Conversion to Orthodox Christianity in Uganda: A Hundred Years of Spiritual Encounter with Modernity, 1919–2019
In 1919, three Ugandan Anglicans converted to Orthodox Christianity, as they became sure that this was Christianity’s original and only true form. In 1946, Ugandan Orthodox Christians aligned with the Eastern Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Since the 1990s, new trends in conversion to Orthodox Christianity in Uganda can be observed: one is some growth in the number of new converts to the canonical Orthodox Church, while another is the appearance of new Orthodox Churches, including parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church. The questions we raise in this article are: Why did some Ugandans switch from other religions to Orthodox Christianity in the first half of the 20th century and in more recent years? Were there common reasons for these two developments? We argue that both processes should be understood as attempts by some Ugandans to find their own way in the modern world. Trying to escape spiritually from the impact of colonialism, post-coloniality, and globalization, they viewed Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Islam as part of the legacy they rejected. These people did not turn to African traditional beliefs either. They already firmly saw their own tradition as Christian, but were (and are) seeking its “true”, “original” form. We emphasize that by rejecting post-colonial globalist modernity and embracing Orthodox Christianity as the basis of their own “alternative” modernity, these Ugandans themselves turn out to be modern products, and this speaks volumes about the nature of conversion in contemporary Africa. The article is based on field evidence collected in 2017–2019 as well as on print sources.