Original Research - Special Collection: Wentzel van Huyssteen

The other’s humanity with or without the other’s religiosity? Reflections on the affirmation and limitation of human dignity in early Afrikaner missionary discourse in Central Africa

Retief Müller
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 42, No 2 | a2324 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v42i2.2324 | © 2021 Retief Müller | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 June 2021 | Published: 27 September 2021

About the author(s)

Retief Müller, Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity, Calvin University, Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States of America; Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


Taking Wentzel van Huyssteen’s work on early human uniqueness in relation to symbolic or religious awareness as a starting point, this article raises a question whether an implicit connection between humanity and the capacity for religiosity had anything to say about how one could evaluate the so-called other’s religion and their humanity. Does the recognition of the other’s full humanity demand an equal recognition of their religiosity, or are these separable? Rather than attempting to answer this hypothetically, the question is approached historically. The article touches on how the capacity to evaluate religion from the outside emerged in modernity and discusses some of the ways this capacity played out in Christian theology. In reference to the colonial era Afrikaner missionaries in Central Africa, the article argues that even partial recognition of the other’s religiosity might have detrimental consequences particularly where this is tied to a partial recognition of their humanity as had happened during the apartheid and proto-apartheid periods.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The article challenges both critical and affirmative scholarly views of religiosity by positing an essential link between humanity and religiosity whilst simultaneously suggesting that a scientific approach to religiosity, which has uncovered important relationships between religiosity and humanity, might be the appropriate approach for full recognition of the other’s humanity.


Afrikaner missionaries; colonialism; human dignity; Malawi; modernity; South Africa; theology


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