Engagement, Disengagement and African Theology

By Rob James.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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This paper draws attention to two distinct attitudes found in African theology, that of engagement and that of disengagement. Examples of engagement are seen in liberation theology and in feminist theology whereas disengagement is noted in what this paper designates as theologies of ‘resentment’ and of ‘separation.’ Engaged theologies are positive and have the potential to change African society and the world for the better. However, disengagement is a wholly negative phenomenon that poses a danger for Africa. The danger is most acute for South African society. Separation Theology (which is more extreme than Resentment Theology) suggests that only black people can ‘do theology’ for black people, and that white people have nothing of value to say to black people. Furthermore, proponents of this theology sometimes suggest that part of the identity of ‘Africans’ is not only as ‘black people’ but also as ‘poor people.’ At its most extreme, it could be used to rebuild something that resembles the South African apartheid of the twentieth century. This paper suggests that academics have a responsibility to challenge such negative theology in the interests of society at large and that disengagement always needs to be viewed with extreme caution.

Keywords: Africa, Apartheid, Bible, South Africa, Theology, Resentment, Separation, Liberation

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.25-36. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 604.678KB).

Dr. Rob James

Visiting Lecturer, Religious Studies Department, University of Wales, Newport, Bream, UK

Rob began his studies of religion at the University of Kent at Canterbury, gaining a first class BA honours degree in 2001. From there he undertook a master’s degree in Eastern Christianity at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He then trained as an Anglican Priest in Cambridge and also carried out research on Syriac Christianity, gaining an MPhil from the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Cambridge. He completed his PhD at SOAS on modern African Christianity. He teaches undergraduates as a visiting lecturer at the University of Wales, Newport and he currently works full-time for the UK government. His interests include amateur astronomy and keeping bees.