A History of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians 1989-2007


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When African Theology was first formulated, women played just a small role. In 1989 Mercy Amba Oduyoye set out to change this by creating the Circle of Concerned African Theologians in order to them a voice. The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians is an African Baby, born in an ecumenical surrounding. Though there were other movements addressing the issue of gender inequalities in church and society, circle theologies are distinct from other women's liberation movements in that they are theologies formed in the context of African culture and religion. This book traces the Circle history from 1989 to 2007.



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Published 28 September 2017
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EAN13 9789996045233
Language English
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A History of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians
Copyright 2017 Rachel NyaGondwe FiedlerAll rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission from the publishers. Published by Mzuni Press P/Bag 201 Luwinga, Mzuzu 2. Malawi ISBN 978-99960-45-22-6 eISBN 978-99960-45-23-3 Mzuni Press is represented outside Malawi by: African Books Collective Oxford (also for e-books) (orders@africanbookscollective.com) www.mzunipress.blogspot.comwww.africanbookscollective.comIndex: Jan Stapperfenne Cover: Josephine Kawejere Printed in Malawi by Baptist Publications, P.O. Box 444, Lilongwe
A History of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (1989-2007)
Rachel NyaGondwe Fiedler
A Mzuni Monograph
Chapter 1: Mercy Amba Oduyoye as Mother and Leader of the Circle (1989 - 1996) 10
Chapter 2: Growth of the Circle under Consecutive Continental Leaders (1989-2007)
Chapter 3: Local Chapters and the Growth of the Circle (1989 – 2017) 55
Chapter 4: Birth and Growth of the Circle in Malawi (1993 – 2017)
Chapter 5: The Role of Zones, Regions and Study Commissions in the Growth of the Circle 116
Chapter 6: Contributions of the Circle to Theological Education
Chapter 7: The Circle, Women and Development
Chapter 8: Celebrating Maturity: 28 Years of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (1989 – 2017) 164
AbbreviationsAACC All Africa Council of Churches BACOMA Baptist Convention of Malawi CCAP Church of Central Africa Presbyterian DRCM Dutch Reformed Church Mission EATWOT Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians EBCOM Evangelical Bible College of Malawi EDICESA Educational Information and Documentation Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa
International Fellowship of Evangelical Students
International Planning Committee
Lutheran World Federation Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology Nairobi International School of Theology
Pan African Christian AIDS Interfaith Network
Presbyterian Church of East Africa
Programme for Christian – Muslim Relations in Africa
Programme for Theological Education Students Christian Organization of Malawi Department of Theology and Religious Studies
Vesico Vagina Fistula
World Council of Churches
Young Women's Christian Association
Zambezi Women's Organization
Zambezi Evangelical Church
The first major work on the Circle had a systematic approach, and it was 1 written from a Western perspective. I write a history of the Circle bearing in mind that I offer a Malawian woman’s perspective who has joined the Circle only in 2001, twelve years after the genesis of the Circle. This means that I was not there when the Circle was conceived and birthed into the world. But certainly, I was there when the Circle became a teenager and saw how it has developed even into a mature woman reaching this adult stage. I also feel confident to write this story because I have met and interacted with many of the key personalities that have woven the story of the Circle. I even have visited the mother of the Circle, Mercy Amba Oduyoye in Accra, Ghana and I am very much aware of her passion not only in building elitist theologians but grassroots theologians who may not even speak our foreign languages. This was clear when I visited her in Ghana and was even hosted by her at the Institute of Religion and Culture.
When my visit came to an end, I even boarded the same plane with Mercy Amba Oduyoye as she was going to America to visit Letty Russel. I dropped off in Kenya to familiarize myself with the Circle in Kenya, the hub of the Circle in the East African region. For Circle women in Southern Africa, I have mingled with them at the Universities as a researcher especially with Circle members in KwaZulu Natal (Pietermaritzburg), Cape Town, UNISA in Pretoria, and the University of Stellenbosch where I met the likes of Sarojini Nadar, Devakarsham Betty Govinden, Christina Landman. Thus, I have met many key Circle women even outside official Circle conferences. So, I think I qualify to write the history as an insider not only because of the fact that my name has appeared in the directory of the Circle, but that I have interacted with Circle members. After all I am a disciple of Isabel Apawo Phiri, who has always been there as a mentor in my postgraduate studies before I joined the Circle. In the Circle, I have my main contributions in the area of writing histories of women. Infact it was through one of the contributions I made at a workshop on Biographies of Women of Faith in Johannesburg where Musimbi Kanyoro must have noticed that I could ably write a history of the Circle. She is the
1  Carrie Pemberton,Circle Thinking: African Women Theologians in Dialogue with the West, Leiden: Brill, 2003. 7
one who organized a part scholarship for me from the World Council of Churches to research and write on a history of the Circle. In the bibliographical section, you will meet some of my contributions. So, I can easily say that I write as an insider because I am one of the beads that are woven into this story. I have followed the standard approaches in writing church history in this story of the Circle. A history of the Circle is a story of the Church. Histories of the church often include elements of other religions, this is also part and parcel of the Circle story. It includes African women theologians of other faiths and after all the Circle is a movement that includes women of other faiths. In the earlier centuries histories of the church were often about men and their work. The presence of women in these stories was limited. Often their names were not even recorded, and often women that had negative contributions were made visible. The story of the Circle makes contributions of women in church and society more visible. Thus, I prefer to call this book Her-Stories of the Circle. Characteristic of this her-story is that it uses a mixed approach, different from histories that were written from the perspective of the leaders. This her story applies both a top-bottom approach and a bottom-up approach. As such, it is a story of the mother of the Circle, Mercy Amba Oduyoye and her collaborators as well as a story of grassroot members of the Circle at Regional, Zonal and Country level. Because of the language barrier, the story has excluded much of French speaking and Portuguese speaking Africa. This book traces the Circle history from 1989 to 2007, based on the cutoff 2 point of my PhD research on the Circle. Thus, some of the present tense verbs refer to the status of the Circle in 2007. However, I also include a sketch history of the Circle from 2007 to 2017, to highlight some of the developments in the later period. However, the history of the Circle from 2007 to 2017 is mainly based on email correspondences and internet sources, thus it is less balanced compared to the story of the Circle between 1989 to 2007.
2  Rachel NyaGondwe Fiedler, "The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (1989-2007): History and Theology," PhD, University of the Free State, 2011. 8