Prof Henry Mbaya from the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University delivered his inaugural lecture on Tuesday 26 September 2023. The title of his lecture was “Place, power, and the past: Memorialisation and monumentalisation of religion as a challenge to South African history. The Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Grahamstown, 1992-1996".
Mbaya spoke to the Division of Corporate Communication and Marketing about how his research illuminates the role of the Anglican Church in different South African communities.
Tell us more about your research and why you became interested in this specific field.
My research is on the interface between English missionaries (Anglican Church) and African culture in Southern Africa in the 19th to 21st centuries. More specifically, I focus on the Anglican Church's missionary approach to African culture and the complex nature of its missionary work in the region at the time. Over the past 11 years, I have also examined the historical development of indigenous Christianity in South Africa.
I became interested in these topics because I was an Anglican priest and was 'born' into the church. More importantly, my involvement in this research is out of academic curiosity. The Anglican Church has been one of the churches that has played a crucial role in Southern African communities over the years. The critical question has been: How and why has this church had a considerable influence in these communities over the years in terms of developing indigenous leadership as well as providing education and social welfare programmes and churches?
How would you describe the relevance of your work for church and society in South Africa?
My research draws attention to the power of the Christian religion (spirituality) in the life of communities as a source of transformation and hope, but also as the source of some of the challenges that some people experience as a result of the missionary legacies.
Based on your research, why is it important to trace the historical development of indigenous Christianity in South Africa?
Understanding the roots of indigenous Christianity (Christianity taking root amongst South Africans and embodying an African culture and ethos) has the potential to help us comprehend some of the positive dimensions of Christianity today, but also its challenges. If Christianity is to have a future in South Africa, then learning about the past is relevant as it has the potential to position the contemporary Church (Christianity).
You have spent many years in the challenging environment of higher education. What keeps you motivated when things get tough?
The thought that I can still make a difference in the life of a student because when I was a student someone else made a difference in my life. I am also motivated to serve students and communities.
Tell us something exciting about yourself that people would not expect.
I love classical music, especially Mozart, very traditional hymns, and Gregorian chants. Listening to these gives me some inner peace.
How do you spend your free time?
I do not have much free time, but when I do manage to take a break, I listen to classical music. There are times when I jog for health reasons. It seems to help me with my mental health. I wish I could do much more. I envy those who exercise regularly.
- Photo by Ignus Dreyer (SCPS Photos)