African Christianity Rising
Stories from Ghana (77:00)
Stories from Zimbabwe (73:30)
Public Performance Rights Editions
for universities, schools, churches, etc.:
2 films on 2 DVDs
Edition 4 DVD set
(Includes 20 Educational
Extras running over 3 hours)
“The most penetrating and informative material I have ever seen on African Christianity, bringing out its vitality and variety without ever sensationalizing or exoticising.”
Terence Ranger, Professor of African History, Oxford
“Striking, powerful and clarifying. These films pack more information and present it more tellingly than would vast areas of print.”
Andrew Walls, Founder, Centre for the Study of World Christianity, Univ. of Edinburgh, & of The Journal of Religion in Africa
“Teaching how Africa’s world religions intersect with indigenous belief systems pose daunting pedagogical challenges, especially in the West. Ault’s impressive documentaries effectively challenge the sensationalism notoriously persistent even among intelligent lay learners . . . and are essential teaching tools in African studies.”
Olufemi Vaughan, Professor Africana Studies, Bowdoin College
“Very inspiring . . . and terribly informative!”
Samuel Kobia, Kenyan former head of the World Council of Churches
“Magnificent and often really moving. . . I know of no comparable material that raises so many of the critical issues in contemporary African Christianity. . . By far the most useful aspect is that all these ideas and beliefs–which Americans might find strange or off-putting–are presented by likable an intelligent subjects: the ideas are, in short, given human faces. I have vastly enjoyed using these films in undergraduate classes, where they evoke intense interest and stir excellent discussions.”
Philip Jenkins, Senior Fellow, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University
“A striking portrait revealing a Christianity poised to renew the vitality of a faith once received from Europe and America.”
Albert Raboteau, Professor of Religion, Princeton University
“It was as if the disjointed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle suddenly coalesced into a coherent picture. The video helped us to understand Africa and its people as we never had before.”
Nancy Behr, an American pastor, who had lived in Africa, on using them with her local congregation
“These documentaries have enormous potential to educate the student world and the general public about the dramatic growth and spiritual power of Christianity in the Global South.”
Richard Elphick, Professor of History, Wesleyan University
Providing a wider, more diverse and flexible set of teaching tools,
in 20 shorter portraits running over 3 hours total.
Complete Educational Edition
For details of Educational Extras
plus a fuller account of the project.
Book in Progress:
In the Feet of African Christians
Exploring Christianity’s Explosive Growth in Africa
The wealth of material in the over 350 hours we filmed for this project—much quite intimate—contains dramatic and telling stories we had no room for in our films or extras. It also contains rich and illuminating reflections, plus life-stories, from our illustrious commentators, like Kwame Bediako, Trevor Manhanga and Andrew Walls whom you meet here. I am currently making use of many of these materials in a book on the lessons this project teaches that will in its e-book edition have links to project videos embedded in the text. Marrying vivid and dramatically compelling videos to text, which can deftly provide back-story, interpretation and context, provides powerful tools for bringing readers/viewers “into the feet” of others from different cultures and with different assumptions about the world.
Learn more about this project and see samples here. To be kept informed about this project’s development and publications send us an email.
African Christianity Rising‘s first review!
By Philip Jenkins–Read here.
Read reviews in Christian Century, Missiology, and in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research by Alan Anderson
Christianity’s explosive growth in Africa is part of a startling reversal in world history. Christianity is no longer the religion of the West. Over two-thirds of the world’s Christians now live in the global South—with Africa growing the fastest. We are turning a page in world history. What does it mean? What developments will it foster?
With guidance from leading scholars in the field we have been documenting the vitality and changing nature of Christianity in Africa. We have explored the ways in which it is has become increasingly popular by becoming increasingly African—that is, becoming rooted more authentically in local cultures, as Christianity has wherever it has effectively spread.
The stories we filmed bring viewers into these African worlds through the personal dramas of people wrestling with ordinary, yet gripping, human problems: for example, a young Zimbabwean woman struggling to overcome bitterness toward her mother from whom she had been separated by divorce.
Revisiting this young woman some years later, along with her pastor here, Trevor Manhanga, and other characters we portray, held its own revealing lessons, told in follow-ups we filmed in both Ghana & Zimbabwe.
Such stories are illuminated by leading thinkers on the subject, including Archbishop Peter Sarpong of the Catholic Church in Ghana, a pioneer in introducing African culture into Christian worship, Trevor Manhanga, head of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe, and Kwame Bediako, one of Africa’s leading theologians. Additional reflections, and biographical sketches, from these and other church leaders with whom we filmed extensive life-story interviews (including Mensa Otabil) are among the Educational Extras in the films’ Complete Educational Edition.
This project grew out of conversations with Joel Carpenter, then head of Religion at Pew Charitable Trusts. An historian of American religion, Joel liked my first film, Born Again, an intimate portrait of a fundamentalist Baptist church in the United States. I had come to his office to pitch several projects, among them one on African Christianity. As a student of African culture and politics, I was aware of Christianity’s striking, yet totally unexpected, growth in postcolonial Africa. I was also aware of some of the distinct forms it began taking early on, especially among independent churches. Joel encouraged me to pursue the idea and suggested I consult with thinkers who taught him most about the subject, among them, Kwame Bediako and Andrew Walls. Walls’ insights and suggestions shaped the project from its beginnings. His account of how revelations while teaching early church history in Sierra Leone launched him on his career to become the world’s leading student of Christianity’s spread across cultures, proved profound:
[For other pieces from our life-story interviews with Walls
see the Extras in the Complete Educational Edition.]
Seeing parallels between the 2nd century church and Christian growth in Africa and other parts of the “two-thirds” world, Walls became teacher and mentor to many cutting edge theologians from Africa, Asia and Latin America. One of the most gifted of those, Kwame Bediako, became our key partner in Ghana, and his Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture, our host. Bediako’s profound insights on the relation of Ghanaian cultures to religion, shaped by his training in phenomenology and history, enriched the project immeasurably. His own journey, from being a student of French studies in France in the late 1960s involved in student revolts at the time, to becoming one of modern Africa’s leading theologians, held its own profound meanings.
[For more from Bediako see Stories from Ghana
and our Educational Extras]
Because we planned to film intimately, we had to limit our locations. But, wanting to disabuse viewers of the assumption that Africa is monolithic, I wanted to film in at least two distinctly different countries. We chose Ghana and Zimbabwe, in part because both had well-developed film industries to draw on for local crew members. Even so, however different, both showed similar patterns of Christian growth, even to the extraordinary extent, it turned out, that the largest church now in both countries sprang from the same seeds, planted with little or no visits by any missionaries from the West! (For more on this and its implications, see In the Feet of African Christians…pp.16-19.)
After a month’s preproduction visit to both countries to build relationships with potential partners, including crew members, and to think about what to film, I returned several years later with major funding from Pew. We filmed over 250 hours in the full range of churches typically found on the ground now in sub-Saharan Africa: mission-founded ones (in Ghana, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Catholic Church; in Zimbabwe, United Methodists); in new Pentecostal or charismatic churches (including Trevor Manhanga’s in Zimbabwe and Mensa Otabil’s in Ghana); and in old-style independent “spiritual” or “prophet-founded” churches. In addition, our sound recordist in Ghana, Francis Kwayke, who played an important role in helping negotiate our way in local languages into various settings we filmed, suggested we film the work of a traditional priestess. We found Madame Akotowaa working in the same village as the prophet-founded church we were filming.
From this footage, which required much challenging translation work, we built separate portraits of each community and commentator we filmed. Running 20-some minutes each, all are included as Extras in our Complete Educational Edition.) We then ran out of funds during a major downturn in the stock market and it was 5 years before we were able to secure funding to complete the project. Then, generous funding from the John Templeton Foundation made it possible to revisit all the communities and characters we portrayed in both countries, a great boon to a documentary film. While we were able to do that right away in Ghana, Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis kept up from returning there until 2011. Meanwhile, we filmed some of our characters on their visits—even “mission trips”—to North America, making these vital connections to the West a part of the story.
From all this footage we created two films in our African Christianity Rising series: Stories from Ghana (77:00) and Stories from Zimbabwe (73:30). In creating these full-length films, however, much detail from our original portraits—even complete stories—had to be cut, however illuminating they were. That is why we included them, along with other edited sequences, among the Educational Extras in the films’ Complete Educational Edition.
For further samples from the African Christianity Rising films and their Extras click here.