A Book Begins its Life

Last Wednesday, soon after we launched our A Malawi Church History 1860-2020, I got a call from St Peter’s Major Seminary asking if I could supply them with 23 copies. They said it is “a book for which we have been longing.” They wanted to have enough copies so that every student taking the Malawi Church History course could have one.

This was a welcome moment since it was exactly what Klaus and I had in mind when we were writing the book. Its 28 chapters are designed for the Malawi academic year with its two 14-week semesters. It is written at a level that we hope is accessible to undergraduate students and at every stage it provides reading lists for those who want to dig deeper.

We are not by any means the first to write about Malawi’s church history. On the contrary, the subject has attracted a succession of outstanding scholars. They all, however, have concentrated on one period, one individual, one episode or one ecclesial tradition. Where we believe we have broken new ground is in the attempt to comprehend the whole – covering the entire period and every expression of Christianity.

This meant that we were often taking a synthetic approach, trying to draw threads together and create a broad picture of what was going on in each successive era. At the same time, we were conscious of the risk that we might lapse into bland generalization. So we attempted to shine the spotlight on key episodes and individuals, offering vivid case studies that shed light on the wider picture.

We were also very pleased to be able to include an original set of maps. These were created for us by Jonathan Gwaligwali, a cartographer based at Chancellor College in Zomba. A map can show you, at a glance, key developments that it would take many words to explain. 

Another way of keeping the text fresh was not to stick always to the “beaten path” – the main lines on which Malawi’s church history has been recounted – but to attempt to come at it “from left field” and prioritise some of the actors who have suffered from neglect in earlier historiography.

Now the book begins its life. We hope it will catch the imagination of the next generation of students and that some will be provoked to embark on their own explorations of a field that is rich, wide and deep.

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