By Tite Tiénou
Welcome to the website for research on “Christianity and Social Change in Contemporary Africa”. This research is a grant-making initiative funded by the John Templeton Foundation of Pennsylvania, USA, in collaboration with the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, USA. This website provides a venue for robust and interactive conversation, discussion, interchange and the cross fertilisation of ideas that will contribute to the enhancement of the research.
“Christian Theology: African Realities and African Hope” is part of the $2.07 million (USD) project funded by the John Templeton Foundation. It is a collaborative project that benefitted significantly from the input of more than 30 African scholars, intellectuals and leaders. Their input, through consultations and meetings, helped to determine the focus of the project. Drawing on the ideas and enthusiasm generated through this consultative process, Burkinabè theologian Tite Tiénou, Kenyan anthropologist Mwenda Ntarangwi, and Nagel Institute director Joel Carpenter – an indefatigable friend of Africa’s, with project manager Nellie Kooistra and the Nagel Institute’s administrative manager Donna Romanowski, worked closely together on the design of the research programme. Francis Nyamnjoh, a Cameroonian anthropologist, the director of the social sciences program, joined the team at a critical time. The project design and approval phase took over two and half years, and culminated in the making of 23 grants – 11 in theology and 12 in social science. A total of 188 (88 in social science and 100 in theology) letters of interest were examined and 56 applicants (32 in social science and 24 in theology) were invited to prepare full proposals. This points to the role of religion in African societies as a critical area of intellectual contemplation and research for the theologians and social scientists of the continent.
The selection committees were constituted entirely of African scholars. At a joint selection committee meeting in Accra, Ghana (December 2015) and the orientation workshop in Cape Town (March 2016), the expert social scientists and theologians invited to assist with selection, and as facilitators and mentors were most gratified by this fact, especially in view of the seriousness, richness and outstanding quality of the various applications and their contents. This augurs well for and justifies our optimism about a bumper harvest of excellent findings, distilled into publishable journal articles. We look forward to a rich and bountiful harvest at the March 2017 summative workshop in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
I am pleased with the possibilities of thematic conversations that link the various projects in “Christian Theology: African Realities and African Hope”, especially as the journal publications envisaged include special guest-edited issues of relevant journals. Possible themes in this connection include: Spirituality, African Values and Hope; Ubuntu, Community Building and Resilience; Religion, Christian Theology, Pentecostalism and National Development.
The themes mentioned above indicate that our desires and hopes are to see a renewed Christian theological reflection on the role of the spiritual in everyday life, and the importance of African virtues and values. The outputs from the research in theology should contribute to normative Christian thought for use in theological seminaries, Christian universities, pastors’ workshops and the general Christian public.
Conceptually and methodologically, a core aspect of this project has been, and remains collaborative and critical multidisciplinary research around non-zero- sum-game articulations of change and continuity in African religiosity, both from theological and social scientific perspectives. The project, most innovatively, encourages intellectual conversations, co- elaboration and co-production between African social scientists and theologians with shared research interest in religion, social change and African dignity and agency.
This website is intended to encourage interconnection and interdependence in knowledge production through ongoing conversation. I value your participation and your contribution to the conversation.