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Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

On-line version ISSN 2412-4265
Print version ISSN 1017-0499

Studia Hist. Ecc. vol.34 n.1 Pretoria  2008


The quest for religious freedom in Kenya (1887 - 1963)



Julius Gathogo

School of Religion and Theology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa




The freedom to choose one's religion is one of the basic freedoms that every person needs to enjoy. It is also one of the fundamental rights that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed on10 December 1948. In Africa, since religion and culture are hard to separate, a denial of religious freedom is tantamount to denying all other rights that the UN declared. This includes: the right to life; the right to liberty and security; the right to education; equality before the law; freedom of movement and religion; freedom of association; and freedom to marry and have a family, among others (Gitari 1996:18). The article attempts to survey the nature of missionary and colonial suppression of African religious discourses of the Kikuyu of Kenya during the colonial period (1887-1963). In other words, how were the Kikuyu religious discourses undermined by the missionary activity that ran concurrently with the expansion of European hegemony in Kikuyuland, and how did it supplement the colonial policy? How did the Africans attempt to reclaim their religious freedom? To achieve its stated goal, the article not only cites some cases where suppressions of Kikuyu traditionalism and religion by both the missionaries and the British administrators are evident, but it also attempts to show the African reaction to this course of events. On a positive note, it also cites some cases of the philanthropic ministry of the European missionaries, especially how they responded to a series of natural disasters that had hit the Kikuyu Nation. By and large, the article rests on the premise that, even though no culture is perfect, Gospel supersedes culture. Genuine propagation of Christianity will not need to discard the culture of the people being evangelised because not only is this suppressive but, more importantly, it poses the danger of Christianity appearing as "a religion that operates in a vacuum".



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1 Dr. Julius Gathogo is a postoctoral research fellow at the School of Religion and Theology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. His email is or He is a visiting lecturer at Daystar University's Nairobi Campus, Kenyatta University's Mombasa Campus and Kenya Methodist University's Mombasa Campus. He can be contacted via post office through: Bishop Hannington Institute, P O BOX 81150- 80100 Mombasa, Kenya.

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