I’m excited to report that, starting the academic year of 2015-2016, we will be offering a new graduate course entitled ‘Theologies of World Christianity’. It will mainly be aimed at graduate students of our World Christianity cohort (MTh/MSc), but open to other graduate students in the School of Divinity and beyond.1 The new course attempts to introduce students to the wide variety of Christian theologies that have been forming around the world, with particular focus on more recent developments in contexts such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America – with some references also to Europe and North America.
In some ways, this new course is a bit of an outlier in the curriculum. On the one hand, you would think that something of this nature should be more fully integrated into more traditional survey courses in systematic theology. To have a specialised course on ‘non-Western’ formulations automatically marginalises Asian, African, and Latin American theologies as abnormal or exceptional cases. On the other hand, the reality is that this is an area which many theological institutions worldwide (including in non-Western contexts) do not look at. Brits, South Koreans, and South Africans will often readily be reading Karl Barth or Paul Tillich before reading Ahn Byung-mu or Desmond Tutu, for example. So the need of something like this is definitely great.
The other challenge with a course of this nature is the ‘exotic’ view of world Christianity. We can think of images or ideas, much like the one above, which seem to accommodate and blend together cultures and worldviews – what some may regard as ‘syncretistic’. Some have charged that certain theologies are crafted in ivory towers by elites with little value to the average Christian, and that we need to focus on the lived theologies of congregations and pastors actively leading churches.
But we do not think about the more subtle ways in which adaptations and negotiations occur – from ‘pagan’ festivals such as Christmas and Easter, or ecclesiological practices that underscore hegemonic viewpoints. In other words, everything Christians do have theological implications, though they are not always reflected on theologically or systematically. We need to therefore consider the reflections of the elite and the practices of the grassroots in our approach to Christianity.
Theologies in world Christianity are prevalent whether we realise them or not. My hope is a class like this will challenge one’s thinking about the relationships between Christianity and global contexts, in the West and in the East, in the North and in the South, at home and afar.
- There will also be an honours undergraduate (upper division course, in Americanese) variant of the course taught, entitled ‘Theologies in Global Contexts’. ↩