Religion and Development in Zambia: The Role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Political Development of Zambia: 1890-1964

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Nelly Mwale


Studies on the public role of religion in Zambia have largely concentrated on
the history of Christianity in the third republic when political expressions of
religious beliefs became more apparent. Christianity was firmly embedded in
the Zambian society at independence and its mission-educated leaders fully
understood the importance of the consent and blessings of the churches (Ter
Haar 1992) This article explores the role of the Roman Catholic Church in
Zambia’s political independence (1890 to 1964). This is because the
impression that Christian missionaries (henceforth simply referred to as
missionaries) in Africa supported colonial rule is pervasive and historians as
well as students of mission history seem to have taken it for granted that
missionaries were agents of colonialism. Using a qualitative document
review approach that thematically analyzes the relevant data, the article
shows that the Catholic Church, which from the 1990s to the present has
been championing human rights and democracy in Africa, is not exempted
from this ‘charge’. As Haynes (1996:53) pointed out, ‘mainstream Christian
bodies were initially opposed to, then skeptical and finally won round to the
idea of African independence’.
The article positions the Roman Catholic Church in the political
affairs of Zambia amid its apolitical claims. The article advances the
argument that the Church contributed to Zambia’s political development
(here taken to mean the emergence of national sovereignty) directly and
indirectly through the provision of education, health and pastoral services
and the publication of pastoral letters though not to say it never erred. The
article further points out the lost opportunities for the Church and draws
lessons for 21st century Zambia.


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How to Cite
Mwale, N. (2013). Religion and Development in Zambia: The Role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Political Development of Zambia: 1890-1964. Alternation Journal, (11), 110-133. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Nelly Mwale, University of Zambia

Academic/ Researcher Department of Religious Studies The University of Zambia


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