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Four Thousand Forgotten Generations: The Longue Durée in African History Challenges Mission, Theology and Piety

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With a few notable exceptions the history of Christianity in the regions of Black Africa begins around 1800 or later. The bulk of missiological work on the continent naturally concentrates on the 10 generations in which evangelisation has taken place and churches have grown. But the human race has a history of 4–5,000 generations in Africa. Is it possible to build a bridge between the missiological concern with recent Christian history, and the long perspectives which the continent offers the general historian? The author essays a Christian approach to the millennia in which African populations, with little input from outside, have survived by the quality of their knowledge of, and thinking about, their environment – the ability humans always had to observe and to ratiocinate. He argues that over 4–5,000 generations humans in Africa have practised what we call science, interleaved with what we call religion. This view gives missiologists a basis for a positive approach to pre-Christian belief and ritual in Africa, but challenges us also to ask if Christian practice there has paid enough attention to traditional centres of intellectual articulation among its peoples.

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