Inventing the World: Transnationalism, Transmission, and Christian Textualities

  • Isabel Hofmeyr


In a series of recent articles, Achille Mbembe points to the ways in which analyses, at once nativist and Marxist, have dominated the field of African Studies and outlines the intellectual legacies and consequences of these traditions of scholarship. As he makes clear, these paradigms have relied on a conception of subjectivity strongly tied to race, location, slavery, and other forms of colonial oppression. The consequence of such analyses is, first, to confer “on Africa a character so particular that it is not comparable with any other region of the world” (Mbembe 2001, 1), and second, to obscure an understanding of the continent’s most significant contemporary developments, like war, epidemic, global crime networks, charismatic religion, and consumerism, which are transnational in character. Mbembe comments:

Indeed, the “world” as a category of thought is one of the most impoverished concepts of African philosophical reflection. To a very large extent, the confinement of Africa to area studies and the inability of African criticism to think in terms of the “world” go together. (Mbembe 2001, 4)

Following Mbembe, I propose we understand missions in Africa as a site for inventing “the world.”


Direct Speech African Farm Superstitious Belief Sunday School International Reading 
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  1. 4.
    Or as a Scottish missionary said in a different context: “Let me remind you that there are two Manchurias, two Old Calabars, two Jamaicas, two Grand Caymans. There is the one you will find when you land there, and the other which you labour to realize” (United Presbyterian Church 1890, 284).Google Scholar

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© Jamie S. Scott and Gareth Griffiths 2005

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  • Isabel Hofmeyr

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