Review by John Stuart, Kingston University, London
The American Historical Review Volume 118, Issue 4, Pp. 1291-1292
As Richard Elphick notes, his book has had a long gestation. It provides an extended overview of themes in the religious history of South Africa upon which he has focused attention over many years. It draws to some extent on previously published work, which has ranged in focus from African Christianity to religion and Afrikaner nationalism and the vicissitudes of the Social Gospel. Elphick builds upon all this material to produce a compelling analytical narrative spanning two centuries and more. Taking as a main theme the idea (as expressed in Afrikaans) of gelykstelling, or racial equalization, he demonstrates the centrality of religion and theology to individuals and institutions in relation to matters social, political, and racial from the 1730s to 1960. While adopting a tone both sober and measured, he emphasizes the extent to which debate on these matters was characterized not by complexity alone but also on many occasions by fierceness. He reminds us how religion has contributed to the extraordinariness of so much of South Africa's modern history.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century through 1960, Protestant missionaries were the most important intermediaries between South Africa’s ruling white minority and its black majority. The Equality of Believers reconfigures the narrative of race in South Africa by exploring the pivotal role played by these missionaries and their teachings in shaping that nation’s history.