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The Challenge of a Theologically Fruitful Method for Studying African Christian Ethics: The Role of the Human Sciences

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AbstractThere are attempts from different theological circles to keep the debate on inculturation ethics alive. Such attempts seek to contribute towards the development of inculturation ethics as an important area of study and its acceptance as a valuable source of Christian moral sensibility and practice. This essay joins the discourse by focusing on the methodological challenges involved in the study of inculturation ethics and proposes that a ‘critical appropriation’ of knowledge from the social sciences could yield a fruitful theological method for the study of African Christian ethics. Inculturation itself presupposes certain social scientific questions which cannot be ignored. The essay therefore suggests that the challenges and suspicions associated with attempts to adapt knowledge from the social sciences for the study of philosophical and theological questions dwindle in the face of the theological fruitful method that such an approach can generate.

1. FN11 In his notes on Moral Theology, O’Neil presents quite a representative list of literature on inculturation. It could be a valuable source for tracing the development of some important themes in inculturation ethics. See W.R. O’Neill, ‘African Moral Theology’, Theological Studies 62 (2001), 124 footnote 11.
2. FN22 Cf. Vatican II, Divine Revelation, 2, in A. Flannery, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Leominster: Fowler Wright 1981. All other citations of conciliar documents are from this edition.
3. FN33 P. Aruppe, ‘Letter to the Whole Society on Inculturation’, Studies in the International Apostolate of Jesuits, 1978, 2.
4. FN44 Emmanuel Martey, African Theology: Inculturation and Liberation, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 1994, 63-69.
5. FN55 John Paul II, ‘Address to the Italian National Congress of Ecclesial Movement for Cultural Commitment’, Insegnamenti 6 (1982), 131. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (December 1990), 52. See also Aylward Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 1995, 3, 13, 273.
6. FN66 We shall limit ourselves for now on the Catholic side to relevant portions of John Paul II, Ecclesia in Africa, Catechesi Tradendae, and on the Protestant side to All Africa Churches Conference, Africa in Transition: The Challenge and the Christian Response, Geneva: WCC 1962 and Krikor G. Haleblian, ‘The Problem of Centextualization’, Missiology, 11/1 (1983), 95-111.
7. FN77 John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, October 1979, 53.
8. FN88 See G.W. Hunold, ‘Identitätstheorie: Die sittliche Struktur des Individuellen im Sozialen’, in: A. Herz et al. (eds.), Handbuch der christlichen Ethik, volume 1, Freiburg: Herder 1993, 117-195.
9. FN99 Kofi Appiah, Africanness, Inculturation, Ethics: In Search of the Subject of an Inculturated Ethic, Frankfurt: Peter Lang 2000, 10-11.
10. FN1010 The description ‘Jesus tradition’ is used in the sense of G.F. Snyder, Inculturation of the Jesus Tradition: The Impact of Jesus on Jewish and Roman Cultures, Harrisburg: Trinity Press International 1999, 9-53, which is a brief but good resource on how the Jesus tradition was inculturated into the various segments of the society of early Christianity. See also Peter Schineller, A Handbook on Inculturation, New York: Paulist Press 1990, 7-8.
11. FN1111 Schineller, 11.
12. FN1212 Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, London: Longman & Todd 1972, 181.
13. FN1313 Martey, 53-57.
14. FN1414 Cf. ‘The African Report’, in: K.C. Abraham (ed.), Third World Theologies: Commonalities and Divergences, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 1990; Martey; J.M. Ela, My Faith as an African, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 1988.
15. FN1515 Kofi Appiah, 26; see also footnote 70 on the same page.
16. FN1616 Paulinus Ikechukwu Odozor, ‘An African Moral Theology of Inculturation: Methodological Considerations’, Theological Studies 69 (2008), 583-609.
17. FN1717 Odozor, 593-598.
18. FN1818 Odozor, 593-598.
19. FN1919 Odozor, 601.
20. FN2020 Lonergan, ix.
21. FN2121 J.M. Ela, xvi.
22. FN2222 Martey, 56 citing P. Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, translated by D. Davage, New Haven CT: Yale University Press 1977, 30.
23. FN2323 See Placide Temples, Bantu Philosophy, Heidelberg: Wolfgang Rothe 1956; Janheinz Jahn, Muntu: An Outline of Neo-African Culture, New York: Grove Press 1961; Henry Odera Oruka, ‘African Philosophy: A Brief Personal History and Current Debate’, Contemporary Philosophy: A New Survey 5, Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff 1987.
24. FN2424 Bénézet Bujo, Foundations of an African Ethic: Beyond the Universal Claims of Western Morality, New York: Crossroad 2001.
25. FN2525 Alfons Auer, Autonome Moral und christlicher Glaube, Düsseldorf: Patmos 1971.
26. FN2626 Wolfgang Kluxen, Ethik des Ethos, Freiburg: Karl Alber 1974, 12ff.
27. FN2727 Piet Fransen, ‘A Short History of the Meaning of the Formula ‘Fides et Mores’’, Hermeneutics of the Councils and Other Studies, collected by H.E. Mertens and F. de Graeve, Louvain: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven 1985, 287-318. See also a resume of the same essay by D. Stagaman, ‘Piet Fransen’s Research on Fides et Mores’, Theological Studies 64 (2003) 69-77.
28. FN2828 See footnote 29 below.
29. FN2929 Both citations are borrowed from Stagaman, who refers to Ad inquisitiones Januarii 54, II, 2 (PL 33.200; CSEL 34.159-160) and Ad inquisitions Januarii 54, II, 3. F. van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop, translated by Brian Battershaw and G.R. Lamb, New York: Sheed and Ward 1961, 295-296.
30. FN3030 Ad inquisitiones Januarii 54, II, 2 (CSEL 34. 159-160). See Stagaman, 71.
31. FN3131 Fransen, 287-318 as cited by Stagaman, 72.
32. FN3232 Stagaman, 69.
33. FN3333 Stagaman, 75 citing Fransen, 309-311.
34. FN3434 ‘Gaudium et Spes’ (GS) 12, 17, 24, 33.
35. FN3535 Cf. L. Janssens, ‘Artificial Insemination: Ethical Considerations’, Louvain Studies, 8 (1980), 3-29.
36. FN3636 Gregory Baum, ‘Remarks of a Theologian in Dialogue with Sociology’, in: M.H. Barnes (ed.), Theology and the Social Sciences, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 2001, 3-11, here 5.
37. FN3737 GS 15-17; in paragraph 26 and 31of the same document, one cannot miss the implicit connotations of contemporary Western cultural implications of the term subject to mean the freedom of conscience and of religion and the entitlement to human rights. See H. Schelsky, ‘Zur soziologischen Theorie der Institution’, Zur Theorie der Institution, Frankfurt: Bertelsmann 1975, 9-26.
38. FN3838 GS 14, 27, 51, 33-39, 53-62.
39. FN3939 GS 12, 25, 23-32, 73-76, 54-55.
40. FN4040 Bernard Häring, Free and Faithful in Christ, volume 3, Meddlegreen: St. Paul 1981, 213.
41. FN4141 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, New York: Basic Books 1973, 5.
42. FN4242 Louis J. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures: New Perspectives in Missiological Anthropology, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 1988, 160.
43. FN4343 Luzbetak, 160.
44. FN4444 Luzbetak, 161.
45. FN4545 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social construction of Knowledge, New York: Doubleday 1966, 51.
46. FN4646 Marvin Harris, The Rise of Anthropological Theory, Columbia University: Harper Corlins 1968, 14-15.
47. FN4747 Fritz John Porter Poole, ‘Socialization, Enculturation and the Development of Personal Identity’, in: Tim Ingold (ed.), Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology, New York: Routledge 1994, 831-854.
48. FN4848 Kofi Appiah, 120.
49. FN4949 Margaret Mead, ‘Socialization and Enculturation’, Current Anthropology 4 (1963), 185 as cited by Porter Poole, 832.
50. FN5050 Kofi Appiah, 39.
51. FN5151 Ali Mazrui, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, London: BBC 1986, 80ff.
52. FN5252 Laurenti Magesa, Anatomy of Inculturation: Transforming the Church in Africa, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 2004, 7.
53. FN5353 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ‘Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian’, May 1990, §10.
54. FN5454 Many of the works during the period of Neo-Orthodoxy show a clear rejection of the use of social sciences in the study of theology.
55. FN5555 For the history of the rise of anthropology, see Harris; and Margaret T. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Philadelphia: University of Pensylvannia Press 1964. Pannenberg refers to the useful source of O. Marquard, ‘Zur Geschichte des philosophischen Begriffs ‚Anthropologie‘ seit dem Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts’, Collegium Philosophicum (1965), 209-239.
56. FN5656 See authors like Hans Urs von Balthasar, ‘Who is Man?’, in: Explorations in Theology, volume 4, San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1995, 21-23; John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, New York: Blackwell 1991.
57. FN5757 John Beattie, Other Cultures: Aims, Methods and Achievements in Social Anthropology, London: Cohen and West 1964; O. Onoge, ‘Revolutionäre Forderungen an die afrikanische Soziologie’, in: Rüdiger Jestel (ed.), Das Afrika der Afrikaner: Gesellschaft und Kultur Afrikas, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1988, 79-94. Typical of theories that dismissed African cultures from the history of humanity is the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of History, translated by J. Sibree, New York: Prometheus Books 1991, 99.
58. FN5858 Laurenti Magesa, African Religion: The Moral Tradition of Abundant Life, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 1997, 5.
59. FN5959 Mercy A. Oduyoye, Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 1991; Bénézet Bujo, Die ethische Dimension der Gemeinschaft. Studien zur theologischen Ethik, Freiburg CH: Universitätsverlag 1993; African Theology in its Social Context, Nairobi: St. Paul 1986.
60. FN6060 See, for example, relevant portions of Lonergan’s Method in Theology. See also Lonergan, ‘The Ongoing Genesis of Method’, Studies in Religion, (1976/77), 130-155.
61. FN6161 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspectives, translated by M.J. O’Connell, Philadelphia: Westminster 1985, 19.
62. FN6262 Pannenberg, 16.
63. FN6363 Pannenberg, 19.
64. FN6464 Hans Urs von Balthasar, ‘Seeing the Form’, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, volume 1, San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1982, 167-68. See also J. Milbank, 1991.
65. FN6565 Pannenberg, 19.
66. FN6666 Baum, 4-5; Pannenberg, 19.
67. FN6767 Baum, 4-5.
68. FN6868 Karl Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, London et al. 1972, 460, note 68.
69. FN6969 M.H. Barnes (ed.), Theology and the Social Sciences, Maryknoll NY: Orbis 2001, xi.
70. FN7070 Pannenberg, 19-20.
71. FN7171 Justin, Apologia I, 44; II, 13, both citations in Bettenson’s translation of 1956, 83 and 87-88, respectively; ‘Ad Gentes’, 11, 22, A. Flanery (ed.), Vatican Council II, 1975; Shorter, 76-77. See also Elizabeth Johnson’s book review in Theological Studies 47 (1986), 306.
72. FN7272 The whole of part three of Pannenberg’s book is relevant, but we can limit ourselves to pp. 315-339 of Chapter 7.
73. FN7373 Pannenberg, 316.
74. FN7474 Pannenberg, 321.
75. FN7575 See my reference to the plea of African theologians regarding the need for a radical hermeneutic in doing inculturation theology: ‘The Quest of African Identity’, Exchange 32/1 (2003), 63.
76. FN7676 Johnson, 304-306.
77. FN7777 O’Neill, 123 referring to Anthony Giddens, New Rules of Sociological Method, London: Hutchinson 1976, 158.
78. FN7878 O’Neill, 136.
79. FN7979 Joseph Komonchak, ‘Moral Pluralism and the Unity of the Church’, in: Jacques Pohier and Dietmar Mieth (eds.), Christian Ethics: Uniformity, Universality, Pluralism, Edinburgh: T & T Clark 1981, 89-94.
80. FN8080 Komonchak, 93.
81. FN8181 Odozor, 593ff.
82. FN8282 See earlier reference to Pannenberg.
83. FN8383 Lonergan, Method, 47-52; Komonchak, 90.
84. FN8484 Lonergan, Method, 364.

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