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Max Yergan Encounters South Africa: Theological Perspectives On Race

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

While scholarship on the missionary encounter with Southern Africa has grown ever more sophisticated over the last decade, with a few notable exceptions scholars have tended to ignore religious traditions other than those of the 'historic' European churches. This paper sheds light upon one such overlooked tradition, that of the African-American sojourner Max Yergan (1892-1975), who worked in South Africa between 1922 and 1936 under the auspices of the North American YMCA. While he is known generally as a public figure who subsequently exerted influence upon a surprisingly broad range of political actors and events in and beyond South Africa, little has been written about a body of texts that help to reveal the evolution of his social thought and practice in South Africa. For nearly fifteen years Yergan left behind a trail of writings (which hitherto have not been explored) in local and overseas publications, together with numerous rich caches of correspondence, and inspired reportage in YMCA, Student Christian Association (SCA), African training school and mission periodicals. Much of this work was religiously inspired, and theological or missiological in content. Representative examples of this oeuvre are here deployed to provide a sense of Yergan's worldview, its relationship to his South African mission and his later career outside of it.


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