Statham, “Teetotalism in Malawian Protestantism”

Statham, Todd.  2015. Teetotalism in Malawian Protestantism: Missionary Origins, African Appropriation.  Studies in World Christianity 21(2): 161-182.

Abstract: Although beer had a profound cultural, economic and religious significance among traditional societies in central Africa, teetotalism – in other words, abstinence from alcohol – has become widespread in Malawian Protestantism (as elsewhere in African Christianity), and in many churches it is regarded as a mark of true faith. This article examines the origins of the antipathy to alcohol in the Presbyterian missionaries who evangelised Malawi in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who drew a parallel between the ‘problem of drink’ among the working poor in their home culture and central Africans, to urge sobriety and its concomitant values of thrift and hard work among their converts. Yet research shows that it was new Christians in Malawi themselves (and not the missionaries) who took the lead in making temperance or teetotalism a criterion for church membership. By drawing upon the experiences of other socially and politically marginalised groups in the British Empire at this time, it is suggested that these new Christians were likely motivated to adopt temperance/teetotalism in order to assert to foreign missionaries their ability to lead and control their own churches and countries.

Mohr, “Enchanted Calvinism”

Mohr, Adam. 2013. Enchanted Calvinism: Labor Migration, Afflicting Spirits, and Christian Therapy in the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

Release Date: November 15, 2013

Publisher’s Description: Enchanted Calvinism’s central proposition is that Ghanaian Presbyterian communities, both past and present, have become significantly more enchanted–that is, more attuned to spiritual explanations of and remedies for suffering–as they have become more integrated into capitalist modes of production. The author draws on a specific Weberian concept of religious enchantment to frame the discussion of spiritual affliction and spiritual healing within the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, particularly under the conditions of labor migration: first, in the early twentieth century during the cocoa boom in Ghana and second, at the turn of the twenty-first century in the context of the healthcare migration from Ghana to North America. Relying on extensive archival research, oral historical interviews, and participant-observation group interviews conducted in North America, Europe, and West Africa, the study provides evidence that the more these Ghanaian Calvinists became dependent on capitalist modes of production, the more enchanted their lives, and, subsequently, their church became, although in different ways within these two migrations. One striking pattern that has emerged among Ghanaian Presbyterian labor migrants in North America, for example, is a radical shift in gendered healing practices, where women have become prominent healers, while a significant number of men have become spirit-possessed.

Quiroa, “Missionary Exegesis of the Popol Vuh”

Quiroa, Nestor. 2013. Missionary Exegesis of the Popol Vuh: Maya-K’iche’ Cultural and Religious Continuity in Colonial and Contemporary Highland Guatemala. History of Religions 53(1): 66-97.

Article Excerpt:

The decade of the 1990s witnessed the development of two pivotal moments in the modern history of Guatemala. In 1996, ten years of violence and genocide came to an end with the consummation of the Peace Accord, in Oslo, Norway, between the Guatemalan army and the guerrilla insurgency. This internationally monitored cease-fire opened the necessary national space for an indigenous political movement known as the “Movimiento Maya” or pan-Maya Movement. Among the demands of this movement was a call for the redefinition of Guatemala as a multiethnic, pluralistic, and multilingual society, with full political and cultural rights for the Maya peoples.

On a different level, this new national agenda included the recovery, development, and diffusion of Maya spirituality, which, according to activist Maya-Kaqchikel and Presbyterian Victorino Similox, required a fundamental reassessment of Christian theology within the framework of Maya cultural paradigms. The creation of Maya hermeneutics represented one of the most challenging tasks in this process because it entailed rescuing and decoding the necessary symbols, rites, and myths from ancient Maya civilization.At the center of this theological reformulation was the Popol Wuj, or sacred book, of the ancient Maya, which became the heuristic source for knowledge of the ancient word. However, the prominence that this sacred text played in the spiritual life of Maya communities was a point of unresolved contention between Maya Catholics, Maya Protestants, and those Maya committed to ancient religious beliefs. Although this national theological dialogue over the spiritual relevance of the Popol Wuj occurred two decades ago, the theological implications it evoked find deep roots in five hundred years of Christianization of the Maya population of highland Guatemala.

This study takes an unorthodox approach to the Popol Wuj, given that most traditional scholarship focuses exclusively on its mytho-historical content in order to understand the precolonial Maya culture and worldview. This essay, however, aims to complement such approaches by analyzing the Popol Wuj within the two contexts of the spiritual conversion that the highland Guatemala Maya-K’iche’ population endured under the auspices of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. This comparative analysis between the Dominican Friar Francisco Ximénez’s missionary campaign in the seventeenth century and that of the Presbyterian missionaries Paul and Dora Burgess early in the twentieth century provides an opportunity to inquire into how this creation narrative has impacted the missionaries’ mind-set from colonial to modern times. It will be argued that in both cases the Popol Vuh narrative determined the way these missionaries constructed their image of the Maya-K’iche’ peoples, reshaped their theological positions on Maya religious beliefs, and dictated their agendas so as to best convert the native population to Christianity.

Cinnamon, “American Presbyterian Missionaries”

Cinnamon, John M. 2013. American Presbyterian Missionaries, Enslavement, and Anti-Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Gabon. Social Sciences and Missions 26(1): 93-122.

Abstract: When American Presbyterian and Congregationalist missionaries arrived in the Gabon Estuary in the 1840s, they entered a world marked by vibrant commerce; violence and inequality; widespread slavery and slave-trading; British, French, and U.S. Anti-Slavery Patrols; and incipient French colonialism. This article draws on the published accounts by two U.S. missionaries, John Leighton Wilson, who served in Gabon from 1842 to 1851, and Robert Hamill Nassau, who worked on Corisco Island, the Gabon Estuary and Ogowe River, and the southern Cameroon coast from 1861 to 1906. Together, their writings provide insights into early colonialism and especially the long decline of enslavement and slave trading. While Wilson witnessed the establishment of Libreville in the 1840s, Nassau encountered slave trading first on Corisco and later on the Ogowe during the period of French colonial exploration. Both men, shaped by their African experiences as well as their respective social locations in the United States, held strong views on African domestic slavery and the slave trade. Wilson, from the South, was an ambivalent abolitionist who railed against the Atlantic Slave trade while hesitating to denounce slavery and racial inequality in his native South Carolina. Nassau, from New Jersey and educated at conservative Princeton University, was prompted above all by the missionary impulse. He sought to convert and “uplift” formerly enslaved Africans while nevertheless underlining their “servile” characters and benefitting from their labor as docile, socially vulnerable mission workers.