Kongolese Christianity in the Americas of the 17th and 18th Centuries

By: Dr. David Daniels

 Since the shape and contour of Kongolese Christianity in Africa is a contested topic within the study of Christian history, its presence within the Americas is even more controversial within academic circles. This paper strives to outline the ways that scholarly proponents of Kongolese Christianity as a religious movement indicate how it exhibited itself in the Americas. This paper contends that Kongolese Christianity was a discernible current within the stream of early diasporic African Christianity in the Americas by building upon the work of scholars who explore the presence of the Kongolese and Kongolese Christianity in the Americas: John K. Thornton, Linda M. Heywood, Jason R. Young, Jane G. Landers, Michael A. Gomez, Elizabeth W. Kiddy, James H. Sweet and Karen Wanjiru Ngonya.1 With a focus on intercontinental linkages between Africa and South America as well as North America, this paper strives to veer away from the debate about africanism and African retentions. Rather, the discussion focuses the contributions of Kongolese and Angolan practicing Christians along with their nominal Christian counterparts as well as non-Christian Central Africans. For all these populations, they recognized Christianity as a religion that had Kongolese and Angolan adherents. These three populations participated in varying ways in creating a religious climate in the Americas that was conducive to enslaved Africans embracing Christianity. For the latter category, while Christianity was not their religion, it existed within the Central African religious orbit in which they operate. While this paper resist identifying Kongolese Christianity solely in terms of a set of doctrines, practices, or institutions, there will be a discussion of the role of institutions such as confraternities and practices such as “the ring shout.” The discussions of these elements are only meant to point towards the existence of a Kongolese Christianity as a religious arc or thrust.Rather than enter a debate about the location of these elements on a continuum of Christian expressions, a contention of this paper is how Kongolese and Angolans identified themselves as Christians. In this paper, it will be argued that Kongolese Christianity was a contributing factor in the emergence and development of Christianity among people of African descent throughout various communities within the Americas during the 17th  and 18th  centuries.

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David D. Daniels III joined the faculty of McCormick Theological Seminary in 1987 and was inaugurated Professor of Church History in 2003.

David received the Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, in 1976, majoring in religion and economics. In 1979 he obtained the Master of Divinity from Yale University. During his years at Yale, he was a Benjamin E. Mays Fellow for the Fund for Theological Education. David earned a Ph.D. in Church History from Union Theological Seminary in New York in May, 1992. From 1979 to 1983 he was instructor of Religion at the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH.

David has been a member of the American Academy of Religion since 1989, the Society for the Study of Black Religion since 1993 and the Society for Pentecostal Studies since 1979. He is a member of the steering committee of the Evangelical Theology Group and Afro-American History Group of the American Academy of Religion. He is a member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Pentecostal International Dialogue. He has served as commissioner for the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches U.S. A. for the 1988-91 quadrennium and has participated on consultations sponsored by the National council of Churches in the United States and the World Council of Churches in united States and Costa Rica.

He is author of various articles on the history of Christianity and book reviews published in Theological Education in Pneuma, Christianity Century, Encyclopedia of African American Religions, and A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions. David also served as an advisor to Legacy of A Leader, a 1991 video documentary on Charles Harrison Mason. He serves on the editorial committee of a new history of World Christianity project funded by Orbis Press.

David serves as a member of various research projects: Religion in Urban America
directed by Dr. Lowell Livezey and the Funding of Black Churches project directed Dr. Thomas Hoyt. He has served as a member of the Lay formation and Education Project directed by Dr. Dorothy Bass and the Wesleyan/Holiness project directed by William Faupel. He has served on the advisory committee of Contextualized Urban Theological Education Enablement Program directed by Dr. Edith Blumhofer.

David has lectured at various colleges and seminaries in the United States, including Northern Illinois University, Alma College, Adrian College, North Park University, Butler university, Lewis University, and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He has also lectured at the Bossey Institute in Switzerland, the Spiritan International School of Theology in Attakwu, Enugu, Nigeria, the Cheikh A. Diop University of Dakar, Dakar, Senegal, and Emmanuel College of Victoria University at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

David has been an ordained minister in the Church of God in Christ since 1980.