Article

African Christianity

Thomas Spear

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online August 2013 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0105
African Christianity

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Christianity in Africa goes back to the earliest days of the church, when it spread along the Mediterranean and Red Sea coastlands of north and northeast Africa and their hinterlands. Subsequently displaced by Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries, the ancient Coptic and Orthodox churches nevertheless remain active in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Eritrea today. Further south, Christianity was introduced later by European Christian missions, initially on the heels of Portuguese expansion into the Kingdom of the Kongo and Angola in the 16th century, the slave trade in the ensuing centuries, and the general expansion of European influence and colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries in an explosive combination of “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization.” While conversion to Christianity increased with the extension of formal European colonial rule, Western education, and new economic opportunities, Africans interpreted the new faith in the light of their own religious concerns and concepts and made it their own. In the process, Western missionaries were slowly displaced by African evangelists, who helped translate the Bible, interpret it for themselves, and spread the faith far beyond the mission compounds. In the process, African Christians struggled for control of the church and its messages, often emphasizing charismatic prophecy and healing, founding thousands of new churches and popular movements within mission Protestantism and Catholicism, and playing prominent roles in contemporary African society and politics. In seeking to understand African Christianity, then, we need to understand its origins in the ancient church as well as the processes by which European missionaries and African converts of diverse religious hues have reinterpreted and reformed it to establish a varied and vibrant Christian religious presence today. The literature on African Christianity is huge and often characterized by diverse colonial and religious perspectives and biases, requiring one to read it critically. For more on African religions, see the related Oxford Bibliographies articles on African Traditional Religion and Islam in Africa.

Article.  20420 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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