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The Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University hosted the conference on the theme of “African Christian Biography: Narratives, Beliefs, and Boundaries,” from Thursday, October 29 to Saturday, October 31. Approximately sixty scholars and graduate students converged on the School of Theology from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Great Britain, and various universities in the United States and Canada to present papers and discuss issues on the theme of African Christian Biography. As an intersection between scholars in religious studies and African studies, the conference was a venue for cross-fertilization between the various fields represented. Furthermore, it was an opportunity to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography (DACB).

In the opening plenary, DACB Project Director Jonathan Bonk presented a brief historical overview by looking at the “What?, the Why?, the How?, and the Now What?” of the project. In the Friday morning plenary address, Prof. Lamin Sanneh of Yale University focused his talk on Sir Samuel Lewis whose extraordinary life illustrated the power of human example in the service of religion and society in 19th century West Africa. The afternoon plenary panel with noted scholars Kathleen Sheldon, Richard Elphick, and Diana Wylie addressed, among other questions, the challenge of the portrayal of belief in biography as well as the various uses of biography in historical writing. The dinner plenary by Boston University professor Linda Heywood offered an opportunity to explore the life of a notable 17th century Kongo figure, Queen Njinga.

In the concurrent sessions, questions raised either in the papers or in the subsequent discussion included the role of biography in pedagogy, orality and memory in biography, the use of photography and film in biography, and the use of biography for highlighting the stories of women the Global South. Almost a third of the papers examined the stories of African women, exploring their roles as helpers and leaders, most often unrecognized in the historical record. The discussions also looked at the role of biographers as portrait artists who must paint their subjects with humility and empathy.

In the closing session, the progress of the DACB was praised and many participants offered ideas and challenges for new developments in the future. Conference organizer Dana Robert offered a few words about the book that will be published as a fruit of the conference.

Conference: “African Christian Biography: Narratives, Beliefs, and Boundaries”
Boston University, October 29-31
General Information

Conference Schedule:

Note: The opening reception, the Friday morning plenary, and the Friday afternoon panel are open to non-registrants. Meals (including plenaries at the meals) are open to fully registered participants only. This is a working conference.

Thursday, Oct 29

2:00 – 4:00 Registration in African Studies library, Mugar Memorial Library

4:00 - 5:30 Opening reception at the African Studies library; exhibits - OPEN SESSION

Welcome by Dana Robert, Center for Global Christianity and Mission; Beth Restrick, African Studies Library; Jonathan Bonk, Dictionary of African Christian Biography

5:30 – 7:30 Dinner for registrants, discussion of conference details

Project plenary, Jon Bonk, African Church History and the Streetlight Effect: Biography as A Lost Key

Friday, Oct 30

9:00 – 10:00 Morning plenary: Lamin Sanneh, Biography and the Narrative of History - OPEN SESSION

10:00 – 10:30 Coffee break

10:30 – 12:30 Concurrent Paper Sessions

1.A. Early Biography. Bishop Graham Kings, chair

Michael Glerup, The Life of Paul of Thebes and the Living Memory of Contemporary African Communities.

Wendy Belcher, The Life and Visions of Krəstos Śämra, a Fifteenth-Century Ethiopian Female Saint.

John Thornton, King Afonso of Kongo

1.B. Biography as historical narrative: Chris Evans, chair

Mark Noll, Mizeki, Chilembwe, Harris and the Future of African Christianity in its Past

Stan Chu Ilo, The Stories My Grand Parents Never Told Me: Memory and Orality in the Narrative of African Christian History

Michele Sigg, Narrative as History: African Christian Biography as History in the Dictionary of African Christian Biography

12:30 – 2:00 Lunch

2:00 - 3:30 Panel: Tim Longman, chair—Biography as History

Panelists: Kathleen Sheldon, Diana Wylie, Richard Elphick

3:30 - 4:00 Coffee break

4:00 - 5:45 Concurrent Paper Sessions.

2.A. Critical perspectives on South African biography. Diana Wylie, chair.

Joanne Davis, Omission and Elision: Missing the Target in Biographies of the Reverend Tiyo Soga

Deborah Gaitskell, Preaching as Boxing? The Sermons of Seth Mokitimi, the ‘Brown Bomber,’ as a Biographical Resource

Roger Levine, Jan Tzatzoe or Dyani Tshatshu: Personal, Political, and Historical Consequences of Naming in African History

2.B. Women in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Dana Robert, Chair.

Heather Hughes, Recovering the Lives of Early African Women Christians in South Africa: The Case of Nokutela Dube

Barbara Mahamba, A Character Worth Writing About: Roman Catholic Girls and Women’s Education Mirrored through the Experiences of Sikhaulaphi Khumalo

Wendy Urban-Mead, "Ah, if only Nellie could be ordained": The Leadership and Witness of Nellie Maduma Mlotshwa, Zimbabwe 1958 to 2015

6:00 – 8:00 Dinner and Plenary (Castle)

Linda Heywood, Queen Njinga of Angola: Spirituality and Politics

Saturday, Oct 31

9:00 -11:00 Concurrent Paper Sessions

3.A. African Christian Biography in Ghana/West Africa. Nimi Wariboko, chair

Ethan R. Sanders, James Aggrey and the Movement of Political Thought in Africa

Maureen Iheanacho, Unknown Pioneers and Unsung Heroes: Forgotten Christian Ancestors of the Gold Coast (Ghana)

3.B. Methods, theories, and models for African biography. Jean-Luc Enyegue, chair

Paul Grant, Biography as Counter-Narrative to Rupture: The Moral Problem of Describing Intact Lives

The Most Rev Emmanuel A.S. Egbunu, Towards Authentic Characterization in African Christian Biography

Philomena Mwaura, Gender and Power in African Christian Biography

11:00-11:15 Coffee break

11:15 - 1:00 Project Wrap up and Boxed lunch

Over lunch a panel of “listeners’” will offer a response to the conference and there will be an open discussion. Panelists are Andrew Barnes, Joel Carpenter, and Jacob Olupona


Scholarships: The Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture Akropong-Akuapem, Ghana, offers scholarships to enable eligible candidates to pursue MA, MTh or PhD Studies at ACI.

For details on these programmes, click here.

Annual Meeting in Nairobi

On October 26-28, 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya, the DACB held its first annual joint meeting of the Advisory council and Editorial committee. The meeting was attended by Edison Kalengyo, Michele Sigg, Deji Ayegboyin, Priscille Njomhoue, Jonathan Bonk, James Amanze, Lamin Sanneh, and Thomas Oduro (pictured above from left to right). Philomena Mwaura, Paul Nkwi and Dana Robert were unable to attend. This was the first of many planned annual meetings of the DACB leadership team.

July 2015

CALL FOR PAPERS: “African Christian Biography: Narratives, Beliefs, and Boundaries”

October 29-31, 2015. Boston, Massachusetts. Sponsored by the Dictionary of African Christian Biography (www.dacb.org ); the Center for Global Christianity and Mission (www.bu.edu/cgcm/), the African Studies Center (www.bu.edu/africa/), and the African Studies Library (www.bu.edu/library/african-studies/ ), Boston University. Keynote Speaker: Professor Lamin Sanneh, Yale University. Hosts: Professors Dana L. Robert, Jonathan Bonk, and M.L. Daneel, Boston University.
The writing of biography has become a major form of documentation for the growing world Christian movement. The purpose of this conference is to reflect upon the progress made by the first twenty years of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, the award-winning web-based documentation project founded in 1995, and to identify new directions in the use of biography and autobiography for the study of African Christianity. The goal of the conference is to produce an edited volume.
For those giving papers, travel and participation will be subsidized by the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at the Boston University School of Theology. The African Studies Library at Boston University will host a reception and special exhibits on the scholarship of African Christianity.

Requested paper topics include the following:
• Narrative as history in the documentation of African Christianity
• Biographies of African Christians
• Multiple religious belonging in African church history
• Women, gender, and the growth of African Christianity
• Political and social dimensions of African Christian biography
• Autobiography as history: possibilities and limitations
• Hagiography as a tool for understanding African society, culture, and theology
• Biographical research and writing: cultural and legal constraints on the research, use and interpretation of biography
• African biography in World Christianity

Please send a one page description of the proposed topic and a brief vita to Ms. Michele Sigg, Project Manager, Dictionary of African Christian Biography by Friday February 27, 2015. Email: dacb@bu.edu
Mailing address:
African Christian Biography Conference
Center for Global Christianity and Mission
Boston University School of Theology
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

March 13, 2014

New Developments!

Since January of 2014, the DACB homepage and Web site have a new look. The main template now has new colors and a slightly modified design. The homepage has received a complete makeover in the interest of offering a more user-friendly experience to our readers. In order to highlight the many resources of the DACB, the new homepage now offers links to featured themes and articles on the Web site. In addition, the "Research Resources" box links to outside Web sites that can be of use to scholars of African Christianity (this includes missions and global Christianity as well). The content of these various boxes rotates on a weekly, semi-weekly, or monthly basis.

We recently added a new page for Readers' Comments. We welcome your feedback and your anecdotes or memories about people in the DACB. We share a selection of this feedback from our readers on this page. Please write us at dacb@bu.ed.

More significant are the changes in the administrative structure of the DACB. There is now an Editorial Committee that meets bi-annually for planning and a new Advisory Council, composed of prominent African leaders either in academic institutions or in regional and continent-wide organizations related to the church and to theological education. For more news, please read our January 2014 newsletter.

Between January 1 and March 13, 2014, the DACB Web site received close to 90,000 unique visitors.

Updated October 2013

DACB Transfers to the Center For Global Christianity and Mission
At Boston University School of Theology

The academic year 2011-2012, during which Project Manager Michèle Sigg networked for the DACB while studying at Africa International University (formerly NEGST) in Nairobi, Kenya, represented a year of transition for the Dictionary. During this time, the physical home of the online database was transferred from the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC) to the Center for Global Christianity and Mission (CGCM) directed by Dr. Dana Robert at Boston University School of Theology.

As part of the transfer, Michèle Sigg entered the doctoral program in World Christianity and Christian Mission, starting in the fall of 2012. Since then she has continued in her role as project manager but on a part-time basis, in addition to her studies. Moreover, DACB Project Director Jonathan Bonk retired from his position as Executive Director of OMSC in June of 2013. He will, however, continue in his role as project director of the DACB for the next five years.

The academic year 2013-2014 is another year of planning and transformation for the DACB in the wake of this transition to a new location in a major research university deeply engaged in the study of Christianity in the Global South. During this year, the executive committee of the DACB, composed of Dr. Jonathan Bonk (project director), Dr. Dana Robert (CGCM director), and Michèle Sigg (project manager) will be charting the way forward in dialogue with our partners for the next chapter of the DACB's mission to document the history of African Christianity.

DACB Web Site

Check out our video resources page (Internet connection needed) with embedded video excerpts from the soon-to-be-released two part series African Christianity Rising: Stories from Ghana (part 1) and Stories from Zimbabwe (part 2) by James Ault at James Ault Productions.

The most recent additions to our biography database can be viewed in our New Story Index.

Check out the DACB on Facebook and join the cause! You can also make a donation. Here is the link to join: http://apps.facebook.com/causes/416140/103310824 (Internet connection needed).
New index pages for our Project Luke scholars and our Participating Institutions.