Christianity, Violence, and Belonging in Post-Colonial Africa

Emmanuel Katongole delivers the 2017 Henry Martyn Lectures in Cambridge

Professor Emmanuel Katongole’s three Henry Martyn Lectures took his audience on a geographic, historical, and theological tour of Christian responses to violence in sub-Saharan Africa.

Katongole teaches at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. The title for his lectures was “Who Are My People? Christianity, Violence, and Belonging in Post-Colonial Africa.”

The first lecture established Katongole’s concern with the way in which Africans have been brought into western modernity in ways that inscribe violence, an argument he has made at greater length in his book The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa. The need for Africans, he argued, is to find new ways of belonging that move beyond this violence. He studies this through a methodology he calls “portraiture”—pointing to individuals and ministries across the continent which are characterized by an “excess of love.”

The lectures focused on three forms of violence in Africa: ethnic, inter-religious, and ecological. In the first lecture, Katongole rooted ethnic violence in Rwanda and Burundi in the history of colonial relations and offered a portrait of Maggy Barankitse and her Maison Shalom in Burundi. In the second lecture, he pointed to the long history of violence in the Central African Republic and how it is only relatively recently that the violence has taken on inter-religious dimensions. He pointed to the ministry of Fr. Bernard Kinvi in welcoming people of multiple faiths to his mission in Bossemptele, CAR. The final lecture focused on de-forestation, land degradation, and other forms of ecological violence and used the example of Fr. Godfrey Nzamujo and his Songhai Centre in Benin to point to how the church can respond to such violence.

In his conclusion, Emmanuel Katongole argued that the crisis of modernity in Africa is one of belonging: Africans have been simultaneously invited into modernity and told that they don’t belong. The three portraits he offered were all attempts to reinvent Africa beyond this crisis of belonging. The individuals were the argument and the evidence for God’s excess of love in the world, a theopraxis to which are all invited to participate.

The lectures were held in the Divinity Faculty and well attended by people from across the university and beyond. Katongole’s next book, Born from Lament, will be published next month. The material in the lectures is the basis for a future book, with a title still to be determined.

The Henry Martyn Lectures are a biennial series hosted by the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide and offer an opportunity for a leading scholar of world Christianity to speak to the university on ongoing research. Past lecturers have included Lamin Sanneh, Dana Robert, John Lonsdale, and Peter Phan.

The audio for all three of Katongole’s lectures is available online.