On June 20 at Abia State University, the Ogbu Kalu Center for Christianity and African Culture was inaugurated, in addition to an international conference that I was keynote. This is an opportunity to introduce the distinguished professor the Nigerian public. Ogbu Kalu (1942-2009) is considered to be one of the world’s most seminal Nigerian scholars, focusing mostly on African Christianity, Global Missions, and Global Pentecostalism. He was born in Ohafia (now part of Abia State) in 1942, while Nigeria was still one of Great Britain’s colonies. Here, Kalu was educated in his early years. Also, while Kalu was in Calabar from 1955 to 1961, he attended Hope Waddell Training Institute, an establishment of the Presbyterian missionaries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is here where Kalu was first inspired to study Christianity in Africa. Shortly after Nigeria achieved its independence from Great Britain, Kalu went abroad to Canada to study history. He completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto in 1967, his Master’s degree at McMaster University in 1968, and his doctorate at the University of Toronto in 1972. Between the years 1970 and 1972, while pursuing his doctorate, Kalu received training from the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. In 1974, he received his Master of Divinity at Princeton University Theological Seminary. In 1997, he received his Doctor of Divinity with honoris causa at Presbyterian College at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
After the end of the Biafran civil war, Kalu worked at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in the Department of Religious Studies and remained active in the university’s structures until 2001. Between the years 1976 and 1978, he was the coordinator of the Humanities section in the Division of General Studies. In 1978, he became a professor of church history. Between 1978 to 1980, he served as the Director of the Division of General Studies. In 1980, he was appointed as the Dean of the Faculty of the Social Sciences. Between 1980 to 1984, he was a member of the Governing Council. Between 1984 to 1986, he was the Head of the Department of Religion. In 1983 and between the years 1995 to 1996, he was the Director of the Institute of African Studies.
Kalu garnered many academic accolades over the course of his career. In 1958, he received the Owuwa Anyanwu Native Authority Scholarship. From 1963 to 1967, he was awarded the Presbyterian Church of Canada Scholarship. He received McMaster University’s Teaching Fellowship from 1967 to 1968 and the McMaster University Scholarship in 1967. Between 1968 and 1969, he earned the Waring Fellowship of the University of Toronto and the University of Toronto Open Fellowship. From 1968 to 1970, he was awarded the Province of Ontario Graduate Award. While at Princeton, he was given the Princeton Theological Seminary Fellowship between the years 1972 and 1974, the Ecumenical Commission Research Grant in 1973, and the Grier-Davies Award in Homiletics. In 1986, he received the University of Nigeria’s Vice-Chancellor’s Research Leadership Prize. In 2001, he became the first Henry Winters Luce Professor of World Christianity and Mission Chair at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois.
While Kalu was deeply a part of the fabric of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, he spread his knowledge and influence elsewhere as well. In 1987, he served as the Visiting Lilly Professor at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1988, he served as the Visiting Professor for World Missions at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Seoul, South Korea. Between 1992 and 1993, he served as the Visiting Professor at the New College in the University of Edinburgh and as Senior Research Fellow at the Center of the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World. Between 1996 and 1997, he served as the Visiting Professor at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. In 1998, he served at the Center for the Study of World Religions and Harvard Divinity School and as Visiting Professor at Harvard Divinity School.
Kalu wrote 180 journal articles related to Global Pentecostalism, African Christianity, and Global Missions. He also served as a member of the editorial board for more than 15 journals related to these same subjects. Some of these journals include Mbari: The International Journal of Igbo Studies; Religion (1977 to 1980); Journal of Religion in Africa; Nigerian Journal of Social Studies (1979 to 1982); Ikenga; West African Religion (1975 to 1987); and African Theological Journal.
Kalu was the author or editor of more than 16 books. Some of these books include: Divided People of God: Church Union Movement in Nigeria in 1978; The History of Christianity in West Africa in 1980; African Church Historiography: An Ecumenical Perspective in 1988; Embattled Gods: Christianization of Igboland in 1996; Power, Poverty, and Prayer: The Challenges of Poverty and Pluralism in African Christianity in 2000; African Christianity: An African Story in 2005; and African Pentecostalism: An Introduction, and Clio in a Sacred Garb: Christian Presence and African Responses, 1900 – 2000 in 2008.
Kalu not only wrote about Christianity; he also actively participated in Christian communities across the world, for he was a devout Christ follower. Between 1970 to 1981, he served as African Theological Institutions’ secretary-general. In 1998, he was a chair of the Executive Board section on Evangelism and Globalism and a member of the Executive Board of Current Events in World Christianity at the University of Cambridge. In his lifetime, he also was part of the Associations of African Church Historians as its secretary and coordinator, and he was a member of the Governing Council of the Spiritan School of Theology in Enugu. While in Chicago in the first decade of the twenty-first century, he was an active attendant of Progressive Community Center—The People’s Church. There, he also taught Christian education classes for adults.
Undoubtedly, Kalu left a substantial mark in Nigerian and African scholarship that was felt across the world. According to Clifton R. Clarke, Kalu was the “most accomplished African Christian scholar in North America” at the time of his death in 2009. In part, his work was particularly significant because, in the twentieth century, Christianity surged throughout the global south. The growth was so significant, in fact, that it has been referred to as the “fourth great age of Christian expansion.” Throughout this stunning expansion, Kalu was able to provide his sagacious insight and serve as a counter voice against the Western interpretation of African Christianity’s origins and evolution.
Prof. Falola writes from The University of Texas at Austin