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Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel (African Systems of Thought) Paperback – 25 Jun 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (25 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253222338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253222336
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,181,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Rich in its coverage... [This study] demonstrates the emergence of a new missiology, in which Africans are central in evangelizing both the global south and the north." Ogbu U. Kalu, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, Modern African Studies "Fascinating historical account... Highly recommended for all interested in African Christianity, missions, history, interfaith dialogue, and faith-based organizations." Religious Studies Review

About the Author

Barbara M. Cooper is Professor of History at Rutgers University. She is author of Marriage in Maradi: Gender and Culture in a Hausa Society in Niger, 1900 1989."

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Format: Paperback
A very sensitive study of a world marginal to the mainstream life of Muslim communities that live in eastern part of the Niger Republic. Unlike the British colonial policy in Nigeria to the immediate south, the French permitted Christian missionaries to establish themselves in Niger among Muslims. Some converted to Christianity, and their lives are recorded here by a scholar who has been working in the area for many years. The author has previously published on Muslim domestic history, so she knows not only what she is talking about but the wider social context too, especially as experienced by women. It is great to have such an excellent account readily available. It will help to de-demonise a situation that usually brings out the worst in many a 'northern' commentator.
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Amazon.com: 1 review
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Cooper did her homework 25 July 2006
By Thomas R. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cooper has written a book and told a story that no one else could have done as well. Her command of the French, Hausa and English languages, in-depth knowledge of Christianity, Islam and local religion, her genuine relationships with both Nigeriens and Westerners and her competent scholarship and analysis make this an unparalleled work. Historians, Africanists, anthropologists and missiologists will find this an insightful and fruitful read. Her account of the evangelistic missions, secular states and indigenous people in colonial and post-colonial Niger are full of the mistakes, misunderstandings, mistrusts and mercies characteristic of these cross-cultural encounters. Having lived in this milieu myself, I appreciate the complexity, confusion and charity that Cooper portrays among all the parties involved.

While I offer no major critique of Cooper's work, there are a few aspects where I believe she could have further elaborated to paint an even more vivid portrait of this cultural landscape. First of all, the reader must understand the harshness and isolation of Niger's environment. Not only is it largely in the Sahara desert, with the heat and dust that accompanies such a climate, but it remains the most undeveloped nation in the world. The longer you live in Niger, the less control you feel you have over anything in your life. It is as if the desert wants to come and suck out the life out of anything that dares bloom in its path, unless you are constantly vigilant against it. Life that thrives in Niger needs a thick skin or to be surrounded by thorns. Sometimes it seems the same with the people here: stubbornness, independence and prickliness are useful survival traits---it is best not to be too exposed. Unfortunately those attributes are often contrary to creating community and shared understanding--problems which bedevil the Christians in Niger.

Even today with radio, television, cell phones and internet, Niger is strangely isolated from so much of the rest of the world, with geography, history, language and its many cultures all being contributing factors. How much more pronounced this isolation must have been in the past! Isolation can often produce strange behaviors and/or results that would never occur in a more diverse and cosmopolitan environment, where interaction with others. In vibrant Nigeria to the south, there were dozens of Protestant, evangelical (including SIM), Pentecostal and Catholic missions all jostling and competing for believers and working to establish a recognized role for their faith in society. They were remarkably successful and transformed the country, as their legacies are evident everywhere. In comparison, in Niger, for over 60 years, only 3 missions (Catholic, SIM and Evangelical Baptists) were allowed to operate in largely distinct areas. I would argue that this lack of spiritual competition and vigor among the Christian missionary community, combined with indifference or hostility by the governments and people of Niger, produced a stunted Christianity--not unlike the small desert crocodiles or tiny antelope that can be found in some Saharan oases. One knows that bigger, healthier cousins of the species exist in other environments.

Likewise, it seems to me that Niger leadership institutions operate in either of two extremes: an authoritarian and idiosyncratic form of leadership where the "chief" (whether military, traditional, political or organizational) always makes the final decision or one, such as among Niger's Tubu, where, as Catherine Baroin wrote, "everyone considers himself his own chief". In my opinion, bodies or processes for collaborative decision-making remain weak throughout Niger because of the predominance of these two poles of leadership thinking. Cooper gives evidence of how key colonial rulers and mission directors made and enforced many decisions that appear unreasonable and petty to the reader. On the other hand, she also notes how SIM's decentralized structure gave missionaries a great deal of autonomy in their endeavors to do just as they wished. Today, one is struck at the differences between the Christian communities that purportedly share the same origins and their seeming inability to work together.

While the above facts may explain some of the difficulties of the church and mission in exercising discipline among their members and converts, I believe Cooper neglected to mention the challenges that Christian inter-marriage and family relationships have on conducting horo. Cooper has aptly observed that much church growth in Niger has come from within Nigerien families. Indeed as Niger's Christians strove to form a common identity, unity through marriage, brought Christians from Tsibiri, Danja, Galmi, Zinder and Dogon Doutchi together into a larger Christian family. Even today, a majority of the members attending SIM-planted churches have ties to the early converts in all of these locales. Such interrelatedness makes church discipline a delicate task at best. Yet church discipline does happen, although much slower and more discreetly than an outside observer would realize.

Some miscellaneous observations and/or quibbles:

* Missionary furlough isn't just about raising funds (p. 201). It is also about rest and recovery for the missionary, maintaining church and personal ties and speaking and sharing about the work.

* Cooper's interpretation of child naming/baptême ceremonies needs some more context (p. 205). While Catholics and Lutherans believe that infant baptism is salvific for the child, other Protestants, such as those in the Reformed tradition, view it as a sign that the child is in a Christian covenant community and recognize an adult confession of faith as the moment of salvation. While SIM-inspired churches and other evangelicals believe that only adult "believer's baptism" is valid for salvation, presenting a newborn child to the religious community has its Christians origins with the infant Jesus being presented at the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). Also, in much of Niger, the father or a mallam whispers into the baby's ear a phrase that establishes the child's Muslim future during the naming ceremony. It is this public identification of the faith desired for the child that is significant, particularly in the spiritual realm. One can see why the missionaries wanted to have new converts hold an explicitly Christian ceremony.

* The Apostle Paul was opposed to Christians marrying outside of their faith (2 Cor 6:14) and permitted divorce for those in such relationships, therefore there's a basis for missionaries discouraging mixed Christian-Muslim marriages (p. 208 and 216). However there are scores of examples in Niger of these mixed marriages resulted in the other partner later (or sometimes sooner) becoming Christian. Cooper would have been right to question the short-sightedness of the missionaries in encouraging such divorces, given the success of conversion that Christians have in such marriages.

* Cooper is a bit harsh to refer to the EERN leadership as a gerontocracy (p.222). That may indeed be the case at local churches, but the national leadership has largely been drawn from men in their 40s and 50s for many, many years.

* Many of Cooper's observations on Christian-based education in Niger are remarkably accurate (particularly the folly of operating boarding schools). However, one negative prognosis of hers for the EERN primary school at Tsibiri failed to happen. The EERN leadership eventually did make the necessary changes in staff and governance to remedy many of the fundamental problems at the school. Additionally, a French-based NGO emerged to financially help send more girl students to Tsibiri. The School has since successfully passed 100% of its students into the next level of Nigerien education three years straight --an accomplishment that is rare in any Nigerien school. The King of the Gobirawa now holds the Tsibiri School up as an example of how good things could be in education.

Anyone who has even visited, lived and worked in or studied and read about the Nigerien environment Barbara Cooper describes owes her a great debt of gratitude for this impressive gift. She has constructed a narrative that provides a framework for interpreting and better comprehending our experiences in Niger. For those of you who have never been to Niger, Cooper has produced an excellent piece of scholarship that sheds new light about the complex tapestry involving African missions and Christian converts in both colonial and modern times. There is much to learn from reading this fascinating account.

This review was written by Thomas Johnson, a Protestant missionary in Niger who is married to Aïchatou, a third-generation Nigerien Christian.
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