African Diaspora Christianity: Some Key Conversation Partners and Resources

Harvey Kwiyani | March 2023

The spread of African Christianity from Africa to the entire world is one of the most fascinating things about the religious landscape of the twenty-first century. African Christians have been migrating to other continents in large numbers over the past five decades. The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), for example, states that it is present in 197 countries around the world — most of their members are Nigerians who have migrated from their homeland to these countries.

The Church of Pentecost, another African Pentecostal denomination from Ghana, established only seventy years ago, has branches in almost 120 countries around the world and is mostly made up of Ghanaian migrants. Many other smaller denominations of African origin also boast a significant presence on other continents. The Apostolic Faith Mission from South Africa and Zimbabwe, Living Waters Church from Malawi, Deeper Life Church from Nigeria, Mekane Yesus Church from Ethiopia, the Light House Chapel from Ghana, and many others, have all established congregations outside Africa. Given the reality of African migration and mission, any discussion of African Christianity today must include discussion of the African diaspora. In this blog post I bring together some of the leading scholars on African Diaspora Christianity and highlight their contributions to this growing field. This list is UK-centred because the UK has been the primary context of my research for the past 10 years.

Gerrie ter Haar

Gerrie ter Haar is a Dutch scholar of religion and is emeritus professor of Religion and Development at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University, Rotterdam. For three decades now, she has focused a great deal of her research and publications on the growing significance of African Christians in Europe. She has authored and edited numerous books and articles on African Christianity, both in Africa and in the African Diaspora. It was her book, Halfway to Paradise: African Christians Europe (1998), that broke open the subject of African Christian migration to Europe. She focused on the growing presence of Ghanaian Christians in the Netherlands, a phenomenon that she started exploring in the 1970s. She carried out the research for Halfway to Paradise in the early 1990s when African communities had been settled in Europe for some time. Many of the issues that she raises in her book are yet to be addressed today, more than twenty years after its publication. For instance, her discussion of race and ethnicity highlights the continued yearning among African Christian communities in Europe for recognition by political agencies. Another major contribution from ter Haar is her edited book that resulted from a conference that she had organized at Leiden University in 1995, entitled Strangers and Sojourners: Religious Communities in Diaspora (1998). Arguing that the modern world is full of diasporas, the book explores the past and present applications of the term ‘diaspora’ in relation to religious communities in different settings. As such, specific chapters discuss various diaspora groups, such as Africans in modern Europe, Hindus in Britain, Jews in ancient Egypt, and others. She has continued to write on African Christianity, both in Africa and in the Diaspora. Around the same time she also contributed a chapter entitled “The African Diaspora in the Netherlands” to the book New Trends and Developments in African Religions (1998), which is freely available here. Her book, How God Became African: African Spirituality and Western Secular Thought (2009), continues her fascinating journey as she delves deeper into trying to understand the global presence of African Christianity.

Afe Adogame

Afe Adogame is a Nigerian scholar, who has arguably contributed the most to the study of African Christianity in the diaspora. He is the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, USA. He completed his doctoral studies at Bayreuth University in Germany in 1998, where he studied the Celestial Church of Christ, a Nigerian church with congregations in several German cities. His articles, “A Home Away from Home: The Proliferation of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) in Diaspora-Europe,” and “Celestial Church of Christ: The Politics of Cultural Identity in a West African Prophetic Charismatic Movement,” published in 1998 and 1999, respectively, reflect on some of the issues he unearthed in his doctoral research. In February 2003, Bayreuth University organized a conference called “Religion in the Context of African Migration,” which drew upon many scholars from Europe, Africa, and North America. Out of this conference, Adogame and Cordula Weissköppel published their book, Religion in the Context of African Migration (2005). Later in 2003, Adogame, Roswith Gerloff, and Klaus Hock organized a conference on immigration and religion in Berlin that produced Christianity in Africa and the African Diaspora: The Appropriation of a Scattered Heritage (2008). Adogame has written extensively in journals, books, papers, and other literature, and the majority of his works have centred on Europe. In fact, he has teamed up with most of the European voices on issues connected with African Christianity in Africa and abroad. Some of his collaborative works are African Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa: Emerging Trends, Indigenous Spirituality and the Interface with Other World Religions: Essays in Honour of Jacob Kehinde Olupona (2010), Religion Crossing Boundaries: Transnational Religious and Social Dynamics in Africa and the New African Diaspora (2010) and Fighting in God's Name: Religion and Conflict in Local-Global Perspectives (2021). Other writings by Adogame include Who is Afraid of the Holy Ghost? Pentecostalism and Globalization in Africa and Beyond (2011), The African Christian Diaspora: New Currents and Emerging Trends in World Christianity (2013), which is freely available here, and Indigeneity in African Religions: Oza Worldviews, Cosmologies and Religious Cultures (2021).

Jehu Hanciles

Jehu J. Hanciles comes from Sierra Leone. He currently serves as the D. W. and Ruth Brooks Professor of World Christianity and Director of the World Christianity Program at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, USA. Since completing his doctoral degree in 1995 from the University of Edinburgh under the tutelage of Andrew Walls, Hanciles has continued to publish on World Christianity from an African perspective, drawing significantly from his experience and learning in Britain. His research interests include the connection between globalization, migration, and religious expansion, more specifically the ways in which South-North migratory flows provide the structure and impetus for a full-fledged missionary movement from global Christianity’s new heartlands in the non-Western world. He has consciously accentuated African immigrants' contributions and potential impacts on the sustenance and future of Christianity in Britain, the West, and the globe, despite the experience of marginalisation and socio-economic difficulties attending these immigrant communities in the diaspora. In 2008, Hanciles published Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (freely available here) in which he examines the two key global trends of globalisation and African migration (especially to the West), and how these two events are coming together to impact the West and shape the future of World Christianity. This is an impressively-researched book. Hanciles is good with both historical and statistical data. In particular, he shows that most of the immigrant groups showing up in the West are Christians. It is plausible, from Hanciles’ argument, to see the potential of African (and other non-Western) Christians to help re-evangelise the West. Indeed, migrant congregations, which represent the growing part of the church in some parts of the West, have a great deal to contribute to the religious landscape of many Western countries where a massive and rapid erosion of the Christian faith from the public scene is taking place. Hanciles has continued his argument about the significance of migration for mission and the spread of Christianity. In 2021, he published two important books in the discourse, Migration and the Making of Global Christianity and World Christianity: History, Methodologies, Horizons.

Israel Olofinjana

Israel Olofinjana is a Nigerian Baptist pastor and scholar based in the UK. He currently works as the Director of the UK Evangelical Alliance's One People Commission — a platform for “the gathering together of God’s one church in all its vibrant expressions, modelling the unity of God’s people.” He is also one of the founding directors of the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World in London. Olofinjana’s research has spanned over two decades. His current research focus is on African congregations’ missional engagements in Europe and African church history (both in Nigeria and in the UK). His first book, Reverse in Mission and Ministry: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe (2010), was a courageous declaration of the emerging missional era that will be characterised largely by the growing numbers of non-Western missionaries serving God in what he audaciously called the "Dark Continent" of Europe. Following this, he has edited several significant books exploring the subject of what he calls "reverse missiology" and the growing presence of non-Western Christians in Europe. In his first edited book, Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in the UK (2013), he weaves together personal narratives of non-Western missionaries working in Europe to create a resource that highlights their experiences and challenges. His second edited book, African Voices: Towards African British Theologies (2017), gathers together essays from African theologians in the UK to make some key themes in their thought accessible to the British Christian academy. His most recent edited book, World Christianity in Western Europe: Diasporic Identity, Narratives and Missiology (2020) continues the trend of collecting essays exploring different aspects of how World Christianity colours the religious landscape of Europe. Olofinjana has authored several other books, papers, and journal articles, including Partnership in Mission: A Black Majority Perspective on Mission and Church Unity (2015) and “Reverse Missiology: Mission Approaches and Practices of African Christians within the Baptist Union of Great Britain” (2018), which is freely available here. He also blogs regularly here.

Babatunde Adedibu

Babatunde Adedibu is the provost of Redeemed Christian Bible College, a college of the Redeemed Christian Church of God that is an affiliate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He holds a PhD in Missiology from North-West University, South Africa. Adedibu's research interests focus on non-Western Christianity and how this intersects with mission, migration, and theology. He has published significantly on African Diaspora Christianity in Britain. His doctoral thesis, entitled “The Urban Explosion of Black Majority Churches: Their Origin, Growth, Distinctives and Contribution to British Christianity” (2010), which is freely available here, has formed the bedrock of his subsequent writings, such as Coat of Many Colours: The Origin, Growth, Distinctives and Contribution of Black Majority Churches to British Christianity (2012). Adedibu compares the diversity seen in British Christianity to Joseph's “coat of many colours” (Gen 37). In his numerous journal articles, he has raised concern that the majority of African churches in the West are “repositories of migrant cultures, where inherent cultural ideologies are expressed through the worship and liturgy of their home countries.” He also emphasises that African churches in the diaspora play crucial roles in helping their members cope with settlement in a new land, despite their political impact remaining in infancy. As such, he has wrestled with the implications of what this means, especially among African Pentecostal churches who, by choosing to emphasise African cultural expressions, are alienating their own children from the faith. He argues that African churches in Britain must rethink their missional strategies and pay attention to the British context if they are to stay relevant.

Dr. Harvey Kwiyani is a Malawian mission theologian with twenty years of mission and theological education experience in Europe and the United States. He currently serves as the CEO of Global Connections in the UK and has a teaching role at the Church Mission Society (CMS) in Oxford where he leads a masters’ program focused on African Christianity in Britain. His books include Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West (2014), Our Children Need Roots and Wings (2018) and Multicultural Kingdom: Ethnic Diversity, Mission, and the Church (2020). He recently edited and published Africa Bears Witness (2021). He is also the founding editor of Missio Africanus: The Journal of African Missiology, which is freely available here.

Photo Credit: Harvey Kwiyani

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