John Mbiti on the Monotheistic Attribution of African Traditional Religions: A Refutation
John Mbiti, in his attempt to disprove the charge of paganism by EuroAmerican ethnographic and anthropological scholars against African Traditional Religions argues that traditional African religions are monotheistic. He insists that these traditional religious cultures have the same conception of God as found in the Abrahamic religions. The shared characteristics, according to him are foundational to the spread of the “gospel” in Africa. Mbiti’s effort, though motivated by the desire to refute the imperial charge of inferiority against African religions ran, I argue, into a conceptual and descriptive conflation of ATRs with monotheistic faiths. In this paper, I challenge the superimposition of Judeo-Christian categories upon African religions. I argue that monotheism is just a strand, out of many, that expresses belief in God(s), and that it differs substantially from the polytheistic pre-colonial African understanding of religion. I provide a panentheistic paradigm using traditional Igbo ontology and religion to refute Mbiti’s generalization.
Keywords: Monotheism, African Traditional Religion, Igbo, Paganism, Theology.