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The non-romantic idea of nature in African theology


In many ways, the African world view and African theology are closer to nature than Euro-American theology is. This can be seen, for example, in its emphasis on holism and interconnectedness, and its inclination to consider all natural objects to be inhabited by the spirit world. This article argues that this closeness to nature should not be confused with a Romantic reverence for nature. Since the 19th century, Romanticism has been very influential in the Euro-American idea of nature. Nature came to be seen as something that is both good and valuable in itself. The conception of nature that is dominant in African ways of thinking is very different: nature is seen as potentially threatening and, at best, ambivalent; and respect for nature and living in balance with nature is judged by the extent to which they help humans to live successfully. In this article, a theological and philosophical clarification of these two contrasting conceptions of nature is combined with qualitative anthropological analysis of the way Zambian pastors speak about nature in their sermons. These two approaches together bring out the often-misinterpreted non-Romantic idea of nature in African theology.

Contribution: This article clarifies the important idea of nature within the context of African theology. It brings out how the meaning of holism and sacredness in African settings differs from the meaning of these ideas in Western eco-theological contexts. Hereby, it untangles important confusions in the field of eco-theology.

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eISSN: 2072-8050
print ISSN: 0259-9422