Here in Malawi we are at the height of the hot season, high pressure sapping our energy as we await the rains. In Zomba we are fortunate that the mountain above us offers a slightly cooler environment, to which I was glad to make my escape at the weekend.
This expedition gave me the chance to spend a morning writing under the generous shade of an old Kachere tree. For me, it was an evocative scene. Almost thirty years ago, when we were hatching a publishing project at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, we named it the Kachere Series. Just as people in many Malawian villages gather to discuss current issues under the shade of a spreading Kachere tree, we hoped that the books might function in a similar way.
The Kachere Series more than fulfilled our hopes, with more than 140 books being published in the subsequent years. It was also joined by a sister publishing house, Mzuni Press, based at Mzuzu University, which has run on the same lines and been no less productive.
Sitting under the Kachere tree was an apt vantage point to review theological publishing in Malawi. Along with my colleague Joyce Mlenga, I have been asked to prepare the Malawi article for a new Bibliographical Encyclopaedia of African Theology that is now in preparation.
This gives me a chance to recognise how much has been achieved and how much devotion has been poured into the enterprise. At the same time, in research and publication you are never finished. There is always another frontier. This is being brought home to me by the strong aspiration of the new Encyclopaedia to be an online resource. Not only do its editors plan that the Encyclopaedia itself will be fully accessible online but their aim is that as many citations as possible should be for books and articles that are freely available online.
This aspiration has presented quite a challenge to Joyce and myself since in Malawi we have hardly started on the process of making scholarly work available online. But the direction of travel is clear, and we hope that Malawi’s vibrant culture of theological publishing will bring the energy needed to cross this new frontier in the dissemination of knowledge.