Beyond the Controversy: A Study of African Theologies of Inculturation and Liberation

Stephen I Munga

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


When Harry Sawyerr wrote his essay "What is African Theology?", published first in African Theological Journal, vol. 4 (1971), it appeared from its contents that he was making short comments about James Cone's Black theology that could have disappeared in the midst of more pressing African theological issues. Sawyerr's article was not primarily intended as a critique of Cone's Black theology; instead Sawyerr was summing up and giving some suggestions about the nature and problems of African theology. As a matter of fact, a critique of Black theology does appear in the last paragraphs of Sawyerr's article. The impact of those few unassuming comments about Black theology can be described as the seed of the African-Black theologies controversy that sparked major changes in African theology. In other words, Sawyerr set the stage for a study of the relationship between an African theology of inculturation and South African Black theology of liberation, that I investigate in this thesis. In this study I take as the starting point for my investigation the African-Black theologies controversy, which offers a basis for discussing the co-existence of the two theologies and other emerging theologies in Africa. My main assumption is that this controversy affects the contemporary understanding of African theology. Hence, the controversy and its effects need to be interpreted in the light of contemporary African Christianity and African theological debates, without turning them into a dogmatic framework for African theological thinking.

Prior to a presentation of the controversy itself I present a background to the two African theologies. With regard to the African inculturation theology, there are two options that are methodologically distinguishable. The first option is the moderate approach in which Christian teaching takes precedence over cultural issues. This option was, generally speaking, developed as a theological programme of the Church (specifically the Catholic Church) on inculturation. The second option is the more radical, especially in matters concerning African cultural values. The types of theology constructed on this basis either take elements of African cultures and religions as the framework of the meaning of the Christian message, or they have a rhetoric of 'cultural liberation'. This type of theological inculturation exhibits affinity with the politico-cultural programmes expressed in forms of Africanization and African nationalism. Similarly in South Africa, Black theology and the Black Consciousness Movement, as I presented them, are primarily a product of an oppressed people. The determination, means, and aims of their struggle were a consequence of their concrete history, that is, in addition to being denied active participation in political and socio-economic decisions in the former South Africa, 'blacks' were treated as less than human.

On the basis of interrelated studies by various scholars, I then offer my understanding of the controversy. I pay special attention to the integral-synthesis theory postulated by Emmanuel Martey in his study of the controversy. Hence, the present work is immersed in the rhetoric of 'the controversy' and 'integral-synthesis theory' that consequently led Martey to construct his Black-African theological paradigm. In my own approach I attempt a critical study of the integral-synthesis theory, as well as of the various materials used in this work which are related to the studies of the controversy.

In general, despite the theological oppositions that seem to form the background of this study, my assumption is that the controversy itself remains a lesson and a starting point for a contemporary understanding of African theologies. Additionally, due to the complexities of the African situation and of African Christianity, each theology needs the other in order to define critically and adequately its problems, aims and approaches. Consequently, the unity of African theologies as postulated by some African theologians is a non-organic unity. What we can benefit from the controversy and other related comparative-dialogical studies, such as that in the present work, is that the unity of African theology cannot be engineered by any emotional zeal to end the opposition.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Centre for Theology and Religious Studies
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date1998 May 25
ISBN (Print)91-7966-532-2
Publication statusPublished - 1998

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 1998-05-25
Time: 14:00
Place: Samarkand, AF huset

External reviewer(s)

Name: Hallencreutz, Carl F.
Title: Prof.
Affiliation: Uppsala University


The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Systematic Theology (015017071)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History of Religions


  • Manas Buthelezi.
  • Charles Nyamiti
  • incarnation
  • African personality
  • the Church
  • Christ
  • ancestorship
  • integral-synthesis approach
  • Inculturation theology
  • liberation theology
  • General
  • systematic and practical Christian theology
  • Kristen teologi (allmän
  • systematisk och praktisk)


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