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Professor Lamin Sanneh, 1942-2019

Professor Lamin Sanneh, 2014. Photo by Caorongjin, Wikimedia Commons.

Professor Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School, passed away unexpectedly from a stroke on 6 January 2019 at the age of 76.

Born in a rural Muslim family in Gambia, Lamin Sanneh converted to Christianity as a teenager. He went on to become a renowned scholar in the field of World Christianity. He authored or edited more than 20 books, and wrote over 200 scholarly articles.

In his book, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture, Sanneh points out the uniqueness of Christianity in always translating the words of the founder (Jesus) into vernacular languages rather than the original Aramaic. In his opinion, Christianity was a preserver rather than a destroyer of indigenous languages and cultures. He attributed the successful spread of Christianity to missionaries who fitted into local cultures, delivering the Christian message in the vernacular languages, and encouraging the people to adapt their own customs to it.

In an interview with Dr Graham Hill of the GlobalChurch Project about World Christianity, he said, “Probably no factor has been as decisive for the appropriation of Christianity anywhere it has succeeded than that of mother-tongue adoption, and in the modern period this has been demonstrated with abundant evidence.”

In 2018, the Sanneh Institute at the University of Ghana was established as a multi-faith and multi-disciplinary research institute for the advanced study of religion and society. It will be formally inaugurated in 2020.

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