion, an inner process of mental/spiritual transformation often considered to be inaccessible to normal processes of investigation. The writings of Lamin Sanneh on 'translation' suggest interesting new lines of research. Up to this point there has been very little historical work on Southern African religion employing techniques of post-structural or discourse analysis. Other neglected areas include missionary medicine, the work of non-Anglophone missions and the gendered nature of religious experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-219
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue numberNo. 2, June 1996
Publication statusPublished - 1996


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