Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals in East Africa

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American evangelicals have long considered Africa a welcoming place for joining faith with social action, but their work overseas is often received ambivalently. Even among East African Christians who share missionaries' religious beliefs, understandings vary over the promises and pitfalls of American evangelical involvement in public life and schools. In this firsthand account, Amy Stambach examines missionary involvement in East Africa from the perspectives of both Americans and East Africans.

While evangelicals frame their work in terms of spreading Christianity, critics see it as destroying traditional culture. Challenging assumptions on both sides, this work reveals a complex and ever-evolving exchange between Christian college campuses in the United States, where missionaries train, and schools in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Providing real insight into the lives of schoolchildren in East Africa, this book charts a new course for understanding the goals on both sides and the global connections forged in the name of faith.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Each section flows seamlessly into the next in capturing the movement of people, ideas, and cultural values across the two continents . . . Stambach's rigorous field research informed by her keen anthropological and ethnographical perspectives and longstanding cultural experience in the region are richly rewarding to read."—Malini Sivasubramaniam, Journal of Education and Christian Belief

"Stambach's ethnographic examination of missionary practices takes a radical focus that is, in itself, innovative enough to make the text an important read. Her data collection moves, and moves us as readers, through space and across borders and boundaries. . . Stambach has identified a novel locus for the analysis of Christianity and education—young American missionaries, their U.S.-based training, and their service in three east African countries. The text will be of certain interest to fellow anthropologists, particularly those of us working in the field in Africa, as well as the very missiologists who draw on anthropological concepts in the training of their young colleagues."—Frances Julia Riemer, American Ethnologist

"As case study writing, the book is exemplary . . . Stambach's careful research and responsible interpretation show on every page."—Ken Badley, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

"Amy Stambach relates a fascinating story of nondenominational Christian evangelism unfolding in four countries on two continents while simultaneously embedding it within the conceptual literature of classical and contemporary anthropology . . . Stambach provides rich description and cultural insight from a sophisticated anthropological perspective and a career of fieldwork in East Africa."—John C. Weidman, Comparative Education Review

"Stambach employs a delicate and even-handed touch as she probes the missionaries' intentions, means, and outcomes, as well as the needs and responses of local communities in Africa."—Anthony J. Gittins, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804768511
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/22/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 920,102
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy Stambach is Director of Global Studies and Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Lessons from Mount Kilimanjaro: Schooling, Community, and Gender in East Africa (2000).

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Read an Excerpt

Faith in Schools

By Amy Stambach


Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6851-1

Chapter One

Introduction: Schools of Faith

This story is about American missionaries on the world's turf. It unfolds in two parts of the globe: East Africa and the United States. The opening themes are religion, education, secularism, and politics. Each is developed across years of growing political attention to religion's public significance worldwide.

At a certain moment in this story, the view looking backward becomes very different from the view looking forward. That moment is the early 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when East African governments began to pressure American missionaries to register as development agencies. Before this point, evangelical missionaries worked independently of nonreligious aid organizations, and development programs were administered by professional organizations such as Oxfam or CARE, or by governments working bilaterally. Behind East African governments' pressure was a bigger force, the World Bank, and behind the Bank there was pressure from its greatest shareholding power, the United States.

The World Bank and the U.S. government encouraged East African governments to subcontract development activities with nongovernmental agencies, including faith-based groups. American evangelical missionaries were wary of this approach. They believed in the separation of church and state. Yet the U.S. government was touting faith-government partnerships as the new value added to development schemes. Linking religion to policy reframed nation-state interests by increasing their moral legitimacy. Some observers remarked that religion was America's new export to the world. One best-selling historian pinned his hopes on American evangelicals helping to build an empire rivaling the old British Empire (N. Ferguson 2002), and a nationally syndicated editorialist referred to Christian evangelists as America's new foreign policy force (Kristof 2003, 2008).

Popular commentators were right in their own way, yet the story is more complicated than they tell it. It has to do with competing visions of secularism in public life and with how religion crafts new moral geographies that politically secure and link distant lands. Put simply, much as the United States had designed the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, the World Bank worked to develop parts of Africa in ways that were favorable to the political and economic control of its member states. The Bank went about this task in its typical fashion: by tying strings from its development efforts to grants and loans. Bundling ideology with money continued (and likely will) for many years, but sometime around the end of the Cold War and before the U.S. "war on terror," political ideology within international agencies began to take on a softer tone. These agencies began to cast economic relations in moral and religious terms. The thrust of development increasingly became not just to create codependent market economies but also to support ethically linked, morally like-minded communities that share common views about the value of religion for improving public life.

Lending and aid agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank, began to identify religious organizations as key providers of basic education. In 1998, James D. Wolfensohn, then president of the World Bank, together with Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and His Highness the Aga Khan, convened an interfaith organization called the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD). At a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2000, the WFDD identified education as a priority area of action in sub-Saharan Africa. In January 2001, President Bush signed an executive order establishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI). By 2003, OFBCIs existed in all eight departments of the federal government, in USAID, and in the Corporation for National and Community Service; and by 2008 some policymakers writing in the U.S. media were predicting correctly that faith-based policies would outlast U.S. presidential and political changes (Hein 2008; Kuo and DiIulio 2008).

This overt focus on religious organizations as social service providers marked a shift away from the tenets of high modernity. Whereas the nation-state school used to function as the primary locus of civic enculturation, it now served as a site where connections between religious and global communities were imagined. Some political scientists argued that this shift signaled the weakening of independent governments' abilities to influence citizens (Reno 2001, 2004) and governments' withdrawal from development functions (van de Walle 2001: 276). Other observers maintained that it represented a new ideological means for nation-states to extend their political influence and interests globally (for example, Hibou 2004; Roitman 2004). Despite these differing interpretations, the shift set in motion novel forms of control that recalled a long history of Western imperialism. For some U.S. and international aid workers, these developments were disturbing, and for many they were outright wrong.

As would be expected, organizations that supported church-state separation disputed the legality of faith-based policies. However, a surprising measure of discontent was also evident among East Africans who shared American faith groups' views. East Africans who worked closely with American evangelicals privately referred to Americans as "colonialists" and "people without history." Some Christian East African teachers said they did not like the deceptive ways in which Americans advanced religion indirectly while teaching children. East African evangelists felt that Africans, not Americans, should lead the Christian Church on the subcontinent, and few elders within these evangelists' churches liked the fact that American congregations sending money to Africa continued to demand a say in how the funds were spent. First European colonists, then the World Bank, and now American missionaries, their argument went, treated Africans as childlike and incapable of self-governance. "American missionaries don't know world history; they're reproducing African dependency," said one Ugandan Bible school director of Christian life, who otherwise shared the missionaries' theological view that divine rule will come to bear on Earth.

Yet East African evangelical Christians agreed that the evangelical missionaries were right about one thing: the missionaries understood the value of religion for Africans while most academics (including anthropologists, they said) did not. The missionaries knew that religion happened not only on a certain day of the week and not only in private but also in public places. The Africans did not separate private religion from public life, including life in public schools. Religion and education were seamlessly entwined. Ritual and pedagogy were one and the same. The way evangelical missionaries conducted their work in East African schools, and the way they taught anthropology to Bible college students in East Africa, gave evidence to this point.

American evangelical missionaries conjoined faith with social action. They stressed the simultaneity of knowing and learning, of religion and education, and they saw religion as being everywhere and as inseparable from most aspects of social life. For East Africans and American evangelicals alike, the world existed as a sacred cosmos. Their mutually held worldview questioned secular-modern paradigms that separated private religion from public life. This shared conception-although different in details-created a context for collaborative faith-based work in which East African and American evangelicals together could-and did-offer free trauma counseling to American and East African embassy workers affected by the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi. Together they could-and did-provide technological expertise to business and civil service leaders in Uganda. Together they could-and did-provide free English instruction to children in public primary schools in Tanzania. Faith-in-action was a shared method and mode for containing the secular-humanistic-and for some, satanic-forces they perceived as spreading politically and socially around the world.

The story presented in this book, then, connects two regions of the globe through an analysis of faith-based programs and missionaries' activities. In examining the work of evangelical Christians in East African public life-and the recruitment of religious groups for public service by international and U.S. governmental agencies-this book charts a new course for understanding faith in schools. It looks beyond a framework that distinguishes between the spheres of politics and religion, and it explores ethnographically and conceptually the many representational modes by which "religion goes public" (as expressed by Meyer 2004: 94) and by which, I add, the public goes for religion. Seeing religion and education as dialectically related-including in anthropological and social theory-opens up a conceptual locus for analyzing how the public realm is transformed and how new governmental regimes emerge.

The ethnographic setting of this book starts at Christian college campuses in the United States where missionaries train, then follows the paths of these missionaries to parts of East Africa-central and western Kenya, eastern Uganda, and northern Tanzania-where they and East African evangelists work. The timeframe spans the convergence of major world political-religious struggles and, by association, U.S. and middle-eastern regional conflicts. Rocked by U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania as well as in Kenya in the late 1990s; by Muslim-Christian tensions that coincided with American support for political leaders in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania; and by protests and riots between Muslims and Christians in cities and on the coast over rights to teach and preach publicly, East Africans in the decades on either side of the start of the twenty-first century were, as Brad Weiss (2002) has described, experiencing an upsurge of economic uncertainty and political-religious factionalism. The portrayal by U.S. lawmakers and leaders of American faith workers as "foot soldiers" in U.S. "armies of compassion" lent weight to some East Africans' claims that the work of missionaries was politically motivated-that it was a campaign to promote American policy by winning the hearts and minds of poor African children.

Yet in the eyes of missionaries from American colleges (most missionaries were college students) who were working in East Africa, the motivating force of their work was faith, not global politics. Missionaries operated in a selfless mode of service work they called Christian witness, a public-oriented form of service-learning that casts faith work as allegiance to God, not allegiance to people in governments. Missionaries compared the service-learning projects supported by their universities to Jesus' work of teaching and preaching, of helping those in need, and they compared their faith-based, service-learning mission work to participant-observation methods of anthropology. Anthropology for Christian Witness (Kraft 2003), a widely used textbook in evangelical Christian anthropology, furnished missionaries with an explanatory framework for translating their message cross-culturally.

To introduce methods and concepts used by missionaries, and to begin to analyze their work in relation to the secular-liberal principles at the core of cultural anthropology, I have divided this chapter into several sections: a description of missionaries' faith-based work in public Tanzanian schools, a liberal secular creation story on which missionaries' work (and much of anthropology) rests, missionaries' strategies for engaging East Africans in evangelical work, and the methodological strategies I have used in writing this ethnography. A final section provides an overview of the structure of the entire book.

In a nutshell, and to introduce the argument I develop across this book, missionaries' work in East Africa makes visible a dialectical relationship between religion and education. At the turn of the twenty-first century, religion and education operated in international policy circles and, in this evangelical faith group's work, through an emergent new logic of mutual encompassment. Put simply, faith-based policies framed the nation-state as the protector of religious groups, saw religious groups as equal with the nation-state before the law, and gave each the same rights to participate in public life and government. Evangelical missionaries, however, saw the relationship the other way around: religion authorized (good) government, and God, not government, determined morality; religion was government's protector, and even (especially) education provided by the state needed a good dose of Christian evangelism. Both evangelical missionary and faith-based governmental discourses framed religion and state-administered education as a relationship of mutual enmeshment-a relationship by which state-education discourses of accountability, efficiency, equal opportunity, and so on superseded and encompassed religious-moral ideas of borderless religious faith; and a movement by which religious-moral discourses of faith and spirituality infused and encompassed governing bodies (state and nonstate) with the ideals of providence and historical necessity (Stambach 2004).

This relationship-of the state encompassing religion and religion encompassing the state-unsettled classically understood models of governance by which the secular-modern nation-state alone enveloped lower reaches of society, including religious groups (Ferguson and Gupta 2002). To help readers understand the upshot of this mutual encompassment for religion's new powers in public life, I offer here an ethnographic study of how the public is governed through competing claims of religion's superior geographic reach and higher moral scope. To accomplish this understanding, we need, I insist, to look at education, a pivotal site where multiple and crosscutting "schools of faith" (which exist in many forms-secular, liberal democratic, theological, and so on) inform and transform the nation-state.

The Biblical Creation Story

As an initial example of Christian evangelism conceived as a form of participant-observation and service-learning, and of the deep connection between religion and education in East African settings, picture a Tanzanian public school in which American evangelical missionaries conducted fieldwork as part of their summer service work abroad. In this case, faith took the form of a spiritual rationality that motivated the missionaries' instructional methods and attracted members to the church.

Set some one hundred meters off a busy tarmac road near one of the city's center markets, Musoma Primary School is nestled among commercial sites. The day before the events recorded here, the dirt compound had been compacted by a series of brief rains, and clusters of impatiens and an occasional rose bush now flowered brightly in the sun. The school is laid out in typical u-form, with an outward edifice that provides a single entryway. Inside, classroom doors open onto an interior courtyard-a thinly grassed area that doubles as a soccer pitch-and the office of the headmistress is centrally located so that she may observe most of the surrounding activities.

A group of American missionaries arrived at 7:30 on a Monday morning. Allison, their leader and administrator, met briefly with a head teacher of the school, then called the rest of the missionaries, several of whom were new to the program that year, to observe something "really interesting." There, in the courtyard, most of the school's five hundred students were assembled, lined up in sections organized by grade. The headmistress, shouting to be heard, instructed the children to "sing that Father Ibrahim song!" Missionaries the previous year had taught this song to Standard 5 (Grade 5) students (ages eleven through thirteen), who in turn had taught it to the rest of the school. Enthusiastically and dutifully, the students burst forth in singing, in English, at the top of their lungs:

Father Ibrahim has seven sons, and seven sons has Father Ibrahim. I am one of them, and so are you, So let's all praise the Lord!

The students threw their left hands into an imaginary circle in front of them and shouted "left hand!" at the end of the first stanza. They shouted "left hand! right hand!" at the end of the second stanza and flung both hands, one after the other, into the air. By the end of the six stanzas they shouted "left hand! right hand! left leg! right leg! head! whole body!" and shook each of these body parts in turn.


Excerpted from Faith in Schools by Amy Stambach Copyright © 2010 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xi

1 Introduction: Schools of Faith 1

Part I Preparation in the United States

2 One Hundred Fifty Years of Mission Work 35

3 Using Anthropology for Christian Witness 65

Part II Evangelism in East Africa

4 Teaching English in Tanzania 99

5 Planting Church Schools in Kenya 132

6 School-Community Partnerships in Uganda 154

Part III Implications

7 A New Anthropological Ethnography of Religion and Education 181

Epilogue 193

Notes 199

References 209

Index 225

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