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Capsule Review

African Catholic: Decolonization and the Transformation of the Church

In This Review

African Catholic: Decolonization and the Transformation of the Church
African Catholic: Decolonization and the Transformation of the Church
By Elizabeth A. Foster
Harvard University Press, 2019, 384 pp. Purchase

The Catholic Church is often described as one of the key instruments of French colonialism, working in cahoots with the administrators of France’s colonies in central and western Africa to legitimate French rule to its parishioners. That may have been true in the early years of the French empire, but Foster tells the much more complex and interesting story of the decolonization era, when the church slowly but surely came to grips with the inevitability of independence and the need to Africanize itself. Foster emphasizes the influence of African Catholic intellectuals, such as the Senegalese Alioune Diop, who argued that the church needed to become more universalistic and less European. The Vatican’s changing attitudes were partly the result of sheer pragmatism; after African states’ independence, retaining an all-French roster of bishops and cardinals on the continent would have been a nonstarter. But Foster argues that the church of the post–World War II era was independently undergoing major doctrinal changes, affected at least in part by the end of colonialism. Her research uncovers conclusive evidence, for example, of Diop’s influence on Pope John XXIII in the lead-up to the Second Vatican Council.

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