Religion and Poverty

Pan-African Perspectives

Religion and Poverty

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 1 photo, 2 tables, 1 figure Published: November 2009

African Studies, Religious Studies

A Ghanaian scholar of religion argues that poverty is a particularly complex subject in traditional African cultures, where holistic worldviews unite life’s material and spiritual dimensions. A South African ethicist examines informal economies in Ghana, Jamaica, Kenya, and South Africa, looking at their ideological roots, social organization, and vulnerability to global capital. African American theologians offer ethnographic accounts of empowering religious rituals performed in churches in the United States, Jamaica, and South Africa. This important collection brings together these and other Pan-African perspectives on religion and poverty in Africa and the African diaspora.

Contributors from Africa and North America explore poverty’s roots and effects, the ways that experiences and understandings of deprivation are shaped by religion, and the capacity and limitations of religion as a means of alleviating poverty. As part of a collaborative project, the contributors visited Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa, as well as Jamaica and the United States. In each location, they met with clergy, scholars, government representatives, and NGO workers, and they examined how religious groups and community organizations address poverty. Their essays complement one another. Some focus on poverty, some on religion, others on their intersection, and still others on social change. A Jamaican scholar of gender studies decries the feminization of poverty, while a Nigerian ethicist and lawyer argues that the protection of human rights must factor into efforts to overcome poverty. A church historian from Togo examines the idea of poverty as a moral virtue and its repercussions in Africa, and a Tanzanian theologian and priest analyzes ujamaa, an African philosophy of community and social change. Taken together, the volume’s essays create a discourse of mutual understanding across linguistic, religious, ethnic, and national boundaries.

Contributors. Elizabeth Amoah, Kossi A. Ayedze, Barbara Bailey, Katie G. Cannon, Noel Erskine, Dwight N. Hopkins, Simeon O. Ilesanmi, Laurenti Magesa, Madipoane Masenya, Takatso A. Mofokeng, Esther M. Mombo, Nyambura J. Njoroge, Jacob Olupona, Peter J. Paris, Anthony B. Pinn, Linda E. Thomas, Lewin L. Williams


“Emerging from a series of seminars and lectures held in several regions of Africa and the Africa Diaspora, several authors have come together to contribute to this volume that critically examines the relationship between religion and poverty in African societies.” — Moses Kibe Kihiko, Journal of Human Development and Capabilities

“[T]he collection as a whole is valuable for providing secular developmentalists with insights into the importance of Africa’s cultural and religious heritage in devising policies to overcome the legacies of poverty.” — Kevin Ward, Leeds African Studies Bulletin

“The collection of essays based on a series of seminars, lectures, and conferences, was quite novel in seeking to present a distinctively Pan-African approach to the complex global discourse on poverty…. The book is a vital contribution to the wider discourse on poverty in Africa and the African diaspora…. [Which] all those working towards poverty alleviation must read.” — Afe Adogame, Anthropos

“The volume’s pragmatic emphasis will be especially useful for an audience ranging from experts to general readers who are seeking a constructive approach to the study of ethics, theology, human rights, and poverty. Recommended.” — S. A. Johnson, Choice

“The writers who contributed to Religion and Poverty used a diverse array of sources to support their arguments and to make intellectual connections…. Ultimately, [this book] offers a valuable contribution to the discourse on the role of religion in both creating and sustaining poverty. At the same time, this collection offers an honest and thoughtful view into the possibilities of religious organizations and their role in alleviating poverty throughout the world.” — Youseef J. Carter, Journal of African American History


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Peter J. Paris is the Elmer G. Homrighausen Professor of Christian Social Ethics Emeritus at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of Virtues and Values: The African and African American Experience, The History of the Riverside Church in the City of New York, and The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse. Jacob Olupona is Professor of African Religious Traditions at the Harvard Divinity School.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Jacob Olupona ix

Acknowledgments xxi

Introduction / Peter J. Paris 1

Part 1. The Roots and Impact of Poverty

An Ethical Mapping of the Transatlantic Slave Trade / Katie G. Cannon 19

Feminization of Poverty Across Pan-African Societies: the Church's Response—Alleviative or Emancipatory / Barbara Bailey 39

Part 2. Challenges of the Global and Informal Economices

The Informal Economy and the Religion of Global Cities / Takatso A. Mofokeng 69

A Theological Perspective on the Effects of Globalization on Poverty in Pan-African Contexts / Lewin L. Williams 88

Part 3. Religious Strategies for Liberating the Poor

African Traditional Religion and the Concept of Poverty / Elizabeth Amoah 111

Religion and Poverty: Ritual and Empowerment in Africa and the African Diaspora / Linda E. Thomas and Dwight N. Hopkins 128

The Bible and Poverty in African Pentecostal Christianity: The Bosadi (Womanhood) Approach / Madipoane Masenya 152

The Struggle for Full Humanity in Poverty-Stricken Kenya / Nyambura J. Njoroge 166

Part 4. The Ambiguous Relation of Religion and Poverty

Poverty Among African People and the Ambiguous Role of Christian Thought / Kossi A. Ayezde 193

Religion and Materiality: The Case of Poverty Alleviation / Esther M. Mombo 213

Warm Bodies, Cold Currency: A Study of Religion's Response to Poverty / Anthony B. Pinn 228

Part 5. Practical Theories for Combating Poverty

Nyerere on Ujamaa and Christianity as Transforming Forces in Society / Laurenti Magesa 249

Caribbean Issues: The Caribbean and African American Churches' Response / Noel Leo Erskine 272

Africa's Poverty, Human Rights, and a Just Society / Simeon O. Ilesanmi 293

Self-Initiation: A Necessary Principle in the African Struggle to Abolish Poverty / Peter J. Paris


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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4378-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4356-1
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