Africa Today 47.1 (2000) 155-157
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This addition to the East African Studies series, which has made its mark among Africanists with the publication of Berman and Lonsdale's Unhappy Valley (1992), Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo's Siaya (1989), and Sheriff's Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar (l987), will, I am afraid, do little to further enhance its reputation. It contains one very exciting essay: Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba's study of the Bundu dia Kongo movement in Congo/Zaïre as a prime example of how Africans formulate an alternative emancipatory politics in terms of religion. Brimming with profound general insights into the predicament of African Christianities, the essay also enters into a dialogue with the movement's main theologian himself, taking him seriously as a partner in a discussion in which religion and politics intertwine, as well as criticizing him for keeping his spiritual liberation too much aloof from political liberation. The essay by Richard Waller on Maasai Christians is a wonderfully meticulous account that does away with [End Page 155] the essential notion that "Maasai are conservative and don't convert," suggesting, instead, that the unstated sedentary assumptions of the mission made it impossible to convert a nomadic people. The chapters by Ronald Kassimir, and Christopher Comoro and John Sivalon on popular Catholicism in Uganda and Tanzania are to be recommended for their combination of interesting questions and good research with a number of new insights into the development of African Christianities (although they share an inexplicable omission of any reference to priestly celibacy with the other essays in this volume about African Catholicism). The rest of the essays, although sometimes based on solid scholarship, seldom offer new insights into African Christianity (even according to the criteria stated by Tom Spear in his introduction to the volume), although a number of them fill some gaps in the historiography of East African Christianity.
The difference between broader Africanist scholarship and the narrow field of East African history seems to explain why the editors have, nevertheless, framed their collection as offering something novel. The intention of the editors seems to have been to give more room to the study of African initiatives in Christianity within mission churches, to counter the overemphasis of the study of African Christianity on missionaries and independent churches (p. 9). In the context of the study of East African Christianity, which has been rather behind on these topics as compared to Africanists working on West or South Africa, this is a worthwhile goal to pursue. However, the inclusion of an essay on Congo/Zaire and the title of Spear's introduction "Toward the History of African Christianity" suggest more ambitious goals that can only be upheld by ignoring or downplaying the role of a considerable part of the Africanist literature, and the work of (historical) anthropologists in particular. Anyone reading this book from a general Africanist point of view will be surprised to find only sporadic references to the volumes of Adrian Hastings' Journal of Religion in Africa, and the central insights into African Christianity of, among others, Jean and John Comaroff, Johannes Fabian, Robin Horton, John Peel, and Matthew Schoffeleers reiterated for East African scholarship without much reference to their work (except Giblin's wild and totally inaccurate swipe at the work of the Comaroffs in the last essay of the volume, p. 309).
Instead, the main interest of the editors and authors seems to lie in matters of religion per se, as is testified by the theology of one of Maddox's essays and the peppering of the book as a whole by references to Lamin Sanneh. That is, in a sense, the most problematical aspect of this collection. On the one hand, Sanneh's emphasis on the centrality of the creativity and uncontrollable nature of translation is important and timely, and of course...