African theology after Vatican II

Themes and questions on initiatives and missed opportunities

Authored by: Peter Kanyandago

The Routledge Handbook of African Theology

Print publication date:  June  2020
Online publication date:  May  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138092303
eBook ISBN: 9781315107561
Adobe ISBN:


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It would be pretentious to do justice to theological activity of theologians on a continent as vast and diversified as Africa spanning more than 50 years since Vatican II ended. Furthermore, living in the Anglophone part of Eastern Africa, I discuss what I have read, seen, or heard about African theology, although I have had access to sources outside this area. In this discussion, I will present what I see to be hallmarks in the development of African theology. I will focus on highlighting what has marked and influenced the major trends and shifts in African theology after Vatican II. I would like to argue that the thread that unites the different initiatives that have been taken is a quest for having the identity and dignity of the African people recognized and rehabilitated. The way Africa has related with the outside world through the missionary and colonial enterprises has generally left a negative impact on the African mind, body, and soul. While there were very good intentions to develop Africa, generally the Africans have experienced, and are still experiencing, denial, humiliation, and exploitation from internal and external forces. Those who came with good intentions to develop Africa either did this on behalf of the Africans or failed to counteract the negative forces that were oppressing the African peoples. Any type of theology that is worth this name, therefore, should incorporate this negative experience into its work and find out why it exists and what can be done to correct it. I will also argue that for a long time we have insisted on theologizing without sufficiently taking into account the underlying anthropological factors. For example, if we find racist behavior and tendencies among some missionaries, we cannot solve this simply by appealing to ecclesiological and moral approaches of mutual respect and the need to create communities where all people respect each other without analyzing racism anthropologically. Theologically, the belief that we are all created in the image of God, meaning that men and women, individually and collectively, and of all cultures, deserve to be respected because of their sharing in the divine nature, gives a particular imprint on promoting the identity and dignity of each person. This conviction receives a particular emphasis in the light of the incarnation of the Word through which human nature in its diversity becomes “divinized.” What is most striking also in the documents we’re going to examine, is that the African Church leadership and theologians have sometimes come up with original and daring propositions, but in some cases these have not been fully supported by Africans themselves or by the Roman Curia. So we get cases of missed opportunities, sometimes like lighting a theological candle that goes out and we light a new one from a different light source without using the flame of the first one. I can call this “candles that go out theology.” This can be frustrating and disheartening, but fortunately Africa is very resilient in this and other areas, and will therefore overcome these obstacles.

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