Secondary Resources on Sacrifice

While doing research for an encyclopaedia article on sacrifice in African theology, I have also found many valuable secondary resources, some of which are freely accessible online. The following text is a draft of the section that introduces some of the best examples.

There are no articles or books that provide an overview of the theme of sacrifice across the entire field of African theology, but there are a number of key articles that offer useful points of entry into different areas of discussion. Sawyerr 1969 is a classic that provides historical background to the discussion, indicates key questions that the practice of ritual sacrifice raises for African theologians and suggests ways in which African notions of sacrifice can contribute to wider discussions. Awolalu 1973 and Ukpong 1983 are exemplary contributions to the study of ritual sacrifice in African traditional religions. Awolalu shows the importance of paying close attention to African sacrificial terminology and making detailed descriptions of a wide variety of sacrificial practices. Ukpong demonstrates the need to understand ritual sacrifice in relation to African systems of thought rather than foreign frames of reference. Ekem 2007, Kalengyo 2009 and Oduyoye 1986 exemplify the study of sacrifice in three major areas of African theology: biblical studies, liturgical theology and systematic theology. Ekem stresses the need for constructive dialogue between biblical notions of sacrifice and African concepts, practices and stories of sacrifice in a dynamic and open-ended encounter. Kalengyo shows that such an encounter has important implications for how the Eucharist should be celebrated. Oduyoye offers a carefully nuanced articulation of Christian sacrifice, drawing a crucial distinction between making a sacrifice and being sacrificed.

Awolalu, J. Ọmọṣade. “Yoruba Sacrificial Practice.” Journal of Religion in Africa 5, no. 2 (1973): 81–93.


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A well-organised and systematic presentation, based on fieldwork, by a Nigerian Anglican scholar of religion and clergyman, that deals with the purposes, materials, and object of sacrifice. Awolalu writes that sacrifice among the Yorùbá has both a positive and a negative side, is referred to using the single term ẹbọ, contra Mbiti’s distinction between sacrifice and offering, and is indirectly offered to Olódùmarè, the Supreme Being. Free via subscription from JSTOR.

Ekem, John D. K. “A Dialogical Exegesis of Romans 3.25a.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 1 (2007): 75–93.


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A pioneering article in the field of mother-tongue biblical theology by a Ghanaian Methodist biblical scholar and translator. Ekem presents a novel exegetical method called ‘dialogical exegesis’ and illustrates it with a case study on the term hilastērion in Romans 3:25a. He examines various translations of the verse in European and African languages and then analyses both sacrificial concepts and popular legends among the Abura-Mfantse of Ghana in order to propose a better translation.

Kalengyo, Edison M. “The Sacrifice of Christ and Ganda Sacrifice: A Contextual Interpretation in Relation to the Eucharist.” In The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, edited by Richard J. Bauckham, 302–18. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.

Kalengyo, a Ugandan Anglican priest and theologian, presents a clear and insightful example of liturgical inculturation. He uses a tripolar interpretive process, which involves first examining the biblical text (Hebrews 9:1-10:18), then analysing the context (the concept and practice of sacrifice among the Ganda of Uganda), and then addressing the question of appropriation (an inculturated understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice). He finally explores the implications for how the Eucharist should be celebrated.

Oduyoye, Mercy A. “Church Women and the Church’s Mission.” In New Eyes for Reading: Biblical and Theological Reflections by Women from the Third World, edited by John S. Pobee and Bärbel von Wartenberg-Potter. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1986.


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An important contribution by a Ghanaian Methodist theologian and ecumenical leader. Oduyoye’s starting point is her experience of the sacrifice of women in the African. She explains her understanding of the close connection between mission and sacrifice, investigates ritual sacrifice and self-sacrifice in African social contexts, and calls on the whole church – both men and women – to follow the example of Christ in the scriptures and the sacrificial lives of African churchwomen. Free via subscription from Internet Archive.

Sawyerr, Harry. “Sacrifice.” In Biblical Revelation and African Beliefs, edited by Kwesi A. Dickson and Paul Ellingworth, 57–82. London: Lutterworth Press, 1969.

Sawyerr, a Sierra Leonean Anglican priest and theologian, famously describes sacrifice as “the open sesame of the heart of the African to Christian teaching” (p. 58). He gives examples of sacrifices offered in West Africa, discusses their structure and purpose, and relates his reflections to wider discussions about the origin of sacrifice, the use of blood and the debate about expiation and propitiation. This classic article placed sacrifice squarely on the African theological agenda.

Ukpong, Justin S. “The Problem of God and Sacrifice in African Traditional Religion.” Journal of Religion in Africa 14, no. 3 (1983): 187–203.


Access: Free A well-presented and sophisticated discussion, by a Nigerian Catholic priest and biblical scholar, that reassesses why some African peoples offer sacrifice to God only occasionally or not at all. He argues that both the Deus otiosus theory and the mediumistic theory are inadequate. Instead, he suggests that just as Ibibio etiquette demands that the king should not be approached often, so God is not given sacrifice frequently out of deference. Free via subscription from JSTOR.