Bodies, Spirits, and the Living Landscape: Interpreting the Bible in Owamboland, Namibia
John, Helen Catherine
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To enable publication of sections/all of thesis.
This study explores the relationship between Christianity and autochthonous (indigenous, pre-Christian) worldviews and practices amongst the Aandonga of Owamboland, Northern Namibia. Using participant contributions from a series of Contextual Bible Study (CBS) sessions (with groups of men, women, and children), and supplemented by ethnographic contextualisation, it challenges the oft-contended notion that Christian worldviews and practices have erased the significance of African Traditional Religion for Ndonga (or wider Owambo) communities. The enduring significance of autochthonous worldviews and practices is explored using responses to six biblical texts, each of which relates to at least one of three themes: bodies, spirits, and landscapes. The study examines feasting bodies (The Parable of the Wedding Banquet), bleeding bodies (The Haemorrhaging Woman), and possessed bodies (Legion). It considers possession spirits (Legion), natural spirits (the so-called ‘Nature Miracles’), and ancestor spirits (Resurrection appearances). Perspectives on landscapes are highlighted particularly in relation to aspects of the natural environment (the ‘Nature Miracles’) and the locations explored by an itinerant demoniac (Legion). Responses to the texts engender, inter alia, discussions of contemporary perspectives on diviner-healers (oonganga), witchcraft (uulodhi), the homestead (egumbo), burial grounds (omayendo, oompampa), spirits (iiluli, oompwidhuli), ancestors (aathithi), material agency (for example, apotropaic amulets), and the ‘traditional’ wedding (ohango). Having analysed the ways in which autochthonous worldviews informed participants’ interpretations of the particular texts considered (Matthew 22:1-14 & Luke 14:7-11; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:26-39; Mark 4:35-41 & 6:45-52; Luke 24), each set of interpretations is brought into conversation with professional biblical scholarship. The study therefore highlights the ways in which these grassroots, ‘contextual’ interpretations might nuance New Testament interpretations returned by the Academy, particularly by highlighting the highly contextual nature of the latter.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
Lawrence, Louise J.
Horrell, David G.
PhD in Theology