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Unit information: Jesus in an Age of Colonialism in 2014/15

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Unit name Jesus in an Age of Colonialism
Unit code THRS30068
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. John Lyons
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Before and during the expansion of the colonial enterprise in Africa known as the “scramble for Africa”, Christian missionaries played a significant role in the cultural exchanges that took place between Europeans and their colonial subjects. This unit will focus on the role that scriptures, narratives, histories, and practices took in the ongoing development of Christianity in West Africa, taking the German scholar and physician, Albert Schweitzer, as its exemplary subject. His attitudes to the historical Jesus, the mysticism of Paul, and his description of Christian ethics as a commitment to ‘reverence for life’ are examined in the twin-contexts of his move from turn of the century Europe to the Africa of 1915 onwards. Examination of the legacy of such missionary work in a postcolonial world completes the unit.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have (1) developed an in-depth historical understanding of the ideas that lie behind Christian missionary activity in the modern period generally. (2) a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of the relationship between Christian missionary activity, especially in the case of Albert Schweitzer, and the colonial project in West Africa; (3) demonstrated the ability to analyse and evaluate the religious perceptions of the coloniser, the colonised, and the postcolonial; (4) demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument. Additionally, as part of a level H/6 unit, students will be expected to (5) display high level skills in evaluating, analysing, synthesising and (where apt) critiquing concepts and ideas.

Teaching details

20 hours (seminar)

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 6 (50%).

Reading and References

• Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (Oxford University Press, 1993). • Christopher J. Gray, Colonial Rule and Crisis in Equatorial Africa: Southern Gabon, C. 1880-1940 (University of Rochester Press, 2002). • Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Dover Publications Inc., 2005). • Albert Schweitzer, On The Edge Of The Primeval Forest and More From the Primeval Forest (AMS Press Inc., 1948). • James Carleton Paget, ‘Albert Schweitzer and Africa’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 42, (2012) , 277-316. • Martin Ballard, White Men’s God: The Extraordinary Story of Missionaries in Africa (Greenwood World Publishing, 2008)