Christianity, Development and Modernity in Africa
Contemporary African Christianity encompasses at least two profoundly different conceptions of religion, with important implications for development and modernity on the continent.
There is an important if largely unremarked diversity within African Christianity; on the one hand, an enchanted Christianity that views the world as pervaded by spiritual forces, and on the other a disenchanted Christianity that discounts them.
An enchanted Christian sees his glorious destiny threatened by witches, spirits, and ancestral curses. Churches catering for this worldview lay bare the workings of this spirit world, deliver those suffering from spirit attacks, and equip members to combat them. This enchanted imagination, along with the prosperity gospel, and emphasis on the pastor’s ‘anointing’, are the principal characteristics of much African Pentecostalism.
Gifford argues that the enchanted religious imagination militates against development by encouraging fear and distrust, and diminishing human responsibility and agency. The prosperity gospel of ‘covenant wealth from tithes and offerings’ is the antithesis of Weber’s Protestant ethic; and to magnify the person of the pastor is to perpetuate the curse of the ‘Big Man’.
Official Catholicism, totally disenchanted, long associated with schools and hospitals, is now involved in development, from microfinance to election monitoring, from conflict resolution to human rights. This ‘NGO-isation of Catholicism’, made almost inevitable by funding from secular donors like the EU and the UN, even if defended theologically, comes at the price of failing to address the ‘religious’ needs of so many African Christians.
Paul Gifford is Emeritus Professor of SOAS, University of London. He is the author of several works on African Christianity, including African Christianity: Its Public Role, Ghana's New Christianity: Pentecostalism in a Globalising African Economy and Christianity, Politics and Public Life in Kenya, all of which were published by Hurst.
‘Anyone interested in Christianity in Africa should read this book. But beware: you will never be comfortable generalising about the subject again. Drawing on a lifetime of research, reflection, and rich first-hand experience, it is a consummate survey of subjects that go right to the heart of the angst that many Africans feel in adapting to the modern world.’ — Robert Calderisi, former International Spokesman on Africa for the World Bank and author of Earthly Mission: the Catholic Church and World Development
‘This eye-opening book examines and challenges the spiritual bases of African Christianities, concluding with a sober commitment to modernity. It is essential reading for anyone concerned with the impact of religion on African development.’ — Christopher Clapham, Centre of African Studies, Cambridge University