Ubuntu, Migration and Ministry

Being Human in a Johannesburg Church

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Ubuntu, Migration and Ministry invites the reader to rethink ubuntu (Nguni: humanness/humanity) as a moral notion in the context of local communities. The socio-moral patterns that emerge at the crossroads between ethnography and social ethics offer a fresh perspective to what it means to be human in contemporary Johannesburg. The Central Methodist Mission is known for sheltering thousands of migrants and homeless people in the inner city. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, primarily conducted in 2009, Elina Hankela unpacks the church leader’s liberationist vision of humanity and analyses the tension between the congregation and the migrants, linked to the refugee ministry. While relational virtues mark the community’s moral code, various regulating rules and structures shape the actual relationships at the church. Here ubuntu challenges and is challenged.

Winner of the 2014 Donner Institute Prize for Outstanding Research into Religion.

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Biographical Note

Elina Hankela, Th.D. (2013, University of Helsinki), is a postdoctoral fellow affiliated with the University of Helsinki and the University of South Africa. She is currently working as part of an international team on a comparative research project focusing on faith-based organisations, social cohesion and marginalised youth.

Review Quote

Winner of the 2014 Donner Institute Prize for Outstanding Research into Religion.

(...) the theoretical approach and the discussion of Verryn's understanding of the concept of humanity will be of interest to scholars grappling with ubuntu while the anthropological data on the everyday tensions and struggles at the Central Methodist Church will be of interest to social scientists (...) Caroline Jeannerat, St Augustine College of South Africa, in Social Sciences and Missions, 29 (2016), pp.178-180.

The result is an empirically rich and theoretically insightful account of the actualization of ubuntii encounters in migrant/nonmigrant relationships within a South African urban ministry context. (...) This book will therefore be valuable to scholars interested in ubuntii, African Christianity, and mission and ministry in contexts shaped by migration. Allison Norton, Fuller Theological Seminary, in International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 39 (2015), pp. 163-164.

The reading of the book is a positive experience in spite of the fact that it brings the hopelessness of many people and communities into one’s awareness and presence. The author must be applauded for the thoroughness of her research and for the logical clarity of her writing. I would like to recommend the book for scholars, and also for practitioners from all levels of society – from pastors to politicians. Julian Müller, University of Pretoria, in Religion and Theology, 22 (2015), pp. 385-405.