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The Church of Women

Gendered Encounters between Maasai and Missionaries

Dorothy L. Hodgson

Publication Year: 2005

In Africa, why have so many more women converted to Christianity than men? What explains the appeal of Christianity to women? What does religious conversion mean for the negotiation of gender and ethnic identity? What role does religious conversion play as a tool for empowering women? In The Church of Women, Dorothy L. Hodgson looks at how gender has shaped the encounter between missionary priests and Maasai men and women in Tanzania. Building on her extensive experience with Maasai and the Spiritan missionaries, Hodgson explores how gendered change among Maasai has shaped women's notions of religious faith, religious practice, and spiritual power. Hodgson explores the appeal of Catholicism among women in East Africa, the enmeshing of Catholic practice with Maasai spirituality, and the meaning of conversion to new Christians. This rich, engaging, and original book challenges notions about religious encounter and the role of ethnic identity, female authority, and power among Maasai.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xv

Sometimes, although we listen, we do not hear. Fortunately, one of the many benefits of longitudinal research in the same area is that finally, if we are lucky, our ears (and eyes and other senses) become unplugged and we can begin to hear and see in new ways. Such has been my experience studying,living, and working with Maasai in Tanzania since 1985. In 1985, I was...

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Note on Maasai Terms

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pp. xvii

Maa is primarily an oral language with different dialects and no standard orthography. I have kept the original spellings of Maa words in quotations from primary and secondary sources. In my own writing, I have used consistent, simplified spellings based on the dictionaries compiled by Frans Mol(1977, 1996), but occasionally have adapted them to reflect Kisongo...

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Introduction: Gender, Power, and the Missionary Encounter

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pp. 1-18

A significant paradox of the missionary endeavor in many parts of Africa,as elsewhere, is the preponderance of female adherents to Christianity despite concerted efforts by most mainstream missionary groups to convert men.1 “Again and again in a mission history,” notes Adrian Hastings, “the early significant baptisms were mostly of women” (Hastings1993:12).112). Much of the...

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1."Oh She Who Brings the Rain"

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pp. 19-67

This mytho-historical tale of the confrontation between the powerful female leader Kunguru and the male oloiboni (pl. iloibonok) is well known among older Maasai men and women in the Monduli area. “She was a powerful woman (kitok),” explained “Lengare,” an elder Maasai man. “She was almost like iloibonok even though she was a woman.” Some of the oldest claimed...

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2. Men of the Church

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pp. 68-105

Although Catholic Spiritan missionaries1 waited until the 1950s to begin systematic evangelization of Maasai in Tanzania, they had a long history of missionary endeavors throughout the world, specially in Africa. This chapter investigates the origins, history, and agendas of Spiritan missionaries, focusing...

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3. Evangelizing "The Maasai"

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pp. 106-144

Building on the history and biographies presented in the previous chapter, this chapter describes the history of the encounter between Spiritan missionaries and Maasai in Tanzania since the Spiritans opened the first mission station in Masai District in the 1950s. It examines the three successive evangelization strategies of the missionaries...

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4. The Church of Women

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pp. 145-187

So what do these contemporary “churches of women” look like? How do these churches differ among the three communities, given their different histories and “stages” of evangelization? Who are the members of the church of women? How do they see themselves and their participation in the Catholic Church? Why have Maasai women been so eager...

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5. Being a Man in the Church of Women

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pp. 188-209

So how do we understand the participation of Maasai men—as members, catechists, and leaders—in the “church of women”? Have these men become feminized in some way through their involvement with the church? Why have so few men chosen the church, and so many avoided it? How do Spiritan missionaries engage and understand these churches of women?...

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6. Possessed by the Spirit

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pp. 210-229

The word “conversion” implies transformation from one state to another, raising questions of motivation, meaning, power, and process. Who converts and why? Who does not convert? How do we trace and understand the dynamics of power when conversion occurs in a missionary context, as opposed to in areas in which the church is well established and Christian...

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7. Toward a Maasai Catholicism?

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pp. 230-255

If the presence of the Catholic Church, and its enduring embrace of inculturation as an approach to instruction, theology, liturgy, and everyday interactions, has not produced many changes in Maasai beliefs about God/Eng’ai, has it produced something that might be called “Maasai Catholicism”? What about its influence on Maasai practices not just within the...

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pp. 256-260

From the perspective of the Spiritan missionaries, their evangelization efforts among Maasai in Tanzania have been a legacy of frustration, even failure: from schools to bomas to individuals, they concentrated their efforts on attracting and converting men, but ended up mainly converting women. Insisting on a vision of community, whether as a boma...


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pp. 261-279


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pp. 281-297


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pp. 299-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111210
E-ISBN-10: 0253111218
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253345684

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 29 b&w photos, 5 maps, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2005