Rev. Prof. J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, FGA
The Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences on the 6th day of May, 2021 hosted an annual lecture in the Arts on the topic ‘Divinity and Epidemiology: Religion and Public Health in the History of Pandemics in Africa (1918-2020)’’ which was delivered by Rev. Prof. J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, FGA. The lecture started exactly 5:30pm with a welcome address and an introduction of the chairman by the assistant honorary secretary of the academy thus Prof. Joshua Yindenaba Abor, FGA. The chairman of the occasion and vice president of the Arts section of the academy, Prof. Kofi Opoku Nti, FGA accepted the call.
Among the special invited guest who graced the occasion were the Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana were the speaker heads as the President.
The speaker, Rev. Prof. J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, started the lecture by iterating that the lecture consists of religious historical reflections on the intersections between religion and public health based on Africa’s experiences of pandemics within the last century. The focus is mainly on the influenza pandemic of the early 20th and the covid-19 pandemic of the early 21st century.
He further unfolded the area the lecture will focus by saying that, the lecture shall deal mainly with Christian Africa. In between those two periods, that is 1917 to 1918 and 20 to 21, when these diseases broke out, there have been other pandemics, such as the HIV AIDS that the world has had to deal with, especially since the last three decades of the 20th century.
He further explained that it is the century within which Africans have taken their spiritual destiny into their own hands with the formation of new Christian churches, ministries and movements that have attempted to respond to indigenous expectations in the practices of faith and contextualized spiritualities. Ironically, it has been a century in which humanities otherwise impressive efforts in medical science and knowledge have sometimes come unstuck as the world has been confronted with puzzling issues in public health.
He said the lecture focuses on the influenza and COVID-19 pandemics because in both cases, the outbreaks where of a global nature, the trajectory of the diseases became unpredictable. Socio-economic and political systems were overwhelmed. The outbreaks led to the prescription of non pharmaceutical protocols and the prescribed non pharmaceutical and medical remedies generated both compliance and skepticism in equal measure. Most importantly, the two pandemics brought before the critical importance of the deployment of religion as an instrument of survival in African life and thought in the face of misfortune, crisis and calamity.
These have included the outbreaks of pandemics before, which at least in the short to medium term, the mightiest of nations have found their wealth, military arsenal and medical, technological and scientific knowledge paralyzed.
Again, he said, African Christians have interpreted these pandemics against the backdrop of the biblical material. Biblical areas in which misfortune is sometimes not only brought upon populations by divine action, but also that the people could by confession of sin, repentance and observance of public health regulations, experience interventions in calamitous situations have been cited as offering the need that theological and hamitical lenses from Vatican current developments.
He also said that, on the wider world stage, the Justinian plague of the sixth century is said to have killed millions in the sixth century alone. The influenza pandemic killed up to about 50 million people. It is good news that vaccines have been developed for some of these diseases, but infectious diseases have not vanished and the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that humanity is not out of the woods yet.
He concluded by reminding the audiences that the influenza and COVID-19 pandemics and HIV AIDS, for instance, changed the way we believe, the way we pray, worship, interpret and understand matters of faith, provide pastoral care and counselling and how we relate to the transcendent realms of power.
REPORT BY HAMIDU ABDUL-LATEEF