The changing faces of African Independent Churches as development actors across borders
The religious transnationalism evident in the 21st century has heralded a new paradigm of religion ‘made to travel’ as adherents of religions navigate various cultural frontiers within Africa, Europe and North America. The role of Africa in shaping the global religious landscape, particularly the Christian tradition, designates the continent as one of the major actors of the Christian faith in the 21st century. The inability of European Christianity to address most of the existential realities of Africans and the stigmatisation of African Traditional Religion mainly contributed to the emergence of African Independent Churches in the 19th century in Africa. The emergence and proliferation of African Independent Churches in Africa was Africa’s response to Europeanised Christianity with its imperialistic doctrines and practices that negated expectation of its new context – Africa. Despite the declining fortunes of Christianity in the West, African Christianity, which includes the African Independent Churches and African Pentecostal traditions, is now a major non-commodity export within Africa and North America. Apart from their rituals and peculiarities, African Independent Churches like other faith organisations are development actors. Although notions about the role of religion in development amongst some social scientists are mainly negative, African Independent Churches over the years are actively involved in various human and community transformation initiatives. This study argues that the transnational status of African Independent Churches has led to the emergence of developmental ideals that defy territorialisation. The collaboration with some Western development agencies by some of the African Independent Churches in Diaspora further blurs the concept of diaspora as the members of this Christian movement are active development actors in the receiving nations and their former home countries. This study argues that the role of religion in development in any context cannot be overemphasised. As a result of the globalisation of African Independent Churches, the United Kingdom and Nigeria will serve as our case study using historical survey and descriptive analyses to highlight African Independent Churches as development actors.
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