Friday, 13 January 2017

JEH First View: Lost Boys

I'm accustomed now to posting something each time a new number of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History is published, and I'll be doing the January one when it appears shortly: but that will be the last, because we're entering a brave new world. Well, 'tis new to me. Using Cambridge University Press' 'First View' service, from now on we'll be publishing articles online in advance of print publication: they'll go up on the website as soon as they're edited and ready. We'll be putting them up in batches every so often. And the first batch has just appeared. Hurrah!

All of it good stuff, of course (I'm even pleased with my own contribution, a review article which singles out one of the most important books I read last year). But since I need to pick one out, I'll pick Jesse Zink's piece on Sudanese child refugees during the civil war of 1983-2005. I'm not aware that we've published an article that's strayed into the current century before, so that's worth noticing in its own right. And the fact that it is so firmly within living memory means that the grim events he is describing have a visceral immediacy: I defy you not to be gripped by it. But that's not what makes it an important article. The Christianisation of Africa is one of the most important stories in world history in the past half-century, and it is a process which has gone on largely out of sight. What Jesse has done - and his article is based on extensive fieldwork in Sudan and a lot of interview material - is to lift the bonnet on an extraordinary part of this process. His deep sympathy with the converts he is describing is plain enough, but he is clear-eyed about the process. The refugee camp emerges as a vital site for Christianisation.

I'm reminded of a comment in Michael Cook's provoking and underrated A Brief History of the Human Race, to the effect that, at certain historical moments, it not only makes sense to abandon your inherited religious tradition and adopt a foreign one, but that it is almost inevitable: whatever your problem is, the new religion is part of the solution. Cook was talking about Ethelbert of Kent in the sixth century, but Zink's work implies that the same is true for much of Africa today.

Of course, since South Sudan's independence, civil war has returned with a vengeance. Christianisation has not brought peace, and it seems unlikely that war will stop Christianisation. If anyone out there wants to write a follow-up article, we will, now, be able to publish it online with appropriate speed.

1 comment:

  1. Students EVERYWHERE will have you and your colleagues sainted for this!!!

    Sadly, though I can create an account, I cannot get access. Boo!