Wednesday 8 June 2022 4.00pm BST in the Lightfoot Room at the Divinity Faculty.

“A new Christianity: Native Elites Between Esotericism, Science and African Tradition in Late C19th Nigeria”

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Abstract: Christianity in Africa is often perceived as a challenge to its European equivalent. In face of the exponentially growing influence of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, scholars have spoken of a “re-enchantment of Christianity”. This trend is often seen as a reaction to economic and political crises as well as US-American influences of the second half of the 20th century. The paper will reflect on this European bewilderment with large sections of African Christianity and will attempt to draw a different trajectory, one where this new Christianity is actually rooted in global entanglements and theological positions at the fin-de-siècle. Native Christian elites in what would later be called Nigeria, were very much interested in the debates about science and religion in Europe and other parts of the world. The paper will especially focus on John Augustus Abayomi Cole who is best known for his later career in Liberia but less for his many lectures on African religious practices and science as well as his connections to the Theosophical Society. These
lectures were printed in local newspapers and even though Abayomi Cole is a more extravagant figure in this context, the descriptions of his lectures, the people in attendance and the articles in the same newspapers before and after his lectures show that his topics were very relevant for the native Christian elites in general. These elites were looking for a way to found a new Christianity, the Native Church, not only independent in practice but also in thought from the missionary example.
Esoteric ideas on science and religion served as inspiration in this process.

Dr.Judith Bachmann is a teaching and research fellow in the Department of Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology, University of Heidelberg. She has published on Pentecostalism and traditional practices, witchcraft between Christianity, Islam and traditional practices as well as gender dynamics and witchcraft in Nigeria.