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Author: Barbara M. Cooper
ISBN13: 978-0253222336
Title: Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel (African Systems of Thought)
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Language: English
Category: Ministry and Evangelism
Publisher: Indiana University Press (March 5, 2010)
Pages: 480

Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel (African Systems of Thought) by Barbara M. Cooper

Barbara Cooper’s wonderful book tells the story of the Sudan Interior Mission, an evangelical Christian organization in the Hausa area of Maradi, Niger, and also traces the histories of the various indigenous churches that the Mission gave rise to. A historian by training and profession, Cooper's work is admirably interdisciplinary. Start reading Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App.

Article in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 74(03):532 - 534 · October 2011 with 2 Reads. Cite this publication. Discover more publications, questions and projects in Muslim.

Barbara M. Cooper looks closely at the Sudan Interior Mission, an evangelical Christian mission that has taken a tenuous hold in a predominantly Hausa Muslim area on the southern fringe of Niger.

Alexander said: Barbara Cooper in Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel larg. Barbara M.

Cooper has written a book and told a story that no one else could have done as well. Historians, Africanists, anthropologists and missiologists will find this an insightful and fruitful read.

Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel. African Systems of Thought. Bloomington : Indiana University Press. This book is an invaluable asset to all those interested in African history, mission, politics, linguistics, and economics. Gaiya University of Jos, Nigeria.

African Systems of Thought. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006. Pp. xii, 462; maps, photographs, bibliography, index, glossary. Cooper explores with both sympathy and subtlety the tensions that have arisen between the American missionaries and the African Church that they painstakingly established.

Barbara Cooper’s wonderful book tells the story of the Sudan Interior Mission, an evangelical Christian organization in the Hausa area of Maradi, Niger, and also traces the histories of the various indigenous churches that the Mission gave rise to. Journal of Religion in Africa. Highly recommended for all interested in African Christianity, missions, history, interfaith dialogue, and faith-based organizations. Rich in its coverage. demonstrates the emergence of a new missiology, in which Africans are central in evangelizing both the global south and the north. 4. 2009 - Ogbu U. Kalu, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago.

The Journal of Modern African Studies. Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel by Barbara M. Cooper Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006.

Barbara M. Cooper looks closely at the Sudan Interior Mission, an evangelical Christian mission that has taken a tenuous hold in a predominantly Hausa Muslim area on the southern fringe of Niger. Based on sustained fieldwork, personal interviews, and archival research, this vibrant, sensitive, compelling, and candid book gives a unique glimpse into an important dimension of religious life in Africa. Cooper’s involvement in a violent religious riot provides a useful backdrop for introducing other themes and concerns such as Bible translation, medical outreach, public preaching, tensions between English-speaking and French-speaking missionaries, and the Christian mission’s changing views of Islam.

Reviews: 2
Cooper has written a book and told a story that no one else could have done as well. Her command of the French, Hausa and English languages, in-depth knowledge of Christianity, Islam and local religion, her genuine relationships with both Nigeriens and Westerners and her competent scholarship and analysis make this an unparalleled work. Historians, Africanists, anthropologists and missiologists will find this an insightful and fruitful read. Her account of the evangelistic missions, secular states and indigenous people in colonial and post-colonial Niger are full of the mistakes, misunderstandings, mistrusts and mercies characteristic of these cross-cultural encounters. Having lived in this milieu myself, I appreciate the complexity, confusion and charity that Cooper portrays among all the parties involved.

While I offer no major critique of Cooper's work, there are a few aspects where I believe she could have further elaborated to paint an even more vivid portrait of this cultural landscape. First of all, the reader must understand the harshness and isolation of Niger's environment. Not only is it largely in the Sahara desert, with the heat and dust that accompanies such a climate, but it remains the most undeveloped nation in the world. The longer you live in Niger, the less control you feel you have over anything in your life. It is as if the desert wants to come and suck out the life out of anything that dares bloom in its path, unless you are constantly vigilant against it. Life that thrives in Niger needs a thick skin or to be surrounded by thorns. Sometimes it seems the same with the people here: stubbornness, independence and prickliness are useful survival traits---it is best not to be too exposed. Unfortunately those attributes are often contrary to creating community and shared understanding--problems which bedevil the Christians in Niger.

Even today with radio, television, cell phones and internet, Niger is strangely isolated from so much of the rest of the world, with geography, history, language and its many cultures all being contributing factors. How much more pronounced this isolation must have been in the past! Isolation can often produce strange behaviors and/or results that would never occur in a more diverse and cosmopolitan environment, where interaction with others. In vibrant Nigeria to the south, there were dozens of Protestant, evangelical (including SIM), Pentecostal and Catholic missions all jostling and competing for believers and working to establish a recognized role for their faith in society. They were remarkably successful and transformed the country, as their legacies are evident everywhere. In comparison, in Niger, for over 60 years, only 3 missions (Catholic, SIM and Evangelical Baptists) were allowed to operate in largely distinct areas. I would argue that this lack of spiritual competition and vigor among the Christian missionary community, combined with indifference or hostility by the governments and people of Niger, produced a stunted Christianity--not unlike the small desert crocodiles or tiny antelope that can be found in some Saharan oases. One knows that bigger, healthier cousins of the species exist in other environments.

Likewise, it seems to me that Niger leadership institutions operate in either of two extremes: an authoritarian and idiosyncratic form of leadership where the "chief" (whether military, traditional, political or organizational) always makes the final decision or one, such as among Niger's Tubu, where, as Catherine Baroin wrote, "everyone considers himself his own chief". In my opinion, bodies or processes for collaborative decision-making remain weak throughout Niger because of the predominance of these two poles of leadership thinking. Cooper gives evidence of how key colonial rulers and mission directors made and enforced many decisions that appear unreasonable and petty to the reader. On the other hand, she also notes how SIM's decentralized structure gave missionaries a great deal of autonomy in their endeavors to do just as they wished. Today, one is struck at the differences between the Christian communities that purportedly share the same origins and their seeming inability to work together.

While the above facts may explain some of the difficulties of the church and mission in exercising discipline among their members and converts, I believe Cooper neglected to mention the challenges that Christian inter-marriage and family relationships have on conducting "horo" (Hausa for discipline). Cooper has aptly observed that much church growth in Niger has come from within Nigerien families. Indeed as Niger's Christians strove to form a common identity, unity through marriage, brought Christians from Tsibiri, Danja, Galmi, Zinder and Dogon Doutchi together into a larger Christian family. Even today, a majority of the members attending SIM-planted churches have ties to the early converts in all of these locales. Such interrelatedness makes church discipline a delicate task at best. Yet church discipline does happen, although much slower and more discreetly than an outside observer would realize.

Some miscellaneous observations and/or quibbles:

* Missionary furlough isn't just about raising funds (p. 201). It is also about rest and recovery for the missionary, maintaining church and personal ties and speaking and sharing about the work.

* Cooper's interpretation of child naming/baptême ceremonies needs some more context (p. 205). While Catholics and Lutherans believe that infant baptism is salvific for the child, other Protestants, such as those in the Reformed tradition, view it as a sign that the child is in a Christian covenant community and recognize an adult confession of faith as the moment of salvation. While SIM-inspired churches and other evangelicals believe that only adult "believer's baptism" is valid for salvation, presenting a newborn child to the religious community has its Christians origins with the infant Jesus being presented at the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). Also, in much of Niger, the father or a mallam whispers into the baby's ear a phrase that establishes the child's Muslim future during the naming ceremony. It is this public identification of the faith desired for the child that is significant, particularly in the spiritual realm. One can see why the missionaries wanted to have new converts hold an explicitly Christian ceremony.

* The Apostle Paul was opposed to Christians marrying outside of their faith (2 Cor 6:14) and permitted divorce for those in such relationships, therefore there's a basis for missionaries discouraging mixed Christian-Muslim marriages (p. 208 and 216). However there are scores of examples in Niger of these mixed marriages resulted in the other partner later (or sometimes sooner) becoming Christian. Cooper would have been right to question the short-sightedness of the missionaries in encouraging such divorces, given the success of conversion that Christians have in such marriages.

* Cooper is a bit harsh to refer to the EERN leadership as a gerontocracy (p.222). That may indeed be the case at local churches, but the national leadership has largely been drawn from men in their 40s and 50s for many, many years.

* Many of Cooper's observations on Christian-based education in Niger are remarkably accurate (particularly the folly of operating boarding schools). However, one negative prognosis of hers for the EERN primary school at Tsibiri failed to happen. The EERN leadership eventually did make the necessary changes in staff and governance to remedy many of the fundamental problems at the school. Additionally, a French-based NGO emerged to financially help send more girl students to Tsibiri. The School has since successfully passed 100% of its students into the next level of Nigerien education three years straight --an accomplishment that is rare in any Nigerien school. The King of the Gobirawa now holds the Tsibiri School up as an example of how good things could be in education.

Anyone who has even visited, lived and worked in or studied and read about the Nigerien environment Barbara Cooper describes owes her a great debt of gratitude for this impressive gift. She has constructed a narrative that provides a framework for interpreting and better comprehending our experiences in Niger. For those of you who have never been to Niger, Cooper has produced an excellent piece of scholarship that sheds new light about the complex tapestry involving African missions and Christian converts in both colonial and modern times. There is much to learn from reading this fascinating account.

This review was written by Thomas Johnson, a Protestant missionary in Niger who is married to Aïchatou, a third-generation Nigerien Christian.
Research books on Christians in Muslim Africa are not nearly as in vogue as books on Muslims, Islamic history or Islamist extremism are right now. In fact popular belief on religion in Africa is already full of unhelpful exoticism or generalizations about "Christians vs. Muslims" that books like this are all the more important. We've come a long way from the general public thinking that the "Poisonwood Bible" is the common missionary occurrence; which it's not. The attraction to untruth and conspiracy is so rampant and destructive that the responsibility to good scholarship on the Sahel is that much more important.

Barbara Cooper writes a very detailed historiography of the Evangelical mission efforts of SIM in southern Niger, spanning roughly from the 1920s to the 1990s. The reader will recognize quickly not only how well versed the author is in local Hausa customs and linguistics but also realize how closely the author scoured through SIMs archives on the regional events. In fact, the story of the evangelical Christians focuses just as much, if not more, on the lives of the missionaries as it does on the Nigerien converts. Which leads me to comment on the title.

The title is catchy but does inflate two elements. Barely a quarter of the way in to the book, the reader gets the sense that the book is less about the sincere lives of local evangelical Christians in the Sahel and more a criticism of Western missionary cultural clashes and failed evangelism approaches. The second inflated element is hardly an error of Barbara Cooper's alone. Just about every scholar writing about the African continent tends to expand their thesis title beyond the country or region specified in the research. The exaggeration is so easy to get away with when writing on a continent so few will ever travel to or care to discover in its innumerable diverse qualities.

Those two initial thoughts aside, the book covers, if not always in a chronological order, a number of events including church planting, selection of mission stations, medical missions, development models, bible school philosophies, gender dynamics and inter-religious tensions, all with a steady commentary on Hausa cultural perceptions and clashes in each practice. In fact, the book's most impressive contribution is the close explanation of Hausa impressions, language nuances and local rituals that in one way or another interact with not only Christian ideas but also Muslim traditions.

If one was to complete a thorough study of Christian and Muslim dynamics in the Sahel region (from Senegal to Sudan) it would be clearly evident that colonialism, Christian missions and Islamic expansion did not have as straightforward an interaction as Muslim apologists or even Western critics maintain. Prof. Cooper dispels multiple times the theory that the colonial administration supported and enabled Christian missions. The opposite was true not only in French West Africa but also the British Sudan. The colonial administration preferred stability to conflict which placed tight controls on where and how Christians could preach. If anything, Christian missions were constantly thwarted by colonial orders.

Islam spread more quickly during the 1920s in West Africa than at any other time up to that point. Colonial dynamics did not, as many argue, battle Islamic progression, it actually fueled the social vehicle that led to its expansion. The opposite was true in Sudan, beginning in 1964. Many Sudanese, stressed against harsh Islamist rule converted to Christianity. Throughout Africa's history, political pressure and escape has influenced religious mobility.

To be sure, the French promoted their secular governance and controlled French language instruction whenever they could. For non-French missionaries, like SIM, this meant that their work was done almost exclusively in Hausa. In fact, early Christian converts desiring to learn French had to find a means to do so outside of the Christian missions. In other words, SIM amplified local language to an extent beyond even the desires of some of its converts.

Barbara Cooper also explores within most of the events the influence of local marriage customs and a very interesting discussion on the Hausa foster children traditions. Some regions of Southern Niger were less Islamic than others. The more scholarly or aristocratic Muslims influenced the methods and extent of gospel propagation. While Islam had already blended local customs to a level of acceptable syncretism, Christianity was only beginning to come to terms with Jesus' teachings at odds with social pressures. Polygamy was one such debate, not unique to Niger, of course, but mentioned in almost every African context as a challenging social norm to Christian standards.

It becomes clear barely half-way through the in-depth research that the author is not only openly skeptical of evangelical Christian teachings but also the methods of its influence in Niger. Without a doubt, many missionaries had trouble relating to the cultural context and worse yet, seeing their Nigerien Christian brothers and sisters as social or political equals. Prof. Cooper fairly criticizes a few mission approaches for missing development and medical opportunities that could have furthered their relationship cause.

Directly following this stark criticism she then goes on to describe a few significant farming projects, counter-desertification efforts and medical programs. The author regarded each one as a failure of technical expertise and long-term strategic thinking. Having spent over 20 years focused on development and security in Sub-Saharan Africa I recognized quite a few of Prof Cooper's accusations towards Christian missions to be unfair. Many of USAIDs current strategies use similar models of unpaid local village clinic contacts to inform their medical networks, as an example. Wages are not the only gauge of fair development. Often, the selfless volunteer is the only sustainable model; and one that truly reflects the passion of the volunteer's beliefs.

This brings me to perhaps the author's own obvious struggle to reconcile sincere religious belief with pragmatic influence. Her description of most religious mobility is purely a practical one, rarely a spiritual conviction. Kudos to the author, she does clearly outline her own beliefs in the final chapters so as to provide context to her criticisms. She sees Islam, traditional practices and Christian observance all as responses to personal needs, family pressures, village happenings or social intimidation. Despite this secular reading of Christians in Niger, I can bypass Cooper's spiritual reticence and see her purely pragmatic argument as true "challenges" or dynamics of religious mobility in the Sahel.

The tone of the author's critique ebbed and flowed throughout, however, ending on a congenial note toward local Christians. Directly and by implication, the author is explaining a widespread phenomenon. Missionaries do not represent Christianity; they have merely introduced the message. The messenger can be in error in many of the same ways as the new convert. The convert personally and in all sincerity not only embraced Christ as savior but can and should hold anyone in the church accountable to Jesus' teaching, even if they be the Westerner; especially if he be the Westerner.

Despite much of the unjust criticism the author had towards Christian movements and ideas, she does persuade the reader that Niger Christians have a faith of their own. While not the focus of the book, she described the immense social challenges to Christian converts as they experience shame and ridicule from local Muslims. However, the region is described in much more pluralistic terms than one would expect. Inter-religious tensions occur when proselytizing forces its way into an unwelcome neighborhood or village. Both the missionaries and the growing number of local converts understood that conflict could be avoided while still reaching thousands with Jesus' message.

It is too simplistic to mention Sahelian Christian/Muslim conflict. It is not only simplistic but factually incorrect to see the colonial agenda as one that funded evangelical missions and supported proselytizing. As Cooper argues, it did neither. What any researcher of the region must understand, Christian, Muslim or other, is that sincere conversions do happen between faiths. The only conspiracy is the one that tries to cover-up the spiritual realities or paint local religious movements as purely political or brainwashing.