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These new Churches which “invite us to a radical update of the way of apprehending Christianity”


Sébastien Fath is a historian and sociologist within the Societies, Religions, Secularism Group of the CNRS, specializing in the study of evangelical Protestantism and “postcolonial” Christianity. On the occasion of the Pope’s trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, he deciphers, in an interview with World, the recompositions at work within African Christianity, where the established Churches are increasingly in competition with new Churches with a growing aura, including beyond the continent.

What are the major trends in African Christianity?

Between 1900 and 2010, the share of Christianity in the African population increased from 9% to 57%. The long trend is therefore one of growth. But, in detail, there is little reliable data. Not all states conduct censuses based on religion. In addition, there is sometimes a phenomenon of double membership, with people who can move from one Church to another according to their religious needs at the time.

To sum up, however, we can say that African Christianity is made up of four main blocks: Catholicism, a “classic” Protestantism resulting from colonization (including Anglicanism), an Evangelical block and a final block, made up of a multitude of churches that do not fall into any of these categories.

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Not all of these “blocks” experience the same dynamic. The old churches (Catholic, Lutheran or Anglican) are very structured, with networks of schools and infrastructures. But the others are booming. It is very clear in the Congo, for example. In the Congolese urban space, the places of worship of the Revival Churches are today much more numerous than those of the Catholic Church. They took advantage of the breath of fresh air of decolonization and are no longer at all marginal today.

In your work, you often use the term “postcolonial churches” to designate all those African Christian communities that do not fit into any classical category. Why does this expression seem relevant to you?

It is above all a descriptive expression, used by historians. Moreover, it also applies to certain evangelical churches. This makes it possible to designate all these Churches which developed in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s. Some already existed before, but they grew during or after the various independence movements of African States.

For example, celestial Christianity in Benin, Tokoism in Angola, or the Harrisist Church in Côte d’Ivoire were certainly born before decolonization, but they were often persecuted during the colonial era. These churches were on the fringes of the system and only really blossomed afterwards. They now have a space of freedom that allows them to deploy.

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