Intercultural Teaching in a Global Church: Questions of Identity and Power

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As Anabaptist-Mennonite Biblical Seminaries (AMBS) in Elkhart, IN, has embarked on a partnership with Mennonite World Conference to make an Anabaptist-oriented seminary education available to Mennonites in the global South, faculty find that their online and in-person classrooms are increasingly composed of students from both global North and global South contexts. As AMBS faculty seek to reframe Anabaptism as a global movement, they are challenged to find ways to draw on multiple forms of learning and knowledge production while equipping all students to meet the requirements of accredited courses (such as the new, fully-online Master of Arts in Theology and Global Anabaptism). For AMBS’s second annual Teaching and Research Seminar on November 7, 2022, AMBS Associate Professor of Anabaptist Studies Jamie Pitts invited Anicka Fast (BU 2020) and Jean Luc Enyegue (BU 2018) to share how they have designed courses and assignments that honor and develop local knowledge. Jean Luc  (based in Nairobi) and Anicka (based in Ouagadougou) joined a group of about 18 AMBS faculty via Zoom to lead an interactive workshop in which short presentations alternated with in-person group discussion and engagement.

In his presentation, Jean Luc argued for the need for an intercultural, global paradigm for teaching global church history, and emphasized the importance of not having a distinctive paradigm for global South learners, for fear of isolating them within the academic world. He challenged participants to consider how they own the current demographic shift in global Christianity, to recognize the contextuality of their own theology, and to claim the global church as also “their” church, despite the demographic decline of Christianity in parts of the global North. He also argued that scholars must avoid simplistically equating historic missionary efforts in Africa with the colonial project, lest they deny the agency of Africans.

Anicka presented a case study of her teaching in which she requires students in African church history courses in Burkina Faso and Congo to produce biographies for the Dictionary of African Christian Biography (DACB), so contributing to a more accurate understanding of the church in Africa and its significance within global Christianity. While celebrating the real contribution her students are making through these biographies, she lamented that structural barriers continue to prevent their voices and stories from being heard in global academic conversations. She challenged participants to pay attention to the subconscious narrative they tell themselves about how Christianity became global and urged them to build their teaching – whether as historians or as theologians – on a narrative that recognizes the central role of global South Christians in making Christianity global and that is informed by a deep commitment to belonging in a global church.

In their group discussions, participants reflected on questions of access to academic resources for global South students and brainstormed about ways to reduce barriers for global scholars, whether through the reorganization of library resources or through new teaching methodologies that make space for orality. Many asked for suggestions for DACB biographies in order to help students more deeply engage with the stories and contributions of African Christians. Jamie described the discussion, which spilled over into the subsequent lunch hour, as “vigorous,” “energetic and engaged,” and hoped that ongoing discussion and future workshops would “shape our practice of intercultural teaching and learning in important ways.”

For further reading:

Enyegue, Jean Luc. 2021. “Writing African History in a Global World: The Intercultural Paradigm.” Equinox 5 (1–2): 33–54.

Fast, Anicka. 2022. “Biography as a Bridge within the Global Church.” Journal of African Christian Biography 7 (2): 66–81.

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