History of Christianity in Africa

We are in the midst of one of the most dramatic demographic changes in the history of Christianity.  The once “Christian heartland” of western Europe now represents a declining proportion of world Christianity while former mission frontier regions of the world are experiencing rapid church growth.  Nowhere is this demographic change more obvious than on the continent of Africa. This course is an overview of the history of Christianity in Africa with particular attention to classic studies (historical and anthropological) of African Christianity.  While the course will focus primarily on the history of Christianity in the modern period (after 1400) some attention will nonetheless be given to the rich legacy of early Christianity in North Africa, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia.  Were this course to have a subtitle perhaps the three best words to describe our focus might be Christianity, Culture, and Colonialism. These three “C’s” will serve as a kind of leitmotif for this course as we seek to explore how Christianity grew or declined in its relationship to various African cultures and colonialisms.  On the final day of this course we will be taking an all-day field trip for a seminar at the Church Center at the United Nations to learn from nongovernmental and UN organizations about the recent history of the Democratic Republic of Congo and how various organizations seek to advocate for justice in that place. We will depart Philadelphia for the United Nations at 5:30am on June 14th and return late in the evening.

Required Texts (in addition to many articles): 

Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989.  *Any other edition of the book is also acceptable.

Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Houghton Mifflin, 2005. If you read the 2005 edition of this book be sure to read the Afterword first as it explains the powerful reception this book received in foreign policy circles.

Students may choose to read either:

Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God. Anchor, 1989.  A novel by the most famous African author of our times who died in 2013. This book provides insight into African culture, traditional Igbo religion (Nigerian),and the interrelationship between Christianity and colonialism.  If you choose this volume to read please feel free to consult online reading guides if you find yourself getting lost.  At times, the many characters in this novel make it difficult to work through and keep things straight.


Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Life of Gustavus Vassa or, Olaudah Equiano, the African, written by Himself. One of the first slave autobiographies published in 1789. The importance of this volume for the British abolition of the slave trade is difficult to overstate.  This item is available online as a full-text document through project Gutenberg and elsewhere.

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