RICSA, the Research Institute on Christianity and Society in Africa (originally the Research Institute on Christianity in South Africa), has always aimed to be an African institute at the University of Cape Town producing high quality research and developing graduate students as skilled researchers while seeking to contribute to a more just and sustainable society. Located in a dynamic centre for the study of religion at UCT and RICSA is currently being reconceived for a new era under the leadership of Dr Asonseh Ukah.
A brief history of RICSA
Founded by Professors John de Gruchy and Charles Villa-Vicencio and later led by Professor Jim Cochrane, RICSA has left a substantial legacy. Always involved in research relating to the transformation of society, at its inception RICSA sought to tell the social history of South African Christianity historically, later to understand the nature of Christianity in a society in transition. The Social History of Christianity Project collected documents and published three volumes to this effect: Christianity and the Colonization of South Africa, 1652 to 1870, by Charles Villa-Vicencio and Peter Grassow; Christianity and the Modernization of South Africa, 1867 to 1936, by John W. de Gruchy (both by UNISA Press), and From Dark Days to Liberation: Perspectives on the Social History of Christianity in South Africa, 1936 - 1994, James R Cochrane & Bastienne Klein (eds), Special extended issue of the Journal for Theology in Southern Africa, Volume 118, March 2004.
This project also resulted in a collection of 5000+ documents that are indexed (searchable) and lodged at the Special Collections of UCT Libraries. Original sources are cited. As the transformation process in South Africa gained momentum, RICSA began to focus on Christianity in public life, including economic justice, social values, anti-corruption policies, Christianity and Democracy, Right-wing Christianity, Africanisation, civil society, the contribution of religious bodies to public health services, environmental issues, and Christianity, the arts and transformation.
RICSA’s interest in Christianity in public life climaxed in a series of events including a major international conference, the Multi-Event 1999, led by Professor Cochrane. Seminal papers and studies were produced in the process, covering several sectors of South African society, including inter alia faith groups, the economy, education, law and justice, health, and political leadership. All of the relevant documents are accessible through our ME99 , many of them with more than historical relevance even now.
Research also took place into the way Christianity was being represented in the South African Parliament, and in 1997 RICSA was approached by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to write up a report on the Faith Community hearings that were conducted that year. The latter work resulted in the edited volume by De Gruchy, Cochrane and Stephen Martin, Facing the Truth: South African Faith Communities and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(Cape Town: David Philip Publishers, 1999), which includes the full RICSA report, along with interpretative and critical essays. The report itself, containing links to much of the primary and secondary material used in its drafting, is also available on our Archive page.
RICSA grew much from its origins as a history project focused on Christianity in South Africa. It was shaped by its changing context; not only the national and political, but also the academic contexts were different from the start of the decade. An important aspect of the post-Apartheid era South Africa was a revived recognition of its place in Africa, and this too has affected RICSA’s interest. It is for this reason that a name change was introduced to reflect a focus on Christianity and society in Africa as a whole.
Among those who staffed or helped lead one or another RICSA research project over the years were: Roger Arendse, Frank Chikane,Kevin Davy, Peter de Villiers, Jacques de Wet, David Field, Juan Garcés, Eliza Getman, Christopher Gregorowski, Malibongwe Gwele,Nomsa Hani, Lyn Holness, Hajira Khalfe, Bastienne Klein, Stephen Martin, Henry Mchlauli, Thembi Mlonyeni, Nkosinathi Ngezi,Rose Ngubo, Malinge Njeza, Jill Olivier, Luke Lungile Pato, Barney Pityana, Barbara Schmid, Samuel Silungwe, Mxolisi Somandi, Robert Steiner, Monique Viljoen, Gcobani Vika, and Gillian Walters.