2016 - Nairobi


Encounters Between Jesuits and Protestants in Africa

Nairobi, Kenya | June 28-July 1, 2016

2016 Symposium
JHIA logo
Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies

The approaching 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (1517) provides an ideal opportunity to reflect in a deeper and new way on the history of the relationship between the Protestants and the Jesuits who were founded twenty-three years later (1540). For better or worse, much ink has been used to write about their animosity, especially in the European context. While this important historical chapter will be explored in other venues, the international conference in Nairobi aims to re-examine the encounters between the Jesuits and the Protestants and their respective traditions in the context of Africa. Supported by the Catholic monarchy of Portugal, the Jesuit order played a significant role in bringing Christianity and European culture to Africa from the mid-sixteenth through to the late eighteenth century, when the pope suppressed the Jesuits.

After the restoration of the order by another pope (1814), the Jesuits returned to several African countries at various historical moments and they found more Protestant missionaries than they left a few decades earlier. Indeed, the latter intensified their missionary efforts through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the rise of the imperial powers of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Belgium in the region. This historical development lends itself to an obvious comparison between the Jesuit and Protestant methods of presenting Christianity to African societies.

The Jesuits themselves, however, used different strategies in different cultural circumstances. Andrés de Oviedo, auxiliary bishop to João Nuñes Barreto, the Jesuit patriarch of Ethiopia, employed different methods than did Gonçalo da Silveira in his brief mission to the Makaranga tribes in the southeast. Baltasar Barreira’s missionary style among the Angolans was different from that of João de Paiva who built the education system in Kongo. In spite of this variety of approaches within the Society of Jesus itself, accommodation became a trademark of Jesuit missions.

Knowing that charges of syncretism were a mainstay of Protestant anti-Jesuit polemic in Europe, a question that comes to mind, then, is what was the extent to which the generations of Protestant missionaries in Africa, such as Dutch missionaries in Cape Town, adopted Jesuit approaches to cultural accommodation. What were their approaches to studying and codifying local languages, to transmitting Western culture? What was the relationship between missionaries and political/commercial elites on both sides of the confessional divide? When the Jesuits themselves began rebuilding their missions after the Restoration, did they continue their pre-suppression traditions? These are just a few examples of complex questions about the encounters between the Jesuits and the Protestants, and their traditions, that this international conference hopes to explore in an interdisciplinary academic conversation in Nairobi.

Selected papers have been published in the Journal of Jesuit Studies (Brill).