African literacies and Western oralities? Communication complexities, the crality movement, and the materialities of Christianity in Uganda
Coppedge, William Asbury
This thesis investigates the complexities of communication within a contemporary local reception of Christianity. It considers how the Africa Gospel Church, a contemporary mission-founded Ugandan denomination, has appropriated particular oral communication methodologies into their literate-oriented pastoral training program. These communication methodologies derive from and are championed by the Orality Movement, an international evangelical mission network with strong Western affiliations. The research examines one case study in which a Ugandan denomination has had to decide how far it wishes to appropriate particular oral forms of communication as opposed to literate-based methods for the purposes of the dissemination and teaching of Christianity. Grounded in ethnographic research, the thesis explores issues related to how differing modes of communication form or fail to shape “modern” sensibilities by investigating how a local denomination’s leaders and members have responded to the implementation of oral Bible storytelling into the Church’s pastoral training program. To establish the historical context, consideration begins with an overview of Protestantism’s communication practices and the tension of navigating theological commitments to the biblical text and an evangelical impulse for oral proclamation. The Orality Movement is then introduced and attention given to the oral reformation that its proponents believe is still needed in contemporary Christianity. Discussion moves to an evaluation of early Ugandan Christianity’s close association with literacy and its development as well as an introduction to Africa Gospel Church. The thesis then presents and evaluates the ethnographic-based findings where assessment of this oral Bible storytelling phenomenon includes a rigorous comparison of the affordances and hindrances of orality, textuality, and digitality. A surprise that emerged from the research was the difference in value placed on the role of materiality in communication by the Church and mission personnel. Thus, the analysis incorporates insights drawn from religious materiality studies to understand how the Church has appreciated and critiqued orality in today’s “modern” communication mediascape. The thesis concludes that while orality offers embodied affective engagement, it fails to provide a material artefact. Members of the Orality Movement, who may have not always appreciated the complex way that communication modes, whether oral, print, or digital reliant, are embedded in historical socioeconomic imaginaries, have, at times, overlooked the significance of such a material artefact. Without an appreciation of this complex embedding, a limited understanding of communication has resulted that tends to divorce communication practice from the societal forces in which it seeks to operate. This misunderstanding has implications for understanding Christian identity, particularly in relation to contextual ideas about “modernity” in Uganda, but also in other similar Majority World contexts. The conclusions challenge static Western categorizations and expectations of local Majority World Christians. They also point towards a more integrated understanding of communication that cultivates an appreciation of the role of materiality in a broader religious socioeconomic discourse as well as taking into account societal anticipations of a flourishing “modern” African Church.
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