Thomas C. Oden, a leading expert on Christian writings from 100 to 500 A.D., is the author of many theological works and the general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. His new book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, may upset what he calls "the common misconception that the flow of intellectual leadership in early Christianity moved from Europe to Africa, not vice versa."
Oden told WOW that a "liberal bias wrongly assumed that Africa was inexperienced in understanding cultural conflict resolution and only needed larger doses of European enlightenment to solve its maladjustments. Many thus missed entirely the literary richness of the distinctive African Christian imprint on proto-Europe and the formation of the Christian mind. These misjudgments were passed on through graduate study programs."
Oden contends that in Christian history "the flow of intellectual leadership demonstrably moved largely from Africa to Europe - south to north," with Christian thought "cradled and nurtured" in Africa.... Africans were informing and instructing and educating the very best of Syriac, Cappadocian, and Greco-Roman teachers…. Inattention to this south-to-north movement has been unhelpful (even hurtful) to the African sense of intellectual self-worth. It has seemed to leave Africa without a sense of distinguished literary and intellectual history."
Augustine, for example, was African, and his family wasn't just hugging the Mediterranean coast: He "was born and raised far from the sea in a remote inland Numidian town (Thagaste) with mixed racial stock…. Among Augustine's known family and friends were people who had Berber, Punic, Numidian, Roman, and even Libyan names."
Tertullian, Cyprian, and Athanasius also were African, but African intellectuals ostensibly trying to overthrow European influence pay more attention to Europeans. Oden says that's because "Many African academics are trained in European or American universities dominated by the failed assumptions of modernity." He notes that a review of references in books by African intellectuals will typically show many more citations of Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Marcuse than Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, and Augustine.
Oden hopes that young scholars and pace-setting universities will take on the task of righting the historical record.