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Conversion and the Problem of Discontinuity in the East African Revival

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2018

JASON BRUNER*
Affiliation:
School of Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies, Arizona State University, 975 S. Myrtle Avenue, PO Box 874302, Tempe, Az 85287, USA; e-mail: Jason.Bruner.1@asu.edu

Abstract

This essay focuses upon particular elements of testimonies within the East African Revival in late colonial Uganda, giving analytical priority to the voice-hearing experiences of converts that often precipitated their conversion. While conversion within this movement aligns broadly with recent interest in discontinuity in Christian conversion, this essay highlights the roles of non-Christian spirits in fomenting radical religious change, including conversion to the East African Revival movement. It argues that the very experiences which occasioned these revivalists’ radical breaks with their past ways of life also established metaphysical continuity with them.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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Footnotes

Interviews included in the ‘East African Revival interviews’ series, currently held at the Bishop Tucker School of Theology Library, were conducted in the early 1970s, most likely in relation to Catherine Robins's research for her dissertation, although the interviewer is not specifically listed for each interview.

With special thanks to Professor Richard Fox Young.

References

1 Erina Rwakatagoro interview, Kitojo-Buyanja, 16 July 1971, East African Revival interviews, folder 3, UCU.

2 Bruner, J., ‘Contesting confession in the East African Revival in Uganda’, Anglican and Episcopal History lxxxiv (2015), 253–78Google Scholar.

3 Wild-Wood, E., ‘“Walking in the light”: the liturgy of fellowship in the early years of the East African Revival’, in Swanson, R. N. (ed.), Continuity and change in Christian worship, Rochester, NY 1999Google Scholar.

4 Bruner, J., Living salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda, Rochester, NY 2017Google Scholar.

5 Engelke, M., ‘Discontinuity and the discourse of conversion’, JRA xxxiv (2004), 85Google Scholar; Robbins, J., ‘On the paradoxes of global Pentecostalism and the perils of continuity thinking’, Religion xxxiii (2003), 221–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Meyer, B., ‘“Make a complete break with the past”: memory and post-colonial modernity in Ghanaian discourse’, JRA xxviii (1998), 316–49Google Scholar.

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9 Horton, R., ‘African conversion’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute xli (1971), 101–3Google Scholar.

10 Ibid. 104 (emphasis original).

Ibid

11 Bulliet, R., Conversion to Islam in the medieval period, Cambridge 1979CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bediako, K., Christianity in Africa: the renewal of a non-western religion, Maryknoll, NY 1995Google Scholar; Hefner, Robert (ed.), Conversion to Christianity: historical and anthropological perspectives on a great transformation, Berkeley, Ca 1993CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rambo, L. and Farhadian, C., ‘Converting: stages of religious change’, in Lamb, C. and Bryant, M. D. (eds), Religious conversion: contemporary practices and controversies, New York 1999Google Scholar.

12 Rambo and Farhadian, ‘Converting’, 25–7.

13 Hindmarsh, D. B., The evangelical conversion narrative: spiritual autobiography in early modern England, New York 2012Google Scholar.

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16 E. Sabiti interview, Kampala, 7 Mar. 1972, East African Revival interviews, folder 1, UCU; Barrett, D., Schism and renewal in Africa: an analysis of six thousand contemporary religious movements, Oxford 1968Google Scholar; Wijsen, F. J. S., ‘Popular Christianity in East Africa: inculturation or syncretism?’, Exchange xxix (2000), 3760CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 J. E. Church, ‘A call to prayer’, 30 Apr. 1936, JEC 3/1/26.

18 Noll, M., The new shape of world Christianity: how American experience reflects global faith, Downers Grove, Il 2009Google Scholar; MacMaster, R. K. and Jacobs, D. R., A gentle wind of God: the influence of the East African Revival, Scottdale 2006Google Scholar.

19 Wild-Wood, ‘“Walking in the light’”.

20 Osburn, H., Fire in the hills: the revival which spread from Rwanda, Godalming 1991, 19Google Scholar.

21 Cecil Marksby to Joe Church, 25 July 1937, JEC 9/3/15.

22 Jason Bruner interview with ‘Mary’, Mbale, 22 Feb. 2012.

23 Peterson, D., Ethnic patriotism and the East African Revival: a history of dissent, c. 1935–1972, Cambridge 2012, 6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 Ibid. 12.

Ibid

25 Idem, Revivalism and dissent in colonial East Africa’, in Ward, K. and Wild-Wood, E. (eds), The East African Revival: history and legacies, Kampala 2010, 165Google Scholar.

26 Ibid.

Ibid

27 Church, J. E., Quest for the highest: an autobiographical account of the East African Revival, Exeter 1981, 68–9, 101Google Scholar.

28 Ibid. 229.

Ibid

29 C. Dundas to O. Stanley, 4 May 1944, TNA, CO 536/215/4.

30 L. Bakewell to Church, 22 Mar. 1940, and W. McKee to Church, 25 Mar. 1940, JEC 1/3/25.

31 Z. Mateeka and M. Magole interview, Butobere, 22 Feb. 1972, East African Revival interviews, folder 1, UCU.

32 Bruner, Living salvation.

33 [?] Rwamfiizi interview, Muyebe, 29 Sept. 1971, East African Revival interviews, folder 2, UCU.

34 Y. Betsimbire interview, Kyamakandu, 19 July 1971, and Y. Rwakatagoro interview, Kitojo-Buyanja, 16 July 1971, ibid. folder 3.

35 J. Kabarebe interview, Muyebe, 29 Sept. 1971, ibid. folder 2.

36 E. Ruhindi interview, Kamwezi, 27 Sept. 1971, ibid.

37 F. Bugaare interview, n.p., 19 July 1971, ibid. folder 3.

38 Church circular letter, 16 Apr. 1937, JEC 3/1/32.

39 Orsi, R., ‘When 2 + 2 = 5: can we begin to think about unexplained religious experiences in ways that acknowledge their existence?’, American Scholar ii (2007), 3443Google Scholar.

40 Jeremiah, a Ugandan carpenter, quoted in Church, J. E., Jesus satisfies? A devotional book with an African setting, London 1955, 21Google Scholar.

41 D. J. Stenning, ‘Persistence of cult elements in an East African population’, paper presented to the British Psychological Society Annual Conference (April 1959), Derek Stenning papers, Cambridge University Library Archives, GB 12 ms Add.7916, file B 5, doc. B, pp. 8–9.

42 For example, Captain W. McKee of the Salvation Army in Kenya wrote of a ‘head medicine man’ who became a Mulokole upon receiving a dream: W. McKee to Church, 25 Mar.1940, JEC 1/3/25.

43 Halemba, A., Negotiating Marian apparitions: the politics of religion in Transcarpathian Ukraine, Leipzig 2015Google Scholar; Opas, M., ‘Dreaming faith into being: indigenous Evangelicals and co-acted experiences of the divine’, Temenos lii (2016), 239–60Google Scholar.

44 Luhrmann, T., When God talks back: understanding the American Evangelical relationship with God, New York 2012Google Scholar.

45 Peterson, Ethnic patriotism, ch. i.

46 Straight, B., ‘Killing God’, Current Anthropology v (2008), 839Google Scholar.

47 Cook, A., ‘Further memories of Uganda’, Uganda Journal ii (1934), 113Google Scholar.

48 Stanley, B., The Bible and the flag: Protestant missions and British imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Leicester 1992Google Scholar; Porter, A., Religion versus empire? British Protestant missionaries and overseas expansion, 1700–1914, Manchester 2004Google Scholar; Peel, J. D. Y., Religious encounter and the making of the Yoruba, Bloomington 2003Google Scholar.

49 Chidester, D., ‘Dreaming in the contact zone: Zulu dreams, visions, and religion in nineteenth-century South Africa’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion lxxvi (2008), 30Google Scholar.

50 Straight, ‘Killing God’, 839 (emphasis original).

51 On the impermanence of ‘rupture’ in Pentecostal conversion see Premawardhana, D., Faith in flux: Pentecostalism and mobility in rural Mozambique, Philadelphia, Pa 2018CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

52 Quoted in Obbo, C., ‘Healing, cultural fundamentalism and syncretism in Buganda’, Africa lxvi (1996), 194–5Google Scholar.

53 Luedke, T., ‘Intimacy and alterity: prophetic selves and spirit others in central Mozambique’, JRA xli (2011), 154–79Google Scholar; Plancke, C., ‘The spirit's wish: possession trance and female power among the Punu of Congo-Brazzaville’, JRA xli (2011), 366–95Google Scholar; Hefner, Conversion to Christianity; Comaroff and Comaroff, Of revelation and revolution, i. 247–51; Peel, Religious encounter.

54 Straight, ‘Killing God’.

55 Fields, K., Revival and rebellion in colonial Central Africa, Princeton, NJ 1985Google Scholar; Cinnamon, J., ‘Spirits, power and the political imagination in late-colonial Gabon’, Africa lxxxii (2012), 187211CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 Okorocha, C. C., The meaning of religious conversion in Africa: the case of the Igbo of Nigeria, Aldershot 1987, 204–60Google Scholar.

57 D. Peterson, ‘Revivalism and dissent in colonial East Africa’, in Ward and Wild-Wood, East African Revival, 165.

58 Higginson, J., ‘Liberating the captives: independent Watchtower as an avatar of colonial revolt in Southern Africa and Katanga, 1908–1941’, Journal of Social History xxvi (1992), 5580CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 Horton, ‘African conversion’, 104.

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