Video: Contesting the Local in the Global: African Christianities Within the Religious Cosmos

March 3, 2020
Afe Adogame
Afe Adogame spoke at the CSWR on Feb. 27.

On February 27, Afe Adogame, Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Religion and Society at Princeton Theological seminary and leading scholar of the African diaspora, delivered the Hackett Lecture in Global Christianity.

This lecture examined how and to what extent demographic mobility, (un)civic roles, and public visibility in Africa and the African diaspora have put African Christian communities on the map of the contemporary religious cosmos.



It's my pleasure to welcome you to the center's inaugural Hackett Lecture in Global Christianity. It's also my distinct pleasure and privilege to welcome Professor Afe Adogame from Princeton Theological Seminary to inaugurate this new annual series.

Before I get too far along though, please forgive me for reminding you to silence your cell phones. And I'd also like to acknowledge and thank the Department of African and African-American studies for cosponsoring this event. And finally, as always, I'd like to thank the center's staff for making this event possible.

The Hackett Lecture in Global Christianity is made possible by a gift from Jim Hackett, MGS alumnus from 2016, in honor of his father Hugh Hackett, and part of a larger Hackett family fund established in support of Harvard Divinity School.

With this gift, the Center for the Study of World Religions establishes on a permanent basis an annual event dedicated to fostering the study of Christianity as a global religion, particularly outside the contemporary west. Each year, a distinguished scholar will be invited to the center to lecture on a theme of historical, social, or theological significance, with particular attention to the context of his or her own country or region.

With the stimulus of this initiative, students at Harvard Divinity School will be able to investigate important developments in Christianity in a global context and in this way also to engage wider academic fields across the university. This broader understanding of the Christian past and present makes possible more nuanced thinking about other religious traditions in the global arena.

The lecture will be given each year by a distinguished scholar. She or he may be expert in historical or contemporary materials but will be expected to speak to the current situation in the pertinent part of the world as well. There is no one better qualified to help us inaugurate this initiative than Professor Adogame. And I'd like to take this moment to thank my colleague, Professor Ukuna, for bringing Professor Adogame's important work to my attention.

Professor Adogame is the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary and is a leading scholar of the African diaspora. He earned his PhD in the history of religions from the University of Beyreuth in Germany, and has served as associate professor of world Christianity and religious studies and director international at the School of Divinity, New College, at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

He is no stranger to Harvard. No stranger to the CSWR. He just informed me that he lived right over there in 2003 before my time here. So welcome back. His teaching and research interests are very broad. But they tend to focus on interrogating the dynamics between religious experiences and expressions into Africa and the African diaspora with a particular focus on African Christianity's new indigenous religious movements and the interconnections between religion, migration, globalization, politics, economics, media, and civil society.

He's published 16 books, monographs, edited volumes, and over 90 essays in journals and books. I will do him and all of you the favor of not listing them. Rather I just want to say a brief word about his lecture this evening entitled "Contesting the local in the global, African Christianities within the religious cosmos."

Professor Adogame will argue that the global stature of African Christianities, in the plural, indicates a shift in contemporary Christianity's center of gravity from the northern to the southern hemisphere. The story of African Christianities in the 20th century is one of faith in emotion where sub-Saharan Africa and the African diaspora serve as significant theaters for the ongoing dramatization of Christianity.

His lecture will interrogate how and to what extent demographic mobility, civic roles, and public visibility in Africa and the diaspora have put African Christian communities on the map of the contemporary religious cosmos. Drawing from recent ethnography, he will explore how these communities are involved in processes of religious, social, and cultural capital engineering while confronting barriers to development and civic engagement. So please join me in welcoming Professor Adogame.


OK. So good afternoon or good evening. Let me preface my lecture with a word of special gratitude to Professor Justin, director of the Center, for inviting me to present the inaugural Hackett Lecture in global Christianity.

It is my greatest honor and privilege to serve as the inaugural Hackett lecturer for a number of reasons in addition to be being a kind of homecoming for me having spent a very productive time as a senior fellow here 17 years ago.

I recall quite vividly Professor Diana Eck as the Center's director then. And I enjoyed a collaboration with her and other colleagues on the pluralism project. My deep appreciation also goes to the Department of African and African-American studies as co-sponsors of this inaugural lecture.

I'm informed that the Hackett lecture has been made possible by a recent grant or gift from Jim Hackett, MTS '16, in honor of his father Hugh Hackett. I'm told that with this generous gift, the Center has established an annual lecture dedicated to fostering the study of Christianity as a global religion, particularly outside the contemporary west.

I congratulate and commend the Hackett family for this laudable gift in light of the perceptive shifting contours of the center of gravity of Christianity from the global north to the global south. In my estimation, conversations at this and other related events will help shift our scholarly gaze to such unprecedented developments but, more importantly, pose bold pertinent questions about the implications for redrawing and reconfiguring global religious maps of the universe.

Permit me to recognize the presence of Professor Jacob Olupona, my former teacher who remains my academic mentor since graduate studies at the University of Nigeria. I have benefited enormously from his mentoring and I wish to appreciate his manifold contributions in shaping the field. In fact, narratives of my academic journey would be incomplete without his indelible mark. [], as we say in Nigeria.

I would also like to appreciate Mrs. Olupona. My sincere appreciation to you for allowing us, some of us to benefit from his knowledge and wealth of experience. Finally, I would like to thank my wife Esther, who has taken time off to be here with me. And this shows the importance of this lecture for me. I must not escape to thank Ariella Ruth and Byron Russell Rousseau, and other events coordinators on center. Colleagues, including the dean of HDS for being here and for ensuring that I make it here without any logistic hitches.

So I wanted to start by showing you the roadmap of my presentation. With that brief introduction, our attempt to mirror African Christianities as a dance in masquerade, and move on to talk about the politics of global religious dynamics. And I will spend a bit of time on the concept-- global Christianity or world Christianity, and then finally, engage the public sphere using a case study of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. And finally, with time allowing me, demonstrate the unfolding of local global transnational religious spaces using the case of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

So mirroring African Christianities as a dance in masquerade. Chinua Achebe's symbolism of a masquerade is a useful starting point for mapping African Christianities. He suggests that in order to describe a dance in masquerade, you have to move with it. According to Achebe of blessed memory, I quote, "I believe in the complexity of the human story and that there's no way you can tell that story in one way and say this is it. Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where you are standing. The same person telling the story would tell it differently."

I think of that masquerade in both festivals that dance in the public arena. The Igbo people say if you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place. The masquerade is moving through the big arena dancing. If you are rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace, so you keep moving. And this is the way I think the war stories and the story of Christianity should be told from many different perspectives," unquote.

This description of the world in terms of a dance in masquerade is for me very illuminating. While masquerade as a typical phenomenon is used in representing and invoking African culture and Indigenous values, metaphorically I find it useful beyond its aesthetic artistic significance to represent the dynamism and fluidity of African Christianities as a faith on the move.

So the story of African Christianity is one of a fate in motion. This mobility depicts dynamism and innovation. It portrays creativity and relevance. Its texture could be described as a buffet of Christianity in Africa and African Christianity. One cannot fully understand Africa without his diaspora. Neither can we understand the African diaspora in isolation.

This is more as the African Union now characterizes the African diaspora as the sixth region of Africa. This nexus has religious, cultural, political, economic, social, and strategic input that cannot be undermined. Thus, a pictorial image of a masquerade which is multiple colors depicts and differentiates and iterations of Christianity in Africa and the African diaspora. This is why, therefore, I talk about African Christianities in a sociological, rather than theological sense, to capture the different colors of Christianity in Africa and its diaspora.

So I move to the next point, navigating the politics of global religious demographics. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, the World Christian Encyclopedia-- now in its third edition-- the Pew Research Center's forum on religion and public life-- for instance, the Pew Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, and the Atlas of Global Christianity have provided robust demographic data, such as geographical distribution of the world's Christian population-- extensive statistical information, which I find both helpful, but also controversial.

So I shall spend a minute drawing from these findings to demonstrate African Christianities within world-- global Christianity as an instance of contestation of the local and the global. Christians in America and Europe are often surprised to learn that the largest Christian continent today is Africa, going by demographic information provided by these sources I mentioned. For instance, there are more Christians in Africa-- some 520 million-- than in the United States, Canada, and Mexico combined-- 380 million.

In 1900, only 2% of the world's Christians lived in Africa. In 2005, nearly 20% of the world's Christians lived there. Demographic projections from the Pew Research Center indicates that the global Christian population has been shifting southward for at least a century, and is expected to continue to do so for the next four decades. But Europe's share of the world's Christians will continue to decline, while sub-Saharan Africa's will increase dramatically.

This is what came out of their research. Nearly half of the world's Christians already reside in Africa and the Latin America Caribbean region. By 2050, those two regions will be home to more than 6 in 10 of the world's Christians. The report continued. In 1910, Europe was home to roughly 2/3, 66% of the world's population-- Christian population, with North America a distant second with 15%.

In addition, by 2050, 5 of the 10 largest Christian populations in the world-- Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Utopia, Uganda-- would be in Africa, which had 3 of the largest 10 Christian populations in 2010. So perhaps a question could be asked-- what triggered this rapid demographic shift in sub-Saharan Africa?

Pew reports 2017 suggest that this shift in the regional concentration of the global Christian population is being driven by a combination of demographic factors, including fertility, age, and migration, as well as religious switching into and out of Christianity. As their findings reveal-- further reveal, "in sub-Saharan Africa, Christians, on average, are relatively young, and have more children than their co-religions elsewhere, contributing to the projected rapid population growth in the decades ahead," unquote.

The same report added, quote, "by contrast, European Christians are much older and have fewer children. In addition, large numbers of Europeans who were born Christians are leaving the faith, with some of them to join the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated-- what is now known as the religious nones. As a result, the share of all Christians living in Europe is expected to decline from nearly a quarter in 2015 to just 14% by 2060.

Religious switching out of Christianity also is projected to drive down the share of the global Christian population in North America from 12% in 2015 to 9% in 2060. The Pew report projects that by 2060, 9% of the world's unaffiliated population, the religious nones will live in the United States alone.

So it must be noted that this demographic shift is, however, not an exclusive preserve of Christianity. As Pew report shows, sub-Saharan Africa is also home to a growing share of the world's Muslims. Between 2015 and 2016, the share of all Muslims living in the region is projected to increase from 16% to 27%. This Pew report of 2017 therefore concludes, quote, "the importance of sub-Saharan Africa in the global religious community will be elevated as it becomes home to larger shares of both faith by mid-century."

And it continues, "by 2050, the region will account for 38% percent of the world's Christian, and 24% of the world's Muslims. One must quickly note how christocentric or Christianity-oriented these statistics are. And in that, the revitalization, mobility, and futures of indigenous African religious traditions is caricatured, and often dropped in these religious demographics.

The minimization and demonization of indigenous religious traditions within global religious mappings the entire global studies of Christianity is an indication of the power dynamics inherent in global Christianity and the politicization of global religious statistics. With the politicization of statistics of Christians in Europe and North America, one cannot but wonder where the Christians are against the backdrop of dwindling church membership, empty pews, church closures, death of clergy and priesthood, the museumization of church buildings, and in circumstances in which church buildings more and more desacralized, sold and converted to bookshops, restaurants, pubs, bed and breakfast, or even yoga centers or mosques.

This trend is even more telling against the backdrop of the proliferation of the religious nones within the religious landscape and demographic categories. So it's against this backdrop that the interdisciplinary field of world Christianity now attempts to interrogate these complex questions, such as, whose religion is Christianity? Or how is the fit recognized in our culture or context and milieus? Or what is the public role or social relevance of the church in a constantly changing global society marked by secularization and globalizing trends?

This enigma of statistics raises another critique regarding how church growth is measured, both horizontally and vertically. Could it be that we should transcend demographic statistics, and also look at the public role and social location of Christianity? How is African Christianity interrogating politics, economic, social, cultural, and strategic issues of the day?

So before I move to addressing some of these concerns, let me briefly had highlight I know that technological debate about global Christianity or world Christianity. So to start here, I find Lamin Sanneh's distinction between world Christianity and global Christianity partly useful. He asserts, and I quote, "world Christianity is the movement of Christianity as it takes form and shape in societies that previously are not Christian. World Christianity is not one thing, but a variety of indigenous responses-- true, more or less, effective local idioms, but in any case, without necessarily the European Enlightenment frame."

On the other hand, he defines global Christianity as the faithful replication of Christian forms and patterns developed in Europe-- also the US. "It is, in fact," according to him, "religious establishment and the cultural captivity of faith," unquote. So Sanneh remarks further that the term global Christianity carries vestiges still of that root imperial face. "Global Christianity as an expression also carries connotations of parallels with economic globalization. Global Christianity and Christendom are interchangeable," unquote.

I also find Dale Irvin's definition of world Christianity instructive here, as he aptly notes, "over the past several decades, the phrase world Christianity has gained in popularity as a way to talk about the contemporary global configurations of the Christian religion in all complexities.

The phrase carries an implicit admission within it, without acknowledging as much the term Christianity by itself has too often been reduced to naming one or more of the dominant Western historical forms of this religion, rendering the broad global Christianity reality invisible," unquote. To these, we must emphasize the interface between the global South and these diasporas-- in both the South and the Northern Hemispheres, but also think about the South-South dynamics, South-South networks, which are often ignored in these binaries of South and North and North and South.

And this case, we often forget about the East, as if it's religiously bankrupt. So the discourse on this shift in the center of gravity, as championed by scholars like Andrew Walls, Philip Jenkins, Lamin Sanneh has been irritating to the ears of some scholars, including Robert Wuthnow, Mac Nowell, Paul Gifford, whose works privilege extroversion and ecclesiastical externality in demonstrating the exportation of American Christianity or gospel.

I would argue that such a backlash is akin to skewed interpretations of globalization as synonyms for Americanization of the cosmos. Robert Wuthnow, in his inflaming book Boundless Faith, the Global Outreach of American Churches, offers a vehement critic of what he dubbed as, quote, "the global Christian paradigm" as a fairly thorough refutation of what he considered the presumptions behind the idea of world Christianity.

Wuthnow describes world Christianity's central presupposition as the assertion that Christianity's center of gravity is shifting to the Southern Hemisphere. As he remarks in the second chapter of the book subtitled the Global Christian Paradigm, from Cultural Connection to Demographic Distance, I quote, "the recent globalization of American Christianity cannot be understood or fully appreciated until a huge conceptual obstacle is removed. Ironically, this inhibiting factor is squarely concerned with globalization and Christianity."

He continues, "the notion that the real action in Christianity is taking place outside of the United States certainly cannot be taken lightly. Globalization should encourage more, not less interest in the connection between the United States and the rest of the world," unquote. As Wuthnow further contends-- quote again-- most germane to the globalization of American Christianity. The new approach has paid insufficient attention to the interconnections among Christian communities on the various continents. The failure to emphasize these linkages is not merely an oversight, but stems from assumptions central to the new paradigm itself," unquote.

Wuthnow is apt in raising the need to further nuance the world Christianity narrative to explore the interconnections among Christian communities on the various continents. This is hardly a novel call. However, his privileging of American Christianity in this religious account and exchange is somewhat suspicious, and smacks a narrow rendering of the concept of global Christianity.

Second, his unilinear approach to religious transnationalism that is in rethinking the international role of US churches and prioritizing US support everywhere belittles the complexity of the polycentricity of Christianity-- what has been well argued by Klaus Koschorke from the Munich School-- the South-South networks, but also the South-North dynamics that is now enriching the discourse on world Christianity.

So one can suggest therefore that his simple characterisation of world Christianity, or what he calls the global Christianity paradigm, in terms of demographic consideration-- as in one of the chapters, Counting Christians-- is evidence that he's probably not abreast with the robust historiography of the emerging field of world Christianity.

Wuthnow questions the narrative of world Christianity as what he calls the global Christian paradigm, and whiffs of the concept global Christianity as a fairly recent invention. Although Wuthnow provides a useful genealogy of the concepts here, he also conflates their meanings and history of usage. Steve Brouwer, Paul Gifford, and Susan Rose, in their book Exporting the American Gospel, are collaborators with Robert Wuthnow in this project of extroversion and externality.

In this book, but also in other works of Paul Gifford, they converse that African churches have been reduced to a state of plenary as a result of the collapse of African economies, and consequently, that the continent has become increasingly receptive to a form of Christianity that is new, fundamentalist, American, and through which its resources, personnel, and technology is that of aberrant impact on African religious landscape.

This scholar suggests that American sources and missionaries systematically flooding the African continent and forming a crucial dynamic part of the African revival. They export our the externality of the prosperity gospel to African religious sensibilities as the equivalent simply of a hiccup and a byproduct of American Pentecostalism. Just to summarize this, it is difficult to sustain this trend of argument, which privileges ecclesiastical externality on extroversion, in explaining the public role and demographic stature of African Christianity.

The assumption that the new form of African Christianity-- for instance, Pentecostalism-- was fully package in the US, sealed, and delivered to Africa is simplistic, on the grounds that such a social assumptions fail to take due cognisance of the colossal diverseness and complexity of African Christianity, and in that way, glossing over indigenous religious creativity and innovation.

So I would argue that we need to pay more attention to the internal and external dynamics that lead to the mobility of African Christianities in a way that they are now significantly reshaping local and global religious maps of the universe. So let me go to the last part of my presentation just to demonstrate how some of these strands of African Christianities engage in the public sphere.

And I think this, for me, is where attention should go. Generally speaking, more attention needs to be given to the dynamics of African Christianities in generating social, cultural, and spiritual capital, so as to eliminate pathways in which the economy and quality of capital formation is relevant to African Christian communities in Africa, but also in North America, Europe, and elsewhere.

Religious institutions, such as in Christianity, remain a dynamic growing force in public life in Africa and its diaspora. This is what makes new African Christianities tick. African Christianities play a distinctive role within specific local contexts, where those constituencies, such as governments, trade unions, blue collar workplaces that previously generated trust and sustained broad social networks have deteriorated. It is within this context that we interrogate how and to what extent Africans Christianities generate or fail to build religious and social capital, while in the midst of social and cultural flux.

So I will use the example of the Redeemed Christian Church of God as a typical example of an indigenous Pentecostal church, which are spread from Nigeria to-- what they claim-- about 195 countries, with over 5 million members in Africa, North America, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. It's vertical and horizontal growth. It's not simply the result of demographic spread.

The church has carved a niche for itself, in terms of its public role, social relevance, and local global impact in Africa and beyond. The church has experienced considerable growth within Nigeria and beyond its borders, and they also have very huge statistics to show for it. The Redeemed Christian Church of God is perhaps one of the fastest growing and one of the most popular Pentecostal churches in Africa, if not the world today.

In North America, for instance, they lay claim to 600-- at least 600 branches spread in various cities and states of the US and Canada. And their mission statements makes clear their zeal, their mission zeal. Of course, it can be said to be utopian, but we can also see how they are consciously working to deal with this. So the rest of the paper, I just want to show, for instance, some of the ways in which this church is grappling with social, political, economic, and religious issues.

Elsewhere, I explored in more detail how African lay Pentecostal churches such as the Redeemed concentralize HIV and AIDS, and join other stakeholders in combating the pandemic. I demonstrated that their contribution to prevention is partly visible, in terms of broader development issues, such as education and social services, with an emphasis on abstinence and faithfulness as exclusive strategies for HIV prevention.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God has assumed one of the powerful medium for breaking the silence on HIV and AIDS. They engage through therapy, spiritual healing, providing spiritual succor, more advocacy activities, and medical help with the provision of drugs, facilities, and funds, to the infected and the affected. And an example is, within the church, they have the African Missions, which was initiated in 1996 to support the church in reaching its vision for Africa, but also to educate and reduce the spread of the AIDS epidemic in many African countries.

An example, for instance-- on June 11 2003, the African Missions, not America, in collaboration with City Hope International, donated HIV and AIDS drugs valued at $1.5 million to Nigeria for use in treating related complications. The Redeemed Christian Church of God operates an office called the Redeemed AIDS Program Action Committee, RAPAC, to deal with HIV and AIDS from both spiritual, but also medical angles.

Another example could be in the area of drugs and rehabilitation. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that there were 72 drug treatment and rehabilitation facilities in Nigeria. These facilities included government-owned specialized units for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug-dependent persons in psychiatric and general hospitals, non-governmental organizations, and traditional healing centers.

Our strategies are undertaken by faith-based organs and treatment agencies, such as the Wellspring Rehabilitation Centre [SPEAKING NIGERIAN] and the Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry [SPEAKING NIGERIAN] in Lagos. So they have CADAM-- an acronym for Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry-- as a fully registered faith-based NGO in drug demand reduction activities. And so this is another example.

The last thing I would like to come to is to look at how we can see the unfolding of both local, global, transnational religious spaces. And I'm going to use the international headquarters of the church, which is called Redemption City or Redemption Camp, just to illustrate this. So let me briefly examine the territorially defined sacred geography, social compass, and moral landscape of the Redemption Camp.

I look at the Redemption City as a transnational religious and social space, a network hub that hosts major religious events, transmits spirituality and religious ideologies, represents a home away from home to global visitors, and a pilgrimage haven for members and non-members alike. A guided tour of the Redemption City, which could last several hours, revealed its fluid contested physical borders and imagined boundaries, spiritual ecologies, socioeconomic loci, and its complex cultural topography.

The Redemption City hosts annual Holy Ghost Festival, Holy Ghost Congress, and the Annual Convention, which represent the largest gatherings of the church. These programs could also be gleaned through national television channels, cable TV, also RCCG Dove Television and livestreaming through RCCG YouTube channel, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media all over the world.

So the festival, the congress, and the convention become an annual hub within a transnational religious space of the Redemption City that brings together people networking along the contours of religion, business, politics, and economics. So they embody space of the Redemption Camp, and as we shall see, its reproduction in the Nigeria diaspora exemplify as transnational religious and social spaces of contestation, innovation, and change.

This site, as I mentioned, doubles as the international headquarters. Physical facilities in the 2,500 hectares of land include a new auditorium measuring 3 by 3 kilometers. And it can be argued this is the largest auditorium in the world. And this has a sitting capacity of over 3 million people to host major events, including the Holy Ghost service, the congress monthly, and the week-long annual convention.

The new facility replaces the old congress arena, with a capacity of 1/2 million worshippers. Redemption City has more than 30,000 residents, and an infrastructure, residential estates, and business facilities characteristic of a modern African city. And as you can see, this is the Redemption City, which has at least 150 facilities. And it has created a city here-- before, this was non-existent but because of this space-- the creation of this space, it has generated a new city.

And there's a lot I can say about this, but I see that the time is almost up for me. So the religious geography of the camp encompasses physical structures, including conference centers, guest houses, a presidential villa, when the president and other politicians are visiting. It also has, at present there are 11 banks that are located in this space alone. And the facilities-- it's interesting to see what really transpires in this space.

But what for me is very important is that we need to begin to tease out what transpire in this place, because it's not just a religious space. It's also a business space. It's also a political space. It's an economic space, with housing estates springing up here and there. So you can see it a bit-- I think is a bit blurry-- but what is interesting for me, just to come to the end, is the reproduction of this space in the US.

These are the Redeemed Christian Church North American headquarters located in Dallas, and there's an attempt to reproduce these facilities in a multiplicity of ways, leading one journalist to refer to it as African church plans Christian Disneyland. And I think these are issues that we need to begin to think about to try to understand how some of these African churches or African-led churches are negotiating both local and global spaces, and they are contesting space that is religious, but also economic, and political, and cultural, and social. And so this is what I would like to share with you this evening. Thank you.