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Professor Adrian Hastings


By Ingrid Lawrie


Adrian Hastings’s death in May, at the age of 71, came when he was still enjoying a most productive and creative retirement.  In the weeks before he died, he asked for a list of his publications, actual and anticipated, for 2001: they comprised three books (one biography, one new edition with additional chapters, one collection of lectures), one major encyclopaedia article, three chapters in books, five journal articles, four reviews and three articles in The Tablet.  Perhaps those close to him will remember longest the moving and optimistic Tablet article of 6 January, ‘Good News from Uganda’, written shortly after a trip to East Africa, his first in 28 years.  Here we see many aspects of Adrian Hastings: the writer who always found an opportunity to get his words into print, the man of action who continually moved on to new challenges and did not hanker for the past, yet whose friendships were so deep that they could be picked up again after so many years, and the much-loved teacher, whose former seminary students were delighted by the opportunity to entertain him and express their appreciation.  And above all, the Adrian Hastings who was devoted to Africa.[1]

Adrian had not even visited the continent when his first African publication, the booklet ‘White Domination or Racial Peace’, was written.  He arrived in Uganda in 1958, as a Roman Catholic parish priest under a black bishop, the role he had chosen and fought for.  After little over a year, he was moved to Bukalasa Minor Seminary, where he taught the boys who, as leading citizens of Uganda, welcomed him back in 2000.  After leaving there, he wrote a commentary for the African church on the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and a report on Christian marriage in Africa, before returning to England in the early 1970s, partly because of bad bouts of malaria, partly because of difficulties with the Catholic Church’s teaching.  After that, his only extended return to Africa was from 1982 to 1985 as Head of the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy in the University of Zimbabwe.  While there, he was writing perhaps his most widely known book, A History of English Christianity 1920-1985 (now updated to the end of the millennium, one of the list of publications for 2001), and had no time for researching Zimbabwean religious history, something regretted by Adrian himself and by his friend and Zimbabwean expert, Terence Ranger.[2]  In the decade between leaving Africa, essentially unemployed, and returning as a Professor he had turned himself into an academic, first as a research fellow at SOAS, producing the much-admired A History of African Christianity 1950-1975, then in the Aberdeen Department of Religious Studies, at that time rich in Africanists and African students.

The Leeds department, when he joined it in 1985, had no such tradition, but that changed very quickly.  With Adrian came African postgraduates and African studies, in both Christian history and traditional religion, as well as the Journal of Religion in Africa, of which he had just become editor (and which still retains its base in Leeds).  Two other Africanists, Paul Gifford and Donald Mackay, were attracted here on short-term contracts, and it was Gifford who was principally responsible for organising the very successful 1993 Leeds conference on the Christian churches and Africa’s democratisation.  The mix of churchmen, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Christian, Cardinal Tumi of Cameroon, and academics, including John de Gruchy, Terence Ranger and J D Y Peel, worked very well, and the meeting was amicable and stimulating.  Among Leeds contributors were David Beetham and Morris Szeftel, with Howard Evans and David Platten of the French department providing translation services.

The book resulting from the conference[3] was published in the Brill series, Studies of Religion in Africa, which Adrian revitalised (its titles include Bembaland Church: Religious and Social Change in South Central Africa 1891-1964 by another Leeds Africanist, Brian Garvey).  He edited the series at the same time as all his other activities: Head of Department with a not inconsiderable teaching load and many research students, Professor of Theology much in demand for external speaking engagements, writer of, inter alia, what many consider his greatest work, The Church in Africa 1450-1950,[4] editor of the JRA, campaigner for the Bosnian and Kosovan causes in the wars in the former Yugoslavia – and so on.  It is hardly surprising that he was not a Professor who played a large part in University committee work, but for extra-departmental activities dear to his heart he could find time and energy.  One of these was his chairing of the African Studies Unit (ASU), predecessor of LUCAS.

While his tendency to digress prevented him from being a perfect committee man, his drive, talent for organisation, ability to see very clearly and quickly to the heart of problems, his charm (combined with ruthlessness when necessary) and his perhaps unexpected skill with accounts made him a very good chair in any circumstances.  His devotion to Africa and African studies ensured that keeping the ASU running was high on his agenda, and with Ray Bush and others he worked hard to achieve that, in the face of great financial difficulties.

The continued existence of LUCAS can be seen as one of Adrian Hastings’s legacies to the University of Leeds.  Another is the continuation of African religious studies, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, under the direction of Dr Kevin Ward, in the School of Theology and Religious Studies, which has established the Adrian Hastings Africa Scholarship in his memory.

[From Leeds African Studies Bulletin 64 (2001), pp. 6-8]

[1] For a detailed treatment of AH and Africa, see I Lawrie, ‘The Shaping of a Prophet: The African Career and Writings of Adrian Hastings’ and ‘Adrian Hastings’s Bibliography, 1950-2002’, in Christianity and the African Imagination: Essays in Honour of Adrian Hastings, edited by David Maxwell with Ingrid Lawrie, Leiden: Brill, 2001.

[2] ‘”Taking on the Missionary’s Task”: African Spirituality and the Mission Churches of Manicaland in the 1930s’, in Christianity and the African Imagination, p. 93.

[3] The Christian Churches and the Democratisation of Africa, ed. Paul Gifford, Leiden: Brill, 1995.

[4] Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, 706 pages, described by David Maxwell in his obituary of Adrian in The Independent (7 June 2001) as ‘the best study of African Christianity to date’.

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