Ella Watson-Stryker, Class of 2002
This year I had the opportunity to work on a senior honors thesis through the Henry Rutgers Scholars Program. The program allows seniors to spend two semesters on a twelve-credit independent research project of their choice. In the spring of my junior year, I discussed topic ideas with my advisor for the project, James Johnson, and eventually decided to study the involvement of the Christian churches in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. I was interested in how a situation like apartheid had been overthrown using mostly nonviolent methods, and in examining a case where religious groups were involved in a conflict situation in a positive way. As a double major in Religion and Geography, I was able to incorporate both disciplines into my study by examining the ways in which the Christian churches and specifically the World Council of Churches helped spread the movement at the international level.
What I found was that Christian churches and international organizations such as the World Council created a consciousness within the global Christian community about the injustices of the apartheid government. The involvement of the Christian churches also served to strengthen nonviolent forms of protest within South Africa and to encourage global participation in the anti-apartheid struggle through nonviolent methods such as boycotts and sanctions.
What was interesting was that as the apartheid government became more and more restrictive in the face of national protest, religious groups within South Africa were able to avoid national censure by focusing their organizational efforts at the international level. My argument is that this ability to transcend local and national scales was unique and put the Christian churches in a position of power.