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Missionaries, the Phenomenology of Religion and 'Re-Presenting' Nineteenth-Century African Religion: a Case Study of Peter McKenzie's Hail Orisha!

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This article examines the use of phenomenological typologies as a means for filtering out biases and distortions within nineteenth-century missionary records in order to elucidate the main features of indigenous religions at the time of first extensive contact with Christianity. To explore this, Peter McKenzie's book Hail Orisha! (1997) is used as a case study, first to analyse McKenzie's interpretation of phenomenology as a morphology of religion and then to evaluate his application of phenomenology to missionary records as reliable sources for a knowledge of Yoruba religion between 1840 and 1880. McKenzie's aim to allow the phenomena to speak for themselves is shown to have failed largely because his methodology is based on Christian theological assumptions disguised as academic neutrality. The article suggests that all similar projects likewise are prone to failure because the methods employed ignore historical and social contexts and minimise the role of the scholar in interpreting the data.

Affiliations: 1: University of Edinburgh


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