Now that the rant is over, I think its useful to elaborate on some teachable moments in the last post. Most (but, most definitely not all) of my first-generation--raised in the Bible Belt--raised during the 9/11 years--students would see little problem with a faith-based solution to the "problems of Africa". I think we can all agree that the best we can give our students is the view that the assumptions of their own socialization process need to be rethought in a college environment.
These are the issues I would like to come out in discussion:
Non-interference versus we need to teach them to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.
This is the "easy" one, after all: a religious agenda is interference. Yeah, right, she says, voice dripping with sarcasm. If you are a person of faith, as some of my students are, this argument is difficult because the non-interference doctrine of anthropology is directly contrary to evangelical goals. This is a good moment to let other students make your arguments for you. With luck, this happens. If not, then I have learned that you have to draw careful distinctions between the goal of anthropology and the goal of proselytising. I am very upfront about telling them that they are free as individuals to do as they please and it is not my job to tell them what their choices should be but it is very clear what my choices must be as an anthropologist. I never back down from that perspective and repeat it many times in many discussions, in many contexts.
"But it isn't interference if they already believe, is it? Aren't Africans Christians already? Wait, no, they are heathen pagans who practice Voodoo and witchcraft" is usually the next discussion on the plate, so, let's deal with that now.
My students usually, need a good discussion on the historical context of religious belief in Africa. I like to use Tanzania as example for this discussion; which is nominally labeled one-third Christian (Catholic, Anglican, and, increasingly, evangelical--Assemblies of God, for ex.), one-third Muslim, and one-third "other". We discuss the east African slave trade and the spread of Islam from the coast and into the interior. Then we have a discussion of the situational nature of religious conversion
I tell them about the village of Mtamba in Morogoro. The French built a Catholic Mission there in the 1880's (pictured above on the left). When I arrived there in 1987, a group of elders were waiting for me when I pulled up in my truck (pictured above). They had heard I was collecting stories about their past and they wanted to tell me theirs (yes, it was an anthropologists wet dream--awesome beyond belief). Among the things that they shared with me is that the above pictured men, were almost all christened with Christian names and now have adopted Muslim names--So, Peter has become Mohammed. At this time in Tanzania, support--both financial, educational, and ideological, was most readily given through Muslim channels. The only books in the village were Korans given to the local mosque, madrasas were providing educational opportunities for young men, and although I am glossing a complex situation--Islam was perceived, at that time, as a male power choice. Interestingly, women were not interested in this conversion and the wives gathered around me in the picture above remained staunchly Catholic--Beatrice is still Beatrice.