Gillian M. Bediako Centre for Primal and Christian Spirituality (CEPACS)


  1. The underlying rationale for this research focus is that historically and contrary to the prevailing view among evangelicals, vital Christianity has always been built on a primal substructure. By contrast, Christianity that has lost its primal vision has declined. Where indigenous knowledge is now acknowledged generally to have much to contribute to human enhancement, contrary to earlier negative estimations, the same is true in the area of Christian mission and spiritual renewal, with respect to the primal substructure of religion and culture.
  2. Several other realizations concerning the nature of primal traditions make the encounter of primal and Christian spirituality an important field of research:
    • The pervasiveness and affinities of the religions/cosmologies/world-views of indigenous peoples around the world
    • The durability of these world-views in encounter with other religious or cultural influences, such that they do not die out, but constitute the fundamental substructure upon which they build, in varying degrees. (This is one reason why ‘primal’ is the preferred terminology.) Even where the primal traditions have been severely repressed, they subsequently resurface in new forms.
    • The positive contribution of primal spirituality and world-view to Christian mission and discipleship wherever the Gospel has spread among primal peoples.
  3. A third component of the rationale is that these realizations are not widely understood in Christian circles, so that the primal religious traditions continue to be denigrated and their positive contributions in mission history are not appreciated.
    • Further, the widespread reshaping of primal elements occurring in Christian circles in living primal contexts is often not critiqued, because the process is largely unconscious.
    • The recognition of the resurgence of negative primal spirituality in contemporary popular culture, particularly in the historic Christian heartlands of the West, represents an opportunity for creative Christian mission engagement.

ACI developed and carried through a four-year research project on ‘Primal religion as the Substructure of Christianity’, in collaboration with the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity (Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, USA), 2007-2010, which drew together Christian scholars and mission practitioners from a representative selection of primal areas around the world (several African countries, Mizo (India), Samoa, Peru, Bolivia) and consultations with participant-observation in three primal locations (Akropong, Ghana; Lima/Macchu Picchu, Peru; and Samoa). The papers from this project were published in two issues of the Journal of African Christian Thought (11.2 & 12.1).

The Centre has helped to develop an M.A. Option in World Christianity that focuses on Christian thought and expression worldwide, and especially in the historic African diaspora, that draws inspiration from primal spirituality.

The overarching aim is to develop perspectives on spirituality and gospel and culture engagement that provide tools for more effective mission and Christian discipleship and nurture.

While CEPACS’s vision constitutes one of the core research and training areas of ACI, there is still a place for further in-depth study of the encounter between primal and Christian spirituality through the design and implementation of projects at doctoral and post-doctoral levels. The Centre aims therefore to:

  1. Develop research projects that focus on primal and Christian encounter in Africa and other parts of the world. This will include encouraging MTh and doctoral candidates to engage in such research for their dissertations and theses, as well as provide opportunities for post-doctoral research in this field.
  2. Seek funding and in some cases collaborating partners for specific projects of local, inter-regional and intercontinental focus, some of which could feed into scholarships for doctoral and post-doctoral research.
  3. Organise CEPACS seminars within ACI and beyond, for sharing of research findings. These will also include more grassroots and mission-oriented seminars, for the dissemination of insights to the wider Christian community.
  4. Organise CEPACS cross-disciplinary symposia within ACI and beyond for generating research ideas in the area of primal spirituality and sharing research findings with the broader academic community. This will also include developing lecture series and publications.
  5. Develop a range of publications, not only of a scholarly nature with a view to disseminating research findings for ongoing research, but also of a more popular nature for application and training in church and parachurch settings.

Scope of research areas:

  1. Primal/Christian encounter in Africa and the African Diaspora:
    • Primal traditions as substructure and preparation for the Gospel
    • Primal/Christian engagement in African and Diaspora mission history and culture
    • Critique of primal elements in African Christianity
    • Critique of neo-primal forms worldwide
  1. Primal/Christian encounter and primal impact in world Christian history through the ages and in comparison with modern Africa
  2. Commonalities in primal world-views around the world and through the ages and in the primal/Christian encounter
  3. Recovering the primal vision where it has been lost, for the purposes of Christian mission and renewal, for the recovery of common humanity, and a holistic view of creation

Key People

Rev. Dr. Joshua D. Settles, Director
Rev. Dr. Ernest Afrifa-Anane
Prof. Gillian M. Bediako
Dr. Pauline C. Settles 
Dr. Ingrid Reneau-Walls 

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