African women in religion and culture Chewa women in the Nkhoma synod of the church of central Africa, presbyterian: a critical study from women's perspective

Doctoral Thesis


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This thesis is an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of Chewa women in the Nkhoma synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. It is an interpretation, from a women's perspective within the Reformed tradition of their status, roles, and experiences. The introduction provides a detailed explanation of the area of study, African women's perspective of religion and culture, and methodology. I Chapter one aims at examining the context of women in Malawi. This includes the current demography, politics, economy and education as they affect women. The chapter also includes a background history of Chewa people and the church of Central Africa, Presbyterian which provide a base for the understanding of Chewa women in the Nkhoma synod. Chapter two considers the position of Chewa women further by providing a detailed analysis of their position in traditional society. The period under study in this chapter is 1400-1870s. Through the study of the Makewana cult, the chapter aims at showing that Chewa women traditionally had religious leadership roles. This led to a discussion on the concept of God among the Chewa. In studying these traditional roles, the chapter shows both the positive and negative elements in Chewa culture. Chapters one and two then provide a framework for chapters three, four, and five. Chapter three analyzes in detail the issues of Chewa women in religious. leadership and culture under the Dutch Reformed Church Mission and the Nkhoma synod from 1889 to present. It examines church policies on women's participation in church leadership positions and theological education. It also examines how the church has handled cultural issues, especially the women's initiation ceremony, bride wealth, child marriages, polygamy, and widowhood. The concern of this chapter is to show that while Christianity liberated Chewa women from some degrading cultural practices, it also denied women leadership positions. Chapter four takes the issue of women's participation in the church further by examining the Chigwirizano-Women's organization. The aim of this chapter is to explore what the organization means to women, how it runs, and most of all, its relationship with the synod. The chapter establishes that Nkhoma synod women do not only suffer from patriarchy but also from clericalism. Chapter five moves from the historical approach to a sociological one. It is primarily a survey of attitudes of men and women in the synod on the issues raised in chapters three and four. It also aims at finding out if the presence of women in the general synod would make a difference. Chapter six considers the effect on Nkhoma synod women who have participated in continental church women's organizations, especially their aims at raising the consciousness of women and the church with regard to women's issues. Chapter seven provides a summary of the findings. It also raises theological issues on interpreting the Bible from a women's perspective and a new understanding of authority in the church. The chapter concludes by posing a challenge to the synod to develop a theology that takes into account the experiences of women in the church, and enables them to fulfil a creative role within it.