Lamin Sanneh

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Lamin Sanneh
Lamin Sanneh.jpg
Sanneh in 2014
Born(1942-05-24)May 24, 1942
Abuko, Gambia
DiedJanuary 6, 2019(2019-01-06) (aged 76)
United States
OccupationScholar of missions and religious studies
Known forHistory of African Christianity and a pioneer in the academic field of world Christianity
Spouse(s)Sandra Sanneh
Academic background
Academic work
DisciplineMissiology, religious studies
InstitutionsUniversity of Ghana, University of Aberdeen, Harvard, Yale University, Yale Divinity School

Lamin Sanneh (May 24, 1942 – January 6, 2019) was the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School and Professor of History at Yale University.

Life and work[edit]

Sanneh was born and raised in Gambia. After studying at the University of Birmingham and the Near East School of Theology, Beirut, he earned his doctorate in Islamic History at the University of London. He wrote many books and articles on the relationship between Islam and Christianity (titles include Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in "Secular" Britain, The Crown and the Turban: Muslims and West African Pluralism, and Piety and Power: Muslims and Christians in West Africa).[1] Sanneh converted to Christianity from Islam and was a practicing Roman Catholic.[2][3]

Another major area of Sanneh's academic work was in the study of World Christianity. He wrote extensively about the translation of the Christian message, challenging a good deal of the accepted history of mission in the modern academy. In his 1989 Translating the Message, he writes:

In time, Christianity expanded from Europe into Asia and Africa, among other places, and was able to break out of its Western cultural confinement by repeating the process by which the church's missionary center shifted from Jerusalem to Antioch and beyond. In some important respects, however, the modern shift was unprecedented, for it was the extraordinary multiplicity of mother-tongue idioms that became the subject of Christian mission rather than the cosmopolitan values of an ascendant West. Nonetheless, mission maintained continuity with its apostolic past. In examining the modern missionary phase, however, we should highlight important signposts in the indigenous culture, especially in the local encounter with the modern West. The translation role of missionaries cast them as unwitting allies of mother-tongue speakers and as reluctant opponents of colonial domination.[4]

He extended these historical reflections further in his 2008 Disciples of All Nations.

As a professor, Sanneh taught and worked at the University of Ghana, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Harvard, and (from 1989–2019) at Yale. He was an editor-at-large of The Christian Century, and served on the board of several other journals. According to the Yale University website, "He is an Honorary Research Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies In the University of London, and is a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He serves on the board of Ethics and Public Policy at Harvard University, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama." Sanneh was also a Commandeur de l'Ordre National du Lion, Senegal's highest national honor. He was a member of the Pontifical Commission of the Historical Sciences and of the Pontifical Commission on Religious Relations with Muslims. Sanneh was a naturalized United States citizen.[5][2]

In 2018, a new institute was created in his name, the Sanneh Institute at the University of Ghana.[6]

Sanneh suffered a stroke and died on January 6, 2019.[7][8] He was supposed to present his keynote paper "Themes in Reconciliation and Harmony with Reference to Contemporary Africa" at the International Harmony Conference organized by Bishop Prof. Dr. Dennis T.W. Ng in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 7 January 2019. It turns out to be his last paper and was read out at the conference after a moment of silence and prayer. His widow, Sandra Sanneh, is a professor of isiZulu at Yale University and their son, Kelefa Sanneh, writes about culture for The New Yorker.

Selected Books[edit]

  • West African Christianity: The Religious Impact. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1983. ISBN 9780883447031.
  • Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1989. ISBN 9780883443613.
  • The Jakhanke Muslim Clerics: A Religious and Historical Study of Islam in Senegambia. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. 1989. ISBN 9780819174819.
  • Encountering the West: Christianity and the Global Cultural Process: The African Dimension. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1993. ISBN 9780883449295.
  • Religion and the Variety of Culture: A Study in Origin and Practice. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International. 1996. ISBN 9781563381669.
  • Het Evangelie is Niet Los Verkrijgbaar: Tet Thristendom als Inculturatie-Beweging. Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok. 1996. ISBN 9789024279746.
  • Piety and Power: Muslims and Christians in West Africa. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1996. ISBN 9781570750908.
  • The Crown and the Turban: Muslims and West African Pluralism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 1997. ISBN 9780813330594.
  • Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in "Secular" Britain. London: SPCK. 1998. ISBN 9780281051533. (with Lesslie Newbigin and Jenny Taylor)
  • Abolitionists Abroad: American Blacks and the Making of Modern West Africa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009. ISBN 978-0674043077.
  • Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. 2004. ISBN 0802821642. (Winner: Theologos Award for "Best General Interest Book 2004")
  • The Changing Face of Christianity: Africa, the West, and the World. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0195177274. (co-edited with Joel A. Carpenter)
  • Disciples of all Nations: Pillars of World Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press. 2008. ISBN 9780195189605.
  • Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. 2012. ISBN 9780802867421.
  • Beyond Jihad: The Pacifist Tradition in West African Islam. New York: Oxford University Press. 2016. ISBN 9780199351619.
  • The Wiley Blackwell Companion to World Christianity. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 2016. ISBN 9781118556047. (co-edited with Michael McClymond


  1. ^ "Lamin Sanneh". Yale Divinity School. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b Bonk, Jonathan J. (October 2003). "The Defender of the Good News: Questioning Lamin Sanneh". Christianity Today: 112–113.
  3. ^ Harrak, Fatima (September 2000). "Piety and Power: Muslims and Christians in West Africa by Lamin Sanneh". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 68 (3): 668–670. doi:10.1093/jaarel/68.3.668.
  4. ^ Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message, 2nd ed. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 2009), 94–5.
  5. ^ "Lamin Sanneh". Yale University, Department of History. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  6. ^ "New institute named for Lamin Sanneh to focus on study of religion and society in Africa". Yale MacMillan Center. 27 September 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  7. ^ Sterling, Greg (7 January 2019). "Professor Lamin Sanneh, 1942-2019". Yale Divinity School. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  8. ^ Walls, Andrew (8 January 2019). "Professor Lamin Sanneh: In Memoriam". Centre for the Study of World Christianity. Retrieved 8 January 2019.

External links[edit]

External video
video icon A Conversation with Lamin Sanneh (2016)