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  • Religion and Faith in Africa: Confessions of an Animist by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orabotor
  • Eric J. Montgomery
Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orabotor, Religion and Faith in Africa: Confessions of an Animist. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books,
2018. Pp. 144. $22.00.

This book is unique, timely, and invigorating on all levels. The idea of a Jesuit priest doing more than tolerating indigenous African religion, coupled with the term “animist” in the title, made me apprehensive, but I quickly became deeply captivated. The book’s thesis that Christianity and Islam are “fruit(s) produced from those roots that reach down into the soil. That soil is [End Page 295] African religion” (p. 171) is convincing. Orabator backs up this assertion with analogies and evidence testifying to the power of African traditions to form a bedrock for all other forms of religion and spirituality on the continent, using historical, theological, anthropological, and hermeneutical perspectives, which lend great validity and reliability to his claim.

The hegemonic Christian and Islamic narrative in Africa has long been to degrade and devalue “traditional” African religion as something primitive, savage, and inherently diabolical. Orabator exudes great pride in his “embodied animism,” which stems from his childhood in Nigeria, while basking in the glow it provided to his contemporary worldview as a Catholic Christian. He illuminates the problematic nature of statistics and demographics that boast of huge exponential growth in both Islam and Christianity throughout the continent without recognizing that they are informed by what Robert Farris Thompson would call “a flash of the spirit,” the African-first essence that is the cornerstone of religiosity for all Africans.

The author is balanced in his call for a more inclusive Christianity, offering a scathing criticism of its inherent gender discrimination, the insatiability of prosperity gospels, the exclusivity of its doctrine, and even the persistence of environmental degradation, which he attributes in part to the Christian mandate in Africa. His distinction between pathological performance and prophetic practice is nuanced, sounding the alarm for many of the dangerous trends that disregard African core values of mercy, tolerance, peace, justice, and compassion. Orabator synthesizes relevant literature, constructs cogent arguments framed with useful analysis, and offers an effective African elegance by way of proverbs and story-telling.

While Orabator offers incredible inclusivity regarding the strength, benevolence, and diversity of African religions, I do have a few concerns. The pervasive hegemony of Abrahamic religions to marginalize specific African religions such as Vodun, Orisha, and others is somewhat glossed over. While despite high birth rates and extended longevity of life, traditional African religions writ large are still maligned and ill-effected by global Christianity and Islam, even if many of the core African values are alive and well within these traditions. The ancestors cannot be happy that spirits and gods that existed for generations are not being properly fed and honored. I see this as a travesty of justice that cannot be rationalized away, no matter how much Islam and Christianity may be “grounded” in African religion. However, overall, this book’s [End Page 296] importance cannot be overstated. It is profound and stimulating in the way the author redeems and reapplies the term “animism.” It is a must-read for theologians, anthropologists, sociologists, and anyone else with keen interest in contemporary religion in Africa. [End Page 297]

Eric J. Montgomery
Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, and Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI


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pp. 295-297
Launched on MUSE
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