Recent Christian ecotheology has emerged in the wake of Lynn White Jr.’s assertion that Christian theology promotes environmental destruction and is the cause of the modern ecological crisis (Gottlieb 2004, 201). Conversations in this field have paved the way for African ecotheology, which aims to contribute to local and international ecological discourses by reflecting on the underlying causes of and solutions to environmental degradation in African contexts and around the world.
For example, Ernst Conradie, a leading South African ecotheologian, argues that Western industrialization has caused enormous ecological destruction and contributed to poverty in vulnerable, low-income communities in Africa (Conradie 2010, 134). Most ecotheologians would agree with Conradie, but it is also important to note that Africans are no saints when it comes to the current ecological crisis. Africans have also become complicit in the damage imposed on the environment and need an awakening of environmental consciousness. For this reason, some African ecotheologians have moved away from blame-shifting to theologically examine the various causes of the damage imposed on the environment and ways to curtail it. Over the years, African ecotheologians have developed a variety of approaches in their contributions to environmental conversations. While most are interested in creation care, especially the notion of stewardship, others have cultivated a passion for environmental justice, and feminist approaches to ecotheology (Mukaria 2021).
One of the most important approaches in African ecotheology is the philosophical and cultural approach that is gradually taking shape. Defying the scientific and technocratic approach to environmental conservation, which has proven over the years to be insufficient, some African ecotheologians with an interest in creation care have concluded that indigenous practices can provide contemporary solutions to the ecological crisis, both in Africa and worldwide. As a Christian theologian with a background in environmental science, I am particularly interested in African primal eco-religious practices. My readings of the Christian Bible and exposure to African primal religio-cultural understandings of God and his creation have both contributed to my ecotheological reflection on the loss of the ecological community in Africa. Following Mbiti and others, I agree that religion is deeply rooted in African culture. Therefore, we cannot reverse the tide of ecological degradation in Africa without an appraisal of the philosophical and theological ideas and practices that animate or mediate the ordinary African’s relationship with the environment. Ebenezer Yaw Blasu alludes to the fact that Africans do not segregate the material and spiritual realities of life (Blasu 2020, 8). By implication, Africans view life as a meshwork of the seen and unseen realities. The universe created by God encompasses a community of humans and non-humans in harmonious living. On the one hand, this belief in the interconnectedness of life fosters respect and care for the environment. On the other hand, this cultural understanding of the African macrocosm disabuses the modernity-influenced stratified understanding of the human-earth relationship. Both insights have been central in the work of a growing number of African ecotheologians. Their main interest in African primal worldviews is to employ their insights in Christian ecotheological discourses to help build a healthy human-earth relationship.
Below is a compilation of resources that, first, provides an orientation to global and African ecotheology (Gottlieb 2003; Mukaria, 2021; Conradie 2010; Conradie 2023) and, second, expounds on some ongoing conversations in African ecotheology in the light of indigenous eco-religious practices (Blasu, 2020, Kavusa, 2006, Ntreh, Aidoo, Aryeh, 2019, Matholeni, Boateng, Manyonganise, 2020, Kanu, 2021, Adu-Gyamfi, 2012).
Adu-Gyamfi, Yaw. “Indigenous Beliefs and Practices in Eco-system Conservation: Response of the Church.” Scriptura 107 (2011): 145-155. https://doi.org/10.7833/107-0-132.
Adu-Gyamfi, a Ghanaian theologian, argues that Akan beliefs and practices, such as environmental taboos, help to protect the environment and that churches should draw on them as they seek to foster environmental awareness and use the environment sustainably.
Baffoe, Clement. “Ecological Conversion: What Can We Learn from the African Traditional Religions?” Presentation video, 19:08. Asian Research Center for Religion & Social Communication. Given at the 13th International Roundtable: Religion and Environmental Flourishing: Reflections from the Pandemic Experience, 2 December, 2022. Posted 12 December, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuuJ_sekKIc.
Baffoe is a Ghanaian Catholic priest, whose interest in African traditional religions emanates from his religiously diverse family background. He argues that the African primal past is endowed with cultural knowledge that could help to counter ongoing environmental degradation and should be considered a dialogue partner in current global ecological conversations.
Blasu, Ebenezer Yaw. African Theocology: Studies in African Religious Creation Care. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2020. https://wipfandstock.com/9781532683619/african-theocology.
A key work by a Ghanaian theologian (PhD from Akrofi Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture) with a background in agricultural science (BSc and MPhil from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology). As such, Blasu is particularly well-placed to write on the subject of ecotheology. This valuable book provides a constructive contribution to the ongoing global ecotheological conversation, highlighting the three major religions in Africa (African traditional religions, Christianity, and Islam).
Conradie, Ernst M. “Confessing Guilt in the Context of Climate Change: Some South African Perspectives.” Scriptura 103 (2010): 134-152. https://doi.org/10.7833/103-0-594.
Conradie, a South African theologian, writes about salvation and forgiveness from an ecological standpoint, emphasizing individual carbon emissions. He draws on the idea of guilt and the practice of confession to build a Christian theology of environmentalism and eco-justice.
Conradie, Ernst M., Cynthia Moe-Lobeda and Kuzipa Nalwamba. “Ecotheology amid the 'Anthropocene': How Would We Know What God is Up To?” Book interview video, 19:21. Interview by Lourika Els. AOSIS, 20 June, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pc9R3JJ5_nI.
In this interview, Conradie and Cynthia Moe-Lobeda discuss their recent publication How Would We Know What God is Up To, which addresses the question of theological methodology in the context of ecological destruction. The whole book is freely available from AOSIS (https://books.aosis.co.za/index.php/ob/catalog/book/295).
Gottlieb, Roger S., ed. This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2004. https://www.routledge.com/This-Sacred-Earth-Religion-Nature-Environment/Gottlieb-Gottlieb/p/book/9780415943604.
Gottlieb, an American environmental philosopher, examines Lynn White Jr’s assertions about the root causes of the ecological crisis and traces the development of religious environmental reflection. A valuable read for all theologians who are interested in exploring the historical background of ecotheological conversations, it also includes three chapters that present African perspectives. The first edition is freely available at Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/thissacredearthr00gott).
Kanu, Ikechukwu Anthony, ed. African Ecotheology: Meaning, Forms, and Expressions. Silver Spring, MD: The Association for the Promotion of African Studies, 2021. https://www.acjol.org/index.php/jassd/article/view/1940.
Kanu, a Nigerian Catholic priest and theologian, focuses on the degradation of Africa’s flora and fauna and expounds on indigenous practices that once preserved the natural environment. He argues that the retrieval of African primal eco-religious practices is an important source of positive moral consciousness towards the environment in Africa.
Kavusa, Kivatsi Jonathan. "Towards a Hermeneutics of Sustainability in Africa: Engaging Indigenous Knowledge in Dialogue with Christianity." Verbum et Ecclesia 42, no. 1 (2021): a2263. https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v42i1.2263.
Kavusa, a Congolese theologian, critically engages Christian theology and African indigenous traditions with a view to building a sustainable future in Africa. Drawing from indigenous cosmology and the biblical worldview he offers a guided African hermeneutical approach towards ecological freedom and sustainability.
Matholeni, Nobuntu Penxa, Georgina Kwanima Boateng, and Molly Manyonganise, eds. Mother Earth, Mother Africa and African Indigenous Religions. Stellenbosch: African Sun Media, 2020. http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/109585.
A landmark volume made up of contributions from the fifth pan-African conference of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. The chapter on “The Role of Religion in Sustainable Development” draws on the thought of Mercy Amba Oduyoye and discusses the significant role African indigenous religions play in contributing towards a wholistic approach to sustainable development.
Mukaria, Andrew Ratanya. “The Emergence of 20th Century Eco-Theology, its Main Figures, and Key Contributions.” International Journal of Current Research 13, no. 6, (June 2021): 17952-17958. https://www.journalcra.com/article/emergence-20th-century-eco-theology-its-main-figures-and-key-contributions.
Drawing on his doctoral research, Mukaria, a Kenyan theologian, discusses the historical background of ecotheology and the current state of ecotheological discourses. He provides an overview of the “two folds of eco-theological development,” “eco-theological readings of the Bible,” “six principles of eco-theology,” the various models of ecotheology, and an introduction to African ecotheology. Mukaria’s doctoral dissertation is freely available from MF Open (https://hdl.handle.net/11250/2764350).
Ntreh, Benjamin Abotchie, Mark S. Aidoo, and, Daniel Nii Aboagye Aryeh, eds., Essays on the Land, Ecotheology, and Traditions in Africa. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2019. https://books.google.nl/books?id=ncSqDwAAQBAJ.
An important anthology that critically responds to the ongoing degradation of the environment in Africa. With special interest in Ghanaian society, it reflects on theological themes, such as the Bible and the care of the land, to respond to environmental problems. Chapter four specifically engages the cosmology of the Akan (one of the dominant tribes in Ghana) and its possible contribution to environmental care in the Ghanaian context.
Sarah Korang Sansa is a doctoral student in Intercultural Theology at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen, the Netherlands.
Photo: Sarah Korang Sansa
For more resources on Ecotheology, see the related bibliography in the Collaborative Bibliography of African Theology.