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Remembering Acclaimed Historian Professor Andrew Walls

The life’s work of pioneering historian and acclaimed Liverpool Hope University Professor Andrew Walls is being celebrated after his passing. 

Andrew Finlay Walls (28 April 1928–12 August 2021) was Professor of the History of Missions at Hope and chief patron of the Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity, which is housed within the Sheppard-Worlock Library. 

Recognising his multiple contributions to establishment of World Christianity as an academic discipline, Hope conferred on him in 2012 an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. 

Now Hope’s Professor Daniel Jeyaraj, Director of the Andrew F. Walls Centre, describes Professor Walls death on 12 August 2021 in Aberdeen, Scotland, as ‘an irreplaceable loss to all colleagues and students of World Christianity, Mission Studies and other related disciplines.’

He adds: “Simultaneously, his outstanding contributions lead us to celebrate his legacy.”

The Andrew F. Walls Centre stands as an abiding testament to Walls’ legacy. 

This specialist Centre contains invaluable resources for anyone engaged in the study of Christian history, thought and life in Africa, Asia and the Pacific region, and in the overseas Diasporas from those continents. It also serves the general field of mission studies and mission history. Most of these resource materials were collected by Professor Walls over the course of five decades in the field. 

Professor Walls studied theology at Exeter College in 1948 and Patristic Studies in 1952. For five years he served as the secretary and librarian at Tyndale House in Cambridge. 

During this tenure he married, in 1953, Ms Doreen Harden, whom he hailed as a quiet, but morally strong woman who supported him to the best of her abilities. As a theologian and historian, in 1957, he became a Methodist missionary to teach at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. There he made three important discoveries that changed his life and career forever. 

Professor Jeyaraj explains: “The first discovery was that African Christian students studied the Christian leaders of the Early Church not as dead ones, but as if they were alive among them, because the living contexts, conditions and challenges of the African Christians greatly resembled that of the Early Church.

“Secondly, the Early Church was not restricted to the Latin-speaking western parts of the Roman Empire only; by contrast, it had its centres in the Greek-speaking parts of the Roman Empire in the East, in Egypt, Ethiopia and North Africa, in Syria, Arabia, India and the like.

“And thirdly, theological curriculums developed in Europe and for European purposes of yester years had limited relevance for theological education not only in Sierra Leone, but also in fast-changing, contemporary Europe itself. Particularly, the demographic shift of Christianity from the North Atlantic countries to the southern hemisphere since mid-twentieth century warrants global outlook. He passionately championed these causes and in this regard, he was indeed ahead of his time.”

In 1962, Professor Walls was called to head the newly established Department of Religion at the University of Nigeria. 

There, he and his colleagues developed new models to study the primal religions of Africa and their impact on the major world religions such as Christianity and Islam. 

In 1966, Professor Walls was invited to teach in the School of Divinity at the University of Aberdeen. There he also established a Department of Religion to explore primal religions. For this purpose, in 1967 he founded the Journal of Religion in Africa. 

In 1982, he established in Aberdeen the well-known Centre for the Study of Non-Western Christianity, later moving this centre to the University of Edinburgh.  

In 1992 Professor Walls and the late Professor Lamin Sanneh founded the now famous Yale-Edinburgh Group on World Christianity and the History of Mission. Nowadays, almost every teacher and research student of World Christianity, Mission Studies and other related subjects belong to this group.

In the course of time, in 1995, he established the journal Studies in World Christianity. When situations in Edinburgh changed and physical space to house his Centre became difficult, Professor Walls moved a significant part of his Centre from Edinburgh to Hope. This became the nucleus for the emergence of the Andrew F. Walls Centre. In 2008, this Centre got its designated space within the Sheppard-Worlock Library.

Prof Andrew Walls 1

Professor Walls was truly a travelling academic, who invested in the welfare of his students in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. In particular, the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture - founded under the influence of Professor Walls by his former students, namely Professors Gillian and Kwame Bediako in 1987 - located in Akropong-Akuapem, Ghana, became his second ‘home’. He was their Professor of Theology, Mission and Culture. 

In the United States of America, he worked as the Guest Professor of Ecumenics and Mission Research at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1997 to 2001. He also served as the Visiting Professor of World Christianity at the Divinity Schools in Harvard and Yale. 

He had a special relationship with the City Seminary of New York. He lectured in almost all major theological institutions of higher education in the USA. And Professor Walls helped the Andrew Walls Centre at Hope, the Akrofi-Chrisaller Institute in Ghana and the City Seminary of New York to forge fellowship in research; the colleagues and students of these three institutions now participate in research colloquiums.

Professor Daniel Jeyaraj speaks of a colleague who was warm and humble and who always supported his students. He adds: “Professor Walls could narrate numerous anecdotes that created a sense of ease in the presence of the world-renowned scholar. He never boasted of his wide scholarship. Students, colleagues and friends wondered at his great humility, warm hospitality and genuine humaneness. 

“He consistently encouraged theological educators, particularly in Euro-American contexts, to reflect on the demographic shift of Christianity from the North to the South so that they can discover their own Christian identities afresh.”

Professor Walls penned the award-winning books The Missionary Movement in Christian History (1996) and The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (2002) and regularly published a Bibliography on Mission Studies in the International Review of Mission.

Professor Jeyaraj argues: “His penetrating essays have transformed the conventional Euro-American centred views of numerous mission theologians and church historians and turned them into students and proponents of World Christianity.”

In 2007, the magazine Christianity Today described Professor Walls as ‘the most important person’, whom one should know. In 2011, the Orbis Books publisher in Maryknoll, New York, hailed his achievements by publishing Understanding World Christianity: The Vision and Work of Andrew F. Walls.

Besides Christianity, Professor Walls had great love for art and collected different artefacts. Eventually, he received the covetous Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Professor Jeyaraj states: “The death of Professor Walls means a great loss to Hope in general and to the Andrew Walls Centre, its students and colleagues in particular. We at Hope send our hearty condolences to Professor Walls’s bereaved family. May they soon find peace!”

After fifty-six years of happy marriage, Professor Walls’ first wife Doreen died in 2009. They have a daughter named Christine. Their son is Andrew Junior. In 2012, Professor Walls married Professor Dr. Ingrid Reneau.

All at Hope wish them our condolences.


Published on 18/08/2021