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Christianity and Social Change in Contempory Africa, African Realities and African Hope, Religious innovation and competition

With generous support from the John Templeton Foundation, the Nagel Institute announces the awarded grants for Christianity Theology: African Realities and African Hope; and Religious Innovation and Competition: Their Impact in Contemporary Africa.

An additional website for public dissemination of this project is being run by Dr. Gabriel Faimau and his team from the Department of Sociology, Univeristy of Botswana.


Christian Theology: African Realities and African Hope
Theology RFP Grants Initiative, 2015-2017
Administered by the Nagel Institute of Calvin College


Capuchin Franciscan Research and Retreat Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Br. Daniel Assefa, Director
Expressions of African Values: An Ethiopian Theological Reflection

Abstract: African virtues are usually manifest in three forms: relationship with God, relationship among humans, and relationship with nature. Ethiopia, with almost two millennia of Christian history, has had ample time to develop local African values along these three forms. Hence, a study of African values manifest in contemporary Ethiopian Christianity would reveal a wide range of forms and adaptations.
The major goal of this project is to conduct an exhaustive survey of the three forms of African values (relationships with God, humans, and nature) among contemporary Ethiopian Christians (Eastern orthodox, Protestant, Catholic). By using data from this survey, project team members then plan to undertake a theological reflection on the expressions of these Christian African values and assess its implication on the larger discussion of human character formation.

Deliverables/Outcomes/Products: The products of this project on the expression of African virtues will be three-fold:

  • A workshop at our research center (CFRRC) presenting project findings on dream visions, songs, community feasts, ancestral and nature rituals in the Ethiopian Christian context (April 15, 2017)
  • Articles of theological reflection on the role of African virtues within the larger debate of human character formation (to be submitted April 1, 2017, to the Nagel Institute, and the Journal of Ethiopian Studies).
  • Database of audio, transcribed and translated interviews (individual and group) on the Ethiopian Christian expressions of African values.


Université Shalom de Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo
George Pirwoth Atido
Role of Bantu Values and Spirituality in the Inculturation and Globalization of the Gospel within “Fraternité Evangélique de Pentecôte en Afrique au Congo” (FEPACO)

Abstract: This study will examine the role Bantu values and spirituality have played in the inculturation and globalization of the Gospel among FEPACO churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Particularly, the study will explore how aspects of Bantu tradition and Christian faith have been appropriated and integrated to form an authentic Congolese Christian identity.

Following an ethnographical research design, data will be collected from three flourishing FEPACO local churches respectively in the town of Bunia, Mahagi and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Data collected will be analyzed to generate themes and patterns that will inform the understanding of the role Bantu values and spirituality have played in the inculturation and globalization of the gospel within the Fraternité Evangélique de Pentecôte en Afrique au Congo (FEPACO) in Bunia, Mahagi and Kinshasa. Findings from the study may be generalized to FEPACO and other indigenous Pentecostal churches in Congo.

Deliverables/Outcomes/Products: The research will result in the following:

  • An article that will be published in an academic journal. The article will
  • Enrich three courses I am teaching at University Shalom de Bunia namely African Instituted Churches, Special Issues in African Theology and Contextualization.


Akrofi-Christaller Institute, Akropong, Ghana
Anthony Balcomb, emeritus, School of Religion and Theology, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Spirituality and Hope in Africa – a study in five selected countries

Abstract: There are multiple forces that have an impact on African life, and spirituality has to do with how Africans cope with these forces. This project is premised on the belief that there is a need for a completely fresh look that takes seriously how ordinary people of faith are finding the spiritual resources to survive and flourish in difficult and challenging times. Five experienced researchers with doctoral qualifications will gather data mainly from churches but also from leaders in African Traditional Religions and Islam in their countries of origin. This data will be used to generate a range of tools that will in turn be used to conduct the research. The eventual product will be a collection of five case studies with reflection and analysis that will be published in a book to be used as a theological resource across a range of disciplines


  • A book containing five case studies of contemporary African spirituality in the sub-Saharan region, focusing on the implications of its findings for the wider sociopolitical, cultural, economic and environmental context. We aim for this book to be a key text for theological educators.
  • Several journal articles or book chapters written separately in different forums by researchers on their work.
  • Several papers being read at conferences on the topic.
  • Enhanced training and experience in empirical research, writing and analysis for the five young African scholars in each of the countries concerned.
  • Established contacts between the institutions in which the researchers are located and the churches, religious sites and mosques where the research takes place, thus opening the way for feedback from this research as well as ongoing dialogue and consultation.


University of Botswana, Gaborone
Musa. W. Dube, Theology and Religious Studies Department
Botho/Ubuntu and Community Building in the Urban Space: An Exploration of Naomi, Laban, Baby and Bridal Showers in Gaborone

Abstract: The Botho/Ubuntu ethic and spirituality build community by seeking to empower all members of the community to live dignified lives. The Botho/Ubuntu ethic thus urges individuals to define their identity by caring, welcoming, affirming and respecting the Other. This study seeks to explore how Naomi, Laban, bridal and baby showers may reflect African spirituality nurtured by values of Botho/Ubuntu in the urban space. Partly named and inspired by biblical characters (Naomi and Laban), but also driven by Botho/Ubuntu ethic, they exemplify vibrant enculturated African Christian theology.


  • Chapters/articles: 2 literature-review based chapters (e.g. Southern African journals)
  • Dissemination Report: workshop in Gaborone, Botswana
  • Publications: 4 refereed journal articles (e.g. Regional and International Journals)
  • Regional Conferences: Paper presentations (e.g. Southern Africa regional OTSSA, ASRISA, ASRA, ANSA
  • International Conference: Conference paper/s presented (e.g. Society of Biblical Literature San Diego, USA, American Association of Religion, San Diego, USA)
  • Narrative and Financial report of the study: Narrative and Financial Report


Northmead Assembly of God Church, Lusaka, Zambia
Chammah J Kaunda, postdoctoral scholar, School of Religion and Theology, U. of KwaZulu-Natal
Religion and National Development: Zambian Pentecostalism, African Spirituality and the Challenges of Modernity

Abstract: This study will interrogate the notion that there is a close affinity between religion and social justice, and that Pentecostalism in Zambia identity engages in a contradictory way with the challenges of modern national development. The study will employ both literature review and empirical research methods to solicit data. It will use a case study approach to engage with four mega Pentecostal churches in two key metropolitan cities (Lusaka and Ndola) in Zambia. It will analyze how African spirituality is engaged in these churches in the context of modernity. The study will demonstrate whether or not African spirituality has value for helping Zambian Pentecostalism—which has gained renewed currency and popularity in the last two decades—to be an engine of national development.

Deliverables/Outcomes/Products: The target is to accomplish the following:

  • Publish three (3) peer reviewed articles in international academic journals and in peer reviewed journals within Africa.
  • Present at least 3 papers in various conferences in South Africa, Zambia and more international venues.
  • Conduct some workshops within Lusaka with Northmead Assembly of God with some key religious leaders in the country.
  • Formulate a course based on the outcomes of this project for some institutions such as University of Zambia and Trans-Africa Theological Seminary in Zambia (a major theological seminary where most Pentecostal pastors are trained)
  • Document the various findings in the form of a book with five chapters and approximately 250 pages.


Faculte de TheologieEvangelique de l’AllianceChretienne (FATEAC), Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Célestin Kouassi, Academic Director

Foi chrétienne et interdits Cas des chrétiens de l'Alliance Chrétienne et Missionnaire en pays baouléd’hier à demain

Abstract: This study deals with Christianity and taboos in the Baoulé region, past, present and looking to the future. It addresses the nature and the place of traditional spirituality among members of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) in the Ivory Coast. The objective of this research is to identify, understand and analyze the relationship of Christians from the CMA with prohibitions [taboos], to show how they grasp or perceive them and identify the sources and the bases of the arguments for rejecting these prohibitions. Moreover, it intends to point out the virtues and values (social, moral, religious, ecological, environmental, ethical, sanitary, psycho-spiritual, physiological, etc.) of the prohibitions in the Baoulé region, identify their significance or universal, missiological, and theological contribution. How does a better understanding of these taboos facilitate access to the Gospel as points of contact and harbingers? Might such insights contribute to the resolution of the intra-community conflicts that have persisted from the Western Christian mission’s period until today?

a) The research will provide a grounded understanding of the nature and functions of "prohibitions" as they relate to spirituality.
b) The research will show how Baoule "prohibitions" contribute to the resolution of conflicts between groups. It will highlight the fact that the "prohibitions" have a positive value.
c) The research will provide documented evidence of the role of Baoule "prohibitions" in the preservation of life and the environment.


Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS), Huye, Rwanda
Faith K. Lugazia, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies
The Contribution of African Worldview and Spirituality in Shaping African Christianity today: A Case of Neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic groups in Rwanda

Abstract: The Research Proposal will focus on how African worldview and Spirituality is assimilated by neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic groups in Rwandan Christianity. The hypothesis: this version of Christianity in Rwanda has been accepted because it uses some cultural and spiritual values that resonate with African worldview and spirituality.
Questions to guide the study are:

  • Which theologies in these groups attract many Rwandese and why?
  • How Rwandan worldview and spirituality inform current development of Neo-Pentecostal Christianity in Rwanda?
  • Which spiritual values and virtues in Rwandan culture can be utilized in Today’s Christianity in Rwanda?

The study will use a descriptive survey design to reach members of 7 neo-Pentecostal Churches and 7 Charismatic groups in five provinces of Rwanda. Discussion will critically analyze the validity of the hypothesis. Based on the findings, the research will give recommendations for further action.

During the project, we propose to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Hold theological workshops which will inform interested parties of the research findings and reflect on how to integrate them into a theological curriculum and help churches who have dilemmas.
  • Do visitation in churches and inform these communities of believers about the phenomena as we do visitation to churches we will be called to serve and let them be aware and probably think independently on how to respond to faith in their experiences with Triune God.
  • Produce a research article or chapter for peer-reviewed publication.


St. Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya
Esther Mombo, Faculty of Theology
Developing a Contemporary African Christian Response to some current beliefs, customs and practices that surround death, funerals and burials: The case of the Luyia Ethnic group in Western Kenya

Abstract: Our project aims to understand the apparent failure of the Christian churches to come to terms with the confusion and ‘cognitive dissonance’ evident in the way issues of death and dying, funerals and burials are handled by members of Christian churches. Church teaching and daily practices are in disharmony, Christian churches and ministers seem to be unquestioningly giving support and encouragement to these practices that in the long run appear to violate and undermine the foundations of Christian belief. Our project aims to produce fresh contemporary and relevant theological and philosophical thinking on a way forward that will have value to local African communities. To achieve this, we propose to engage in a close study of beliefs, practices and implications of everyday spirituality around death and dying, funerals and burials among a local Kenyan ethnic group, examine how the local churches in those settings engage with these issues, and draw out theological and philosophical reflections on ways forward on this empirical base. We will ask why the church, particularly in its mission-founded forms, has not come to terms with the African realities on death and dying, why the church has not been able to integrate the traditional beliefs around death with its teaching on the resurrection, and why there appears to be a difference between church teaching and the realities of local Christians. But also we will inquire as to why and how churches that were founded or instituted locally seem to have been able to integrate traditional customs relating to death, dying and misfortune more successfully than the mainline missionary founded churches.

Deliverables/Outcomes/Products: The expected outcomes of this project are as follows:

  • A regional and national conference under the different themes that this research will address.
  • A book is expected to come out of the papers from the conference.
  • An enhanced Curriculum for pastoral care is also expected to result from the findings of the research.
  • A proposal for teaching a new course at St. Paul’s on death and dying as a common course across disciplines.
  • Refresher courses for clergy in the field as part of the dissemination of the findings of this research through workshops with church leaders and pastors from different church traditions.
  • In collaboration with over 20 Bible colleges in Kenya and south Sudan, a wider sharing of curriculum development out of this research.


University of Ilorin, Nigeria
Fr. Patrick U. Nwosu, Department of Religions
Scramble for Souls: Scrutinizing the Nature, Growth, Impact and Competing Claims to Ori-oke in Ilorin, Nigeria

Abstract: The research focuses on the impact of ori-oke (mountain prayer) on the daily spirituality of the people in Ilorin, North central Nigeria. The research approaches ori-oke from the prism of compatibility of the Christian gospel with diverse human cultures and social change.

What are the salient recipes for ori-oke’s unparalleled success? How does its nature and traits relate to Christian faith? These questions call for scholarly research. Empirical and expository methods would be employed. The research tools would be oral interviews and participatory observations during prayer sessions.

This research is intended to accomplish two basic objectives. First, to make an in-depth investigation into the nature of Ori-oke with respect to peoples’ cultural identity, spirituality and compatible imperative of the Christian gospel. Second, seek to unravel the centrality of the Holy Spirit in Ori-oke vis-à-vis divine-human relations, including the transformative elements manifest in people’s daily spirituality. Ori-oke or mountain prayer is an integral component of African Spirituality, re-emerging in contemporary time. Understanding it is one of the great gaps in the education of most Christians about our culture, but it needs to be well researched, well-articulated and scientifically interpreted. Hence, this research proposal would manage to achieve all this, and the findings deserve to be taken up by academic and seminary courses as well as by the interested policy institutions. At the end, we hope to gain a fresh grasp of how the Christian faith is gaining acceptance in contemporary Africa and that the handing on of the faith would be better rooted in social context.

Deliverables/Outcomes/Products: So, at the end of the grant period, the researchers would develop the following:

  • New courses in the area of New Religious Movements and Spirituality to be offered at the undergraduate level in seminaries and universities.
  • An academic conference where the findings of this project would be presented before fellow academics, church leaders and pastors. This conference would be organized under the Centre for the Study of Religions and Social Sciences, University of Ilorin, Nigeria. The conference is tentatively to hold from January 3 – 5th, 2017 at the University Auditorium.
  • Findings publish in journal articles. Already Centrepoint Journal: Humanities Edition is anticipating articles from the team. The journal is published by the University of Ilorin and funded by Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Nigeria.
  • At least one article or chapter published in an international, peer-reviewed journal or book.


Institut Catholique Missionnaire d’Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Nathanaël Yaovi Soede, Head of Research and Publications Department
Christianity, Spirituality, Development and Future of Africa

Abstract: The contribution of the Church to the emergence of Africa, a continent where Christianity is flourishing and where societies are faced with human depletion, depends on its promptness to offer our people a Christian spirituality based on culture and responsibility. African traditional spirituality and Christian prosperity spirituality could be considered as the anthropological matrix of much of popular African spirituality today. Such spirituality should be grounded, however, in the experience of Jesus Christ who has lived in the desert a prayerful, humble and non-materialistic life, in spite of the temptations of Satan. Our research contribution will be a response to the challenge of this situation, a response which will be grounded on anthropology, theology and what is called the principle of “the divine irony”: about God building with the stone that has been rejected by the builders, and about the suffering servant as the source of liberation, salvation and of abundant life for all of humanity. In our research, we will try to demonstrate that African culture and spirituality, in spite of their limitations, contain values which reappear in Christian healing and prosperity prayers. On the basis of this principle of “the divine irony”, our research project will scrutinize the use that Africans, challenged by the Western world, have made of their culture. We will then propose a Christian spirituality based both on African culture and a reading of Luke 3:21-22; 4:13-21. This will help us reject the various forms of prosperity which are not in accordance with the divine will.

Deliverables/Outcomes/Products: At the end of the project,

  • Each researcher will write one or two articles reporting on the fruits of his/her research. All articles will be published in a special issue of the African journal of theology, Eglise et Societes, edited by ICMA or in a collective book in a publishing house.
  • At the publication of the journal issue or book, the authors will present their contributions during a dedication event in Abidjan. Other launching events will continue in bookstores in Abidjan and elsewhere in the cities of residence of the members of the research team.
  • Insofar as Nagel Institute could fund the translation (French-English) of papers, an English version of the book will also be published.
  • The team’s research professors will use the research results to develop seminar topics in the Institutes and Universities where they lecture.
  • Pastoral workers and religious members of the research team will exploit the results of research for lessons in Christian communities.


University of Zimbabwe, Harare
Nisbert T. Taringa, Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy
Daring to Invent the Future: Ubuntu and Children’s Theology in Zimbabwe

Abstract: This project seeks to establish the contribution of Ubuntu to the development of children’s theology in Zimbabwe. It challenges the trend of writing off Africa as corrupt and irredeemable by pursuing how the indigenous ethical precepts found in Ubuntu are contributing towards African flourishing. In particular, it explores how Ubuntu contributes to character formation in children within the context of Zimbabwean children’s theology. Further, it examines how the same values can be appropriated in global discourses on virtue formation. Through the application of insights from children’s literature, sociology, history of philosophy and other disciplines, the project makes an original contribution to the neglected field of children’s theology. It does this while addressing key existential issues relating to the role of Zimbabwean churches in children’s character formation. The project makes a distinctive contribution to reconstruction theology by paying attention to Ubuntu’s role in the empowerment of children in Zimbabwe. Essentially, the project seeks to “invent the future” by ensuring that life giving values from indigenous philosophy are inculcated in Zimbabwean (and other) children in order to lay a solid foundation.


  • Workshops in theological institutions on the value of Ubuntu and children’s theology.
Academic publications on Ubuntu and children’s theology in Africa and the transformation of values in international refereed jou

The program for social scientists addresses contemporary African Christianity as a social force, focusing on its innovative and competitive character.