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.

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