African Religions and Philosophy Analysis

John S. Mbiti


(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Four fairly distinct philosophical and scholarly traditions form the background to John S. Mbiti’s classic treatment of the African worldview. The first is the extensive anthropological literature on individual peoples, begun in the colonial period and continuing during African national independence following World War II. This work provided the data from which a more general “African” perspective might be developed. The second sort of research was specifically into religion, as missionaries and scholars became aware that Africans held well-developed religious views that were not merely “primitive” and “superstitious.” A third and related scholarly strand was the growing interest in African philosophy, especially in the question of the ontology or “theory of being” implicit in African beliefs and practices. There was an increasing recognition of Africa’s independence from Europe not only politically but philosophically: Africa was emerging as other than a dependent colonial stepchild. Fourth and finally, Mbiti as a Christian minister and an accomplished theologian was a representative of the long tradition of eschatological speculation into the ultimate destiny of human beings. Mbiti drew on all these traditions but was in the unique position of being a native African religious practitioner who combined all four, in his person and in African Religions and Philosophy.