Proceedings Of The First Annual Conference Towards A Global Congress Of World Religions - Edited by Warren Lewis - 1978
Warren Lewis (Professor of Church History, Unification Theological Seminary): About two years ago now, Mr. Moon, by way of an intermediary, asked me if I would undertake a project with the Seminary. If the time were right, and the world was ready for it, would I organize a global congress of the world's religions. And I replied, "Sure, I don't have anything else to do this afternoon! Why not?" (Laughter) It was so audacious, so astronomical in concept, that if I failed, it would prove nothing about my incapacities. Other, greater people have tried and failed. There have been steps along the way: 1893, 1936, and there are a variety of contemporary groups: the World Council of Churches, the Temple of Understanding, the World Congress of Faiths, to name a few. Most of you have already received a transcript of our San Francisco conference where all of this was discussed in a preliminary way. Our asking you to come to Barrytown to confer with one another about Africa has a twofold purpose: 1) to stage what, for us Barrytowners, would be a very educational conference on Africa so that we can purely and simply learn something; 2) to help us with our plan for the global congress. We believe that one of the best ways to go global is via Africa. In terms of the spirituality and religious understanding of Mr. Moon, our attention is focused on Africa. In terms of what we see going on there politically and culturally, and in terms of what Mr. Moon calls "the failure of Christianity," we see that the religious future of Africa controls the human future of the globe.
Everybody has an eschatology; some people admit it, others do not; my personal eschatology of the global congress, which I suspect none of my colleagues here nor Mr. Moon share, is that we shall hold the first meeting of it in 1981 in Moscow! Stages along the way, I hope, are this mini-congress here in Barrytown, and, if you agree and are willing to think with us, plan with us, and work with us, a congress of the religions of Africa to be held in Africa in the near future. If you think that is a good idea, as a lot of people think it is, if you can somehow agree with us, then there are all kinds of plans we have to think about: When and where in Africa? Who comes and who does not come to it? (If there is anybody who should not.) Who sponsors it? Obviously, the Unification Theological Seminary wants to be one of the co-sponsors. We recognize from the outset that we have certain political problems, what with the bad press about Mr. Moon and the Unification Movement. So, not only because we are well aware that we lack the resources, as a single institution, to organize something on this scale but also, quite frankly, for political reasons we are open to co-sponsorship with the right people and the right institutions. We are communicating with the Temple of Understanding; a member of its board of directors sits at the table with us today. Just yesterday I received this letter from Professor K. L. Seshagiri Rao, who says:
Dear Professor Lewis:
Many thanks for your transcript of the proceedings of the "World Religions Conference" held in San Francisco. I have gone through the material with great interest.
I welcome your proposal for a Global Congress of World Religions as well as intermediate conferences leading to it. As one activity involved in the dialogue of religions for the last fifteen years, I am aware of the problems involved in such a venture; I also know that history is inexorably leading all of us in that direction. I eagerly look forward to future developments in this regard.
At present I see my role as a member of the "International Society of Scholars" [a body, the founding of which we proposed in the transcript of our San Francisco Conference], which will discuss and publish issues related to the concerns of Global Congress. As a Hindu, I may also be of some help in identifying and making a list of Hindu scholars and organizations that may be interested in participating in the Congress. With cordial greetings,
He also sent us the latest issue of Insight, of which he is the editor. Insight is the official organ of the Temple of Understanding. That, to me, is a wonderful letter! I have talked to some other folk at the Temple of Understanding and am personally convinced that if the Temple of Understanding cannot see its way clear to cooperate, co-sponsor with us, then we are probably on the wrong track. The Temple of Understanding is probably the most prestigious and sensible inter-religious body in the United States. Certainly the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches from the Christian side have been active in this direction, but the Temple of Understanding, in terms of its history and activity in global ecumenics, is an inter-religious body and is the outstanding leader in this direction. This is where you folk can be so helpful, not only as scholars, but as ecumenical politicians. We are trying to make it as clear as possible to all our potential colleagues that we intend a fully collegial co-sponsorship; we want to co-operate with other people. This is a seriously intended next step towards the global culture of people who mutually respect and understand that pluralism not only is the status quo but also ought to continue in a diversity as rich as the cultures which comprise it. There is the question of the willingness of the World Council of Churches to co-operate with us because of the troubled relationship of the Unification Church with the National Council of Churches. There are other, more globally ecumenical people in the international Christian organization besides the four who wrote the "Faith and Order" paper against the Unification Movement. I assume that those four do not speak for the entire body. In a sense, this is the least difficult question.
There is the question of how properly and politically to proceed, as we invite organized religions and individual religionists to official representation at a gathering such as this. These people come from bodies which have traditional hostilities towards one another and historic animosities. But a Global Congress will not be global if everybody is not represented. Muslims and Christians will be there. White Dutch Calvinists from South Africa will be there, for they too are religious, sitting across the table from Black African religionists. Immediately I can foresee the possibility that certain Black interests might want to boycott the meeting, and I can understand why they would want to. These kinds of political problems will rear their hydra heads at every turn. The Coptic Christians, both the autochthonous and the indigenized religions of Africa will be there, as will be lately-come missionaries. Then, there is the tricky question of Marxists, of whatever stripe. Not all Marxists are alike. There are blood-thirsty Mau-Maus, but then there is also a socialist point of view which has immediate affinity with African tribal culture. I hold that people of the Marxist persuasion must also be there: they too area religion; they too are a part of Africa; they too are a part of the globe.
That is what we have in mind. Our agenda was never a hidden one. The people seated at the table with you have been studying all this and working for two years now on these plans. I want us, this afternoon, in an informal way, to brainstorm the idea. Feel free to express your hesitations; indeed, the floor is open to any and all comments.
We sit at this table as a group of people who come from widely divergent religious traditions, and some come from a non-religious religious tradition. Yet, whatever the word "religion" means, we have it in common. I hope that today, tomorrow and Sunday will be not only a conference on religions, but also a religious conference. This is not the usual academic exercise, though we are all academics, and many of you are distinguished academics. We academics so frequently do our work in contexts where we must ride herd on our religious passions, perhaps because we are afraid of ridicule by our peers, or there may be the assumption that a person who is religiously passionate cannot be academically objective. I know that in my case, this is not so: I am both academically objective and religiously passionate, and I suspect you would say the same thing about yourself. Bill Jones, I read your book today; a Unitarian-Universalist, passionate religionist is what you are! Just because it doesn't look like my Texas fundamentalism, doesn't mean that it ain't religious, does it? (Laughter) Whatever your religious passion is, share it with us without any hesitation. It will be cherished and loved, as you will be cherished and loved. Be as academic and objective as you have got it within you, and be as passionate and religious as you feel comfortable to be.
William Jones (Director, Black Studies Program, Florida State University): I'll raise the first question: What do you envisage as appropriate parameters for the Congress on African Religion? It is to be a sort of microcosm of the larger congress on world religions?
Warren Lewis: I like your word "microcosm." The diversity of Africa's religions is analogous to the global religious situation. If we cannot convene a congress in Africa, we certainly cannot do it for the whole world. There is a kind of freshness to Africa. I am convinced that as we proceed towards the Global Congress, the right way to build momentum is to go outside of Europe and North America. I would like to see us hold a similar mini-congress in Latin America and another in Southeast Asia. These would be intermediate stages towards the Global Congress.
William Jones: Are you attempting to bring together the various units which could be identified in some way as expressions of African Religion, or is it an attempt to pull together a microcosm of all the world religions? There is a slightly different nuance there.
Warren Lewis: I think we would want to focus on Africa.
William Jones: That was the image I was getting. The Africa congress focuses on Africa, the Global Congress would be more embracing.
Victor Wan-Tatah (Presbyterian Minister from Loso, Cameroon, and Graduate Student at Harvard Divinity School): I think the same way. If we have any good reason for taking the conference to Africa, it should be because we want to emphasize the peculiar characteristics, the special traditions which come out of African religion. The diversity of African religions (there is a way of talking about "African religion" and "African religions") epitomizes the diversity of world religions. Yet, in putting together these diversities, we come up with something distinctly African.
William Jones: When we pull together an invitation list for African religion, or African religions, how would it differ from the invitation list for the World Congress?
Warren Lewis: There are Hindus in Africa, but something tells me that Hinduism would not be one of our major concerns in a conference on Africa.
Victor Wan-Tatah: In Asia, of course, you would have Hindus well represented; but when we talk of African religion in Africa, we must make the distinction between "African religion" and the "African Christian expression" of African religion. Unfortunately, most of the writers on African religion are Christians; so it is very difficult for many people to disassociate their contribution as Africans from their identity as Christians. This often beclouds the true nature of African religion. African religion does not stand on its own right, so that when people talk about African religions they often tend to be apologetic as though they have something to be sorry about and to compensate for, since African religion is thought not equal to the other religions.
Francis Botchway (Professor of International Law and Political Science, University of Cincinnati):I think the question, Bill (Jones) has raised is extremely important. You talk about "African religion," and you talk about "African religionists." Now which group are you talking about? Are you talking about the African religionists who are also Christian Catholics, Anglicans who are writing about traditional African religions, or are you talking about the practitioners? If you want the authentic practitioners of African religions to be involved in this conference, you might not be able to find them unless you go to Idowu, Gaba, and the rest. At what level are we really talking? Do we invite people who are African religionists, authentic practitioners of African religions, or those who have written on the subject academically? If you rely on contemporary scholars, you will be having a Christian expression of African religion rather than African expression of Christianity.
William Jones: That is part of what I have been trying to get at. I see the Global Congress in some sense affirming by its very existence the religious pluralism of the earth. Therefore, the African mini-congress would affirm the same reality in an essential way. But I must raise the question of the availability of authentic expressions of indigenous African religion. It is not clear to me at this point whether we have a whole bunch of those materials together. Much of what has been written about African religion, according to my understanding, has a certain Western taint to it. One function which this mini-congress might serve, is to help develop that authentic voice of African religion so that it becomes an authentic participant in the global dialogue. It cannot be an authentic participant unless we take the time and effort to develop the unique point of view that this culture represents.
Victor Wan-Tatah: The point which Dr. Francis (Botchway) raised should be taken care of too. If we want to get the real, African, authentic practitioners, we should go beyond the present writings which we have on African religions. As you said, most of them are Western, tainted and clothed in Western images, and there is some element of Western thought in them. If we want to know what truly special contributions African religions offer, we should go back to the sources, to the people who practice the religions in the villages. Idowu is one of the people who advocate a return to the field, to meet the older "babalawo," the elders, the priests, and the people who can let them see what has been going on.
Warren Lewis: Someday I will learn to trust my visions. What you have just described is a dream I have had. I dreamed that we were in Africa, where somehow, someway, in an African village, there was a great open space; it was under a very hot sun, and the dirt was baked hard. There was a variety of Europeans, Americans, other Westerners and technological Africans, university Africans, who came to this village. I saw us sitting on the ground on the dirt in the dust of this hot African afternoon with the elders of the tribe. The person who spoke for the guests said, "We have come to your village this afternoon to ask the advice of the elders. How can we have a world which is as peaceful as your village?" I don't know if there are any peaceful villages in Africa. I may have quite a romantic Americanized view of an African tribal village, but my vision seems similar to what we are saying. However, it occurs to me that one does not take 500 people to an African village, where there are four or five elders, does one? One way we might do it is to divide the participants into small groups and send them all over Africa. After they have sat with the elders of forty different tribes, then they could come together somewhere for the congress.
Francis Botchway: We need to identify the crystal of authentic African religions, people who are the practitioners of religion itself. If you want to look up If a divination, you need to have an If a priest. If you want to look at the practices of the Ga, you have to talk to the chief priests, the Mairomo, of the Ga. If you want to look at the religion of the Ibo and the Fons in Dahomey, you may want to look at the priests, the Bukakan. If you could identify all of these people, perhaps we could get them into a dialogue situation, a protracted platonic-socratic dialogue with their African Euro-Christian counterparts. Let me illustrate: I was in Ghana some years back, to do a study of the role of the chief priest among the Gas. I am an elder, and we look back to our ancestry coming from the Yoruba; so I wanted to trace all these things back. I was interested in the If a. I asked a colleague of mine in the Psychology Department at the University of Ghana to go with me to the chief. I wanted to tape a conversation with him. Kwame (Gyekye) has been doing similar work in that field. But our colleagues at the University often do not want to go back to a village, sit down with an elderly person, interview him, tape him. I suggested once that we should have a series of historians in residence at the University, not from Oxford and Cambridge, but people who know the entire history of their people. None of my colleagues at the University was interested, yet these are the people who put themselves forward as the authorities and want to represent the interests of these religions. They would want to interpret for you the cosmology and the ontology of the people. We ought to look at them very carefully and choose intermediaries with extreme caution.
Victor Wan-Tatah: In addition to this, we should also guard against the danger into which the World Council of Churches has fallen. The same people always attend their meetings; every other meeting, they are there. How can the World Council of Churches establish a measure for the success of their programs by the type of persons who attend the meetings they convene? Should not the participants in the dialogues be qualified by their leadership potential, their ability to mobilize their people and to interact with people of other living faiths? How can you expect a professor at a university, who is not willing to go to the village and work with the people of his own locality, to bring to their awareness the need for co-operating with other people who are not of their own kind of inclination? We should involve people who are in real leadership positions, people who know, people who are practicing.
William Jones: Do we not want to try to make the conference itself an actual working laboratory where we bring together the people who have the expertise and information, and let that setting be the environment in which something new emerges, gets written down and systematized? We would want to have preliminary studies and field work, of course, the results of which would be presented in the conference setting.
Francis Botchway: There is a tendency to ignore the non-literate, non-scriptural religions. If we are going to hold a world congress of religions, my opinion is that the non-scriptural religions, which basically are African religions, should not be omitted. Now, the next question is, how are these religions going to be represented? I suggest that we identify the authentic practitioners of these religions; but how we get their views to the conference is a different question. It might work to get a number of these people together, gather their views, systematize them, and then have them presented at a later congress. But I think these representatives of traditional African religion ought to be there themselves.
Kwame Gyekye (Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Ghana): As far as getting the views of these priests, there is a lot of material. The basic problem is one of analysis, interpretation, and the extent to which one is going to analyze these conceptual systems. Western scholars often try to force these African ideas into certain conceptual pigeon-holes. We will have abundant material; the problem is rather a problem of analysis, of different interpretations. And there are quite a number of researchers who do go to the villages. My friend, Asare Opoku, is an example of one who talks to the priests. But there are some problems. The priests are not willing to communicate. So what you have to do is ask some peripheral questions and then apply logical order to them, because they won't tell you what kind of powers they use or betray their secrets. It is not easy just to go in to the priest and get him to talk about what he does. There are a lot of books, but many of them were written two or three decades ago.
Victor Wan-Tatah: We do not want to follow the criteria that have been erected by Western scholarship which inhibit really effective analysis, effective research into the religions of Africa and African people. If we take into account that we are encountering people who are used to oral tradition, that we are dealing with people who have not been storing knowledge in a systematized way, then we won't discard most of the material which has been discarded in the past by people who use exclusively Western techniques. The methods we use, if we are not careful, are the very means through which we may destroy the work we want to do. If you read the work of somebody like John Mbiti, he is making a valuable critique of "African mercenary writers," of Christian writers who employ Western norms and techniques without the adequate criticism that an African-minded person would employ, a religious missionary kind of analysis. He is highly critical of this uncritical attitude, so we should also be cautious about systematizing and analyzing, almost following the methods of the West. We are dealing with another set of people who have something that is special to them and whose religious tradition is still in another stage of development.
Paul Freitas (Student, Unification Theological Seminary): This has come up wherever we discuss the planning for the congress. Do we include scholars or the spiritual leaders of these different religions? If we establish a steering committee or an international society of scholars who study the practitioners, then we get both a Western bias and also a scholar's bias. How do we bridge that gap? Most of the people who write get their education in Western institutions.
Deotis Roberts (Professor of Religion at Howard University School of Religion): I have been working with this problem for some years now, around the world. First of all, there is value in a dialogue between Africans and Asians, which we have not yet mentioned, because of the similarity of religious experience and thought in the third world, over against the first world. The Black experience is different from other Western experiences; there is a problem of communication, both internal communication and external communication, analysis, interpretation. We want to get to the experience, but then we want to lift it up, analyze, interpret it, so that it can be meaningfully shared by people outside the experiential group; I see that as a scholar's task. We are going to have a cross-fertilization between the practitioners at the grassroots level and the interpreters, with deep appreciation on both sides. I think the Temple of Understanding would be enthusiastic about this. I have been trying to get them to Africa for a long time now; they have always had the excuse that they could not find the practitioners of religion. This would solve their problem.
Warren Lewis: Let me respond to what Dr. Roberts has just said. I accept the correction about the Asians present at an Africa congress. That is something I do not yet see; but as I listen to you, I sense you are right. Mr. Moon is himself an Asian, of course, and thus a person with an Asian religious perspective. According to my paper read at the American Academy of Religion last December, he comes to the global community from the background of Korean shamanism. He is a man who can instantly appreciate what is going on for a tribal priest who has his jiu-jiu tree and his ceremonies of power. A second point about Mr. Moon's perspective is that he, too, understands the unavoidable usefulness of the scholar in this matter. He sees this as a conference of scholars who are also religious, who are reverential of the religious realities we are studying. We can respect, appreciate, and cherish those fragile traditions; we do not have to kill in order to investigate, do we? We are not "hard" scientists; we are participant observers.
Deotis Roberts: Let me give one more comment: In India, I found that the way to get to the village priest was not to go directly to him. A scholar trained in his own culture as well as Western thought, like Idowu in Africa, could be an intermediary. Because of his language ability and identification with the priest, such a scholar could interpret the symbols; he could become an intermediate person between me and the experience which alone I could not penetrate.
Warren Lewis: The identification of a number of such persons would be essential, it seems. Is it not true that some of you Africans are already in that intermediary position? You speak languages I don't speak, and you know people and temples that I don't.
William Jones: There is a crucial decision to be made regarding the perspective that should be represented at this conference. One way to do it is to think in terms of a conference on third-world religions in which we mix the African and Asian perspectives. Another way to do it is somewhat narrower, namely keeping an African perspective exclusively.
Deotis Roberts: In working with some of the Ph.D. candidates for the African Studies Department at Howard and reading their theses, my feeling is that one of the limitations was that they did not have, just by studying African religions in that context, an appreciation for the study of religion as religion; the kind of thing that Charles Long writes about, which is crucial for an in-depth understanding of any religious experience anywhere in the world. I would see that as a kind of breakthrough for Africans to understand their own religions; to be able to compare their experience and interpretation of it with a limited number of people; to get to appreciate the fact that there are similarities between religions in the third world over against most of the interpretations found in the first world.
William Jones: I think something similar happened in Black theology, Deotis. It made some sense for Black theologians to step back a moment from dialogue with other religions, recognizing that the more we understand and know about other religions, the better we can articulate and understand our own. But there was a preliminary stage of development which required us to be somewhat narcissistic, somewhat introspective, to make sure that we got ourselves clarified.
Victor Wan-Tatah: Recently, a conference of third-world theologians took place in Ghana. They started out quite well; there were several controversies; there were difficulties but also affirmations, and resolutions which came out well. It is a kind of program which should be continued. One of the problems was that of distinguishing between Black theology and African theology. The theology of liberation is not all-embracing, all-encompassing; but African religion, which underlies African theology, is limited to Africa and African peoples. But the African theologians have not yet come up with that special thing which is their own, by which they can identify themselves. Different voices were heard in the African theological camp; it was difficult for the people to respond in a joint way to theologians from outside, for they had nothing with which to identify as essentially African. They are still struggling to formulate "African theology." Our program should include a preliminary setting of a first stage whereby people can develop their own identity, specific African theologies, and then eventually come together to try for the cross-pollination which we desire at the full-congress level.
Deotis Roberts: Do we not need to make a distinction between what we are about to do and theological dialogue? We want to cut through to the traditional African religious experience as the foundation point of the self-understanding of Africans. You have all kinds of varieties of theological interpretations. Once you get into theology, you can go to sea on the way traditional African experience is reflected in Islam, in Christian churches, and so on. But we want to cut through all of that to get to the normative foundation itself.
Victor Wan-Tatah: What is the aim of cutting through, if other people are engaged in a similar exercise, independently?
Deotis Roberts: We went through this when we first started talking about the Black religious experience. We were told that there is no such thing, that all Christian experiences, all religious experiences, are universal. We said "no," but at that time, we did not know how we were going to explain that to anybody but ourselves. But we knew that there is a living Black tradition with roots in Africa that we celebrate every Sunday morning in our churches, different from what we experience in White churches. Africans are finding this out too; there is something there that now has to be discovered, mined, and which, over a long period of time, will begin to take shape so we will be able to write about it and explain it to other people. What we are really after in the African setting we have to do in our own setting too.
Perry Cordill (Student, Unification Theological Seminary): We seem to be suggesting a three-stage or four-stage process. First, a preliminary conference to stimulate further study on African religion. Next, I think we could have an African conference on African religions. Because these religions have not been available to the world at large, the African contribution to world religions should be emphasized. Finally, we could have a third-world conference on top of that, which would foster dialogue between Africans and other third-world people.
William Jones: It is not clear to me whether there be a third-world religious perspective. To me, the "third world" is primarily a socio-political term rather than a religio-cultural term. But it is an intriguing question whether or not there is a common or unique religious perspective that can be identified with the third world. It is a fascinating idea to compare what we find in indigenous Africa with indigenous Asia, to see if there is another problem here. The moment we begin to talk about African religion, we have to recognize that part of the problem in identifying and articulating African religion is racism. I do not think it affects, clouds, or "disvalues" the character of other religions the same way it does with African religions. I do not know how to say more than that about it, but I think that whatever we do in setting up our methodology, the effects of racism need to be in the back of our minds.
Deotis Roberts: In Africa we are dealing with two things: liberation because of racism and some form of contextualization. I see a difference between African and Latin-American liberation theologians: the Latin-Americans are dealing with political liberation and are not touching the natural roots of indigenous religion among the Indian, Amerindian, and the people of African descent, in the same way that the Africans are. A process of indigenization is going on with Hinduism and Buddhism in Asia. Moltmann criticized liberation theologians for transporting the Marxist-Christian dialogue from Europe and transplanting it to Latin America without taking its own indigenous culture seriously. I see a common kind of methodological experience in what the Asians and Africans are doing but which does not exist in Latin America -- liberation and contextualization going on at the same time.
Perry Cordill: In Latin America there are many appropriations from native religions: for example, in the processions, the saints, and the piety of the Catholic Church among the main body of the people. This could be studied.
William Jones: Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of the indigenization going on in the Catholic tradition is that it can absorb a lot of the culture without tampering with the theology. This is not liberation which reorders the power structure and dynamics.
Phillip McCracken (Student, Unification Theological Seminary): I would like us to discuss the ultimate goal we are trying to achieve at the congress itself. We have to be aware that each one of the different religions has something to offer to the world culture. The goal of the congress ought to be a bringing out of different and complementary aspects of the world's religions so that in the future people can really come to appreciate the particular heritages of particular people.
William Jones: Any attempt to talk about a global congress of world religions means the affirmation of an authentic pluralism which respects the integrity of the worldview of these different faiths, primarily because of difficulty in trying to demonstrate that any one of them is truer or better than the other. We are pushed towards pluralism, because no one point of view can substantially establish its hegemony or sovereignty. But when you are in a situation like African religion, where for various reasons, an accurate and authentic picture of what that indigenous religion is has not yet been given to the world, it becomes necessary to step back and produce that picture. Though we are focusing in what appears to be a particularistic and even narcissistic manner, the necessity for that, and the goal towards which it aims, is towards a more pluralistic framework within which African religion can become a full partner in the ultimate dialogue. Until the time you can express the African worldview, it remains crippled in terms of being a participant in the dialogue.
Phillip McCracken: It seems to me that part of the nature of religion is to heal wounds. Healing, in order to create a new world culture, has to begin in the religious communities. The Global Congress is the place where we can feel and accept that certain wounds have been inflicted and can then begin to heal those wounds.
William Jones: If you read the report that came out of San Francisco, you will see I argued quite strongly that any attempt of the world religions as a whole to solve the pressing problems of the world requires that the religions examine themselves as part of the problem. Any failure on the part of world religions to do that simply makes them a continuing part of the problem. To talk about a congress of world religions is not simply to bring them together and say, "Look, look at the infinite variety of religious expressions in our common humanity!" That, to me, does not serve the purpose at all. We have to begin by searching out the types of division that have been perpetuated in religion, how religion has been infiltrated by racism, sexism, and intolerance.
Deotis Roberts: One problem is that Africa has been literally the Dark Continent in the minds of Western historians and scholars. Even Hegel wrote Africa out of history in his philosophy. His oversight is symbolic of how we have ignored the culture of Africa: We have really said that Africa does not have an authentic culture independent of what was brought to them from the West. We have treated everything, religion included, in that way. Just as the surgeon has to use a knife to clean out the wound so that healing can take place, it seems to me that, with reference to the African culture and religion, we have to open up the wounds before healing commences.
Victor Wan-Tatah: Do we realize that we are doing what some others are doing? The conference of third-world theologians is wrestling with some of these problems. If we had the documents which they came out with, together with the transcript of the San Francisco Conference, it would give us a working basis for what we want to achieve. If we set up another body working with aims similar to those third-world theologians who have already met, it is a kind of duplication, which emphasizes the contradictions in religious life which we aim to solve. That conference embraced so many theologians and other experts, whose expertise would help our congress. How does their conference stand vis-a-vis our own goals? Will we incorporate them? Are we following them? What do they stand for and what are they working towards? Do we want to start something else with bigger dimensions but to arrive at the same destination?
Deotis Roberts: I am reviewing the results of that conference for the American Academy of Religions Review. My impression is that what we are doing here is not quite the same thing. They were trying to make whatever they found in Africa or Asia compatible with their understanding of the Christian faith. I think that is not at all the same task which we propose, namely getting at the indigenous experience and understanding what it is all about. It can be interpreted in a Christian sense. But first of all, we must discover what is the African religious experience.
Victor Wan-Tatah: I think you are right; but I would like to disagree with you. I also read the documents: I think a good section of the final report is given to African religions. They also address the problems, the economic and political problems, which religions have contributed to in Africa, which made the arising of African religions difficult if not impossible and which called then for what we call "liberation theology." I discussed this with someone who attended the conference; he indicated to me that they are not oblivious to the questions we are addressing.
William Jones: Are you suggesting that something on the order of what we are talking about here would be an unnecessary duplication? Or rather, you are saying that whatever we do, we should attempt to build upon and incorporate those previous efforts.
Victor Wan-Tatah: Something like that.
Francis Botchway: I agree with what Deotis is saying about indigenous African religion. Perhaps we ought to convene a working conference of African scholars, not theologians per se, but African scholars who have written on African religion and not African expressions of Christianity, and see if we can get out of this group some sort of consensus as to what the best methodology would be for understanding African religion. It would be too much for us to go back to Africa and start interviewing every priest. I think we wouldn't get very far; and, as Kwame (Gyekye) was saying, quite often it is very difficult to get anything out of these priests. But if we can get some of the scholars who have already done this kind of research in the field to get together with us, we might be able to come up with a document, a general statement from these people of some of the basic principles and views of African religion. That would be the first methodological step before we move towards a subcontinental conference on African religion.
Victor Wan-Tatah: Most of the people who have written on African religion are Christians. When we talk of African religion, we easily refer to Mbiti, Shorter, Parrinder. All of these people are working within the church. There are very few people outside Christian circles who have written on African religion. We should not ignore the contribution of theologians, for those people are taking the realities seriously of doing theology in Africa. That does not mean we should not take into cognizance the contribution of other people who are not theologians per se. They too should be incorporated in the working process. These people have already occupied themselves with the kinds of questions we are wrestling with, too. We may not necessarily have to go to priests and the people who live the religions to get the authentic information, for that is fraught with difficulties; but it is possible for us to get something more, supplementary information to that which has already been written. It has been rightly suggested that some local historian could best interpret the expression of African religion in his locality. One of the stages in our venture would be to go out and meet some of the people who have been practicing African religion and, at the same time, allow the interpreters to tell us what this language of the divinity means. Thus, we can understand and transmit their religions in human terms.
William Jones: May I raise two questions? Most African scholars were trained in mission schools. How do we identify those interpreters who might not approach the subject matter from a Christian point of view? I, myself, think with certain Christian presuppositions. But it is possible to discern other persons who, although they may have been trained in a Christian school, do not interpret the materials from a Christian standpoint. My second question is this: Are the theologians less tainted with presuppositions than the scholars, or the other way around? Did I hear you say that the scholars had the characteristic of a possible Christian bias, and then that theologians you were talking about are somehow not tainted with the same perspective?
Francis Botchway: I think you will have difficulty distinguishing the scholars from the theologians.
Kwame Gyekye: Perhaps there is a third category of researchers -- you mentioned scholars or theologians, like Mbiti, who write from Christian presuppositions, and others who may be Christians but who do not fall into that category at all. Then there is also a category of scholars who are not Christians. I have met quite a few in Ghana, and who, therefore, approach traditional religion from a different perspective. Ideally, a person who is an interpreter and who perhaps is a practitioner, but especially a priest who is practicing, makes the best interpreter.
Jolanda Roessink (Student, Unification Theological Seminary): Dr. Roberts, you mentioned something earlier which keeps coming back to me, that the Asian input into Africa may, because of the similarities to their own religion, help us to understand African religions better because they share certain common elements which Christianity does not share with African religions. Could you elaborate on that, please?
Deotis Roberts: I happen to have developed some intense work on Asian religions from before the "Black revolution" struck Howard (University), so my acquaintance with Asian religions preceded my involvement in African religions. I found that my work in Asian religions, in terms of methodology and field experience, has been more useful to me in my understanding of African religions than, for instance, my study of German philosophy and theology. Nothing from the Western world opened doors of understanding for me to African religions so well as the study of Asian religions and the cultures behind them. If I hadn't gone to Asia first, before I turned to Africa, I would not have had a holistic orientation towards the world, religions, the family, and family life. For example, the ancestral system in China is quite similar to the way the ancestral system operates in Africa. I would not say that anyone who has not done that kind of work would necessarily have to do it, but it has been useful to me to have another perspective to bring to Africa other than the Western perspective.
Francis Botchway: If you convene that kind of conference of African scholars who are also African theologians, perhaps we might have people like Mbiti, Idowu, Asare Opoku; maybe Gaba, Sawyerr, Sodipo; maybe Rihio of Kenya; people in philosophy; people in sociology; people in anthropology, who have had the auto-ethnographic experience in the field; people who have been initiated in some of these cults and who would be bringing to the conference a personal experience of the religious experience of the people and not something which is purely a logical interpretation and analysis. If Mbiti sits at that round table with Rihio, with Kwame Gyekye, or with Dr. Gaba, a lot of the things that Mbiti has written I am sure he will want to take back. This is a type of dialogue that really would bring a comprehensive understanding of the religious experience of African people.
Victor Wan-Tatah: I have somebody in mind who keeps reminding me that this is how we should proceed -- that is Okot P'Bitek. He is hypercritical of people who have written on African religions who have allowed so many Western patterns of thought to creep in. I think his book, African Religions in Western Scholarship, is probably prerequisite for our efforts.
Francis Botchway: It is really very difficult to talk to an African priest. There are two different languages involved: there is a priestly language, which the majority of us do not understand; then there is the regular language, which they use when they talk to us. If I go to someone in a village of Dahomey to interview him about life, and he speaks the classical form, priestly form, to me, I would need someone to translate it into regular form to me. Then to translate that form into English for the sake of analysis, I would have lost a lot of the original meaning. There are people who have been initiated in order to get the information out of these African priests. We need to get some of these people who have been initiated. One who comes to mind is Idowu -- or Gaba who was initiated into the Yoruba cult. You could never get anything out of the Yoruba cult; the priests will never say anything, not until you are initiated and become a trusted fellow of the cult. For Gaba to write his Ph.D. dissertation, he had to be initiated; and still, this took a very long time. Those kind of people can bring in the authentic religious experience of the people.
Warren Lewis: We have been at this for nearly two hours. I sense that we are making progress. Tomorrow, when you read your papers which you prepared before you came here, it is not expected that you change what you have to say to accommodate our concern for a Global Congress and for a congress in Africa. But now that we have heard one another on the proposal of a congress in Africa, we can listen to one another tomorrow in the context of our proposal. On Sunday, after Professor Lugira's speech, we will have another session like this one. We will brainstorm the concrete steps of how to proceed with planning the African Congress.