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Generations of Catholics in Eastern Africa: A Practice-Centered Analysis of Religious Change


  • Acknowledgments: In preparing this article I benefited from comments by Marie Cornwall, Omar McRoberts, Mary Ellen Konieczny, Loren Lybarger, David Burrell, and the assistance of Alison Fitchett Climenhaga.

Paul Kollman, Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame, 130 Malloy, Notre Dame, IN 46556. E-mail:


This article considers how well Martin Riesebrodt's practice-centered theory of religion addresses religious change among Catholics in eastern Africa. Two arguments are advanced using a generational change scheme. First, Riesebrodt's focus on religious practices assists in understanding many changes that African Catholics and their communities have experienced over time. It acknowledges believers’ perspectives and the impact of missionaries, and it generates comparative insights across different cases. However, Riesebrodt's approach has limitations when developing a comparative perspective on historical transformation in these communities. Therefore, his focus on the objective meaning of interventionist religious practices needs supplementing: (1) capturing religious change within a given religion requires attention both to practices and their subjective appropriation by believers, and (2) in the forging of collective identities, theological reflection by elites helped connect Catholic practices to preexisting worldviews and Catholic practices marked generational change by distinguishing Catholics from other African Christians.