Melissa Inouye’s ‘China and the True Jesus’—An Interview

I interviewed Dr Melissa Inouye (University of Auckland) about her latest book, China and the True Jesus: Charisma and Organization in a Chinese Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). Drawing on historical and oral sources, Inouye presents a fascinating analysis of the well-known yet understudied Chinese Christian group, the True Jesus Church.

Why did you want to produce this study on the True Jesus Church?

I first encountered the True Jesus Church in China when a woman struck up a conversation with my husband and my baby son on a bus in a city. She invited him to church that evening. At the time we were attending a local Three-Self congregation, so he asked, “Is it a Three-Self church meeting?” She said no. So he asked, “Is it a house church meeting?” She said no. I was intrigued to hear about this church that defied the categories I had in my mind for Chinese Christianity. I went to the meeting place in a sort of commercial building and found that it was in fact a True Jesus Church. I had previously encountered the True Jesus Church in Taiwan but was surprised to find them here, in the PRC. In addition to being intrigued by the True Jesus Church’s out-of-the-box identity, I also wanted to investigate the relationship between native religious culture and transplanted Christian culture within the church. It struck me as extremely Chinese, but also very like other global forms of restorationist Christianity such as Mormonism. 

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Studies in World Christianity, Issue 25.1

Guest edited by Corey L. Williams and Afe Adogame

Multiple identities are a standard feature of human culture and society. Everyone possesses what French sociologist Bernard Lahire has called an internal plurality (2011). As Lahire sees it, individuals are ‘the bearer[s] of heterogeneous habits, schemes, or dispositions which may be contrary or even contradictory to one another’ (2003: 344). Relatedly, in their comprehensive work on identity theory, Peter J. Burke and Jan E. Stets have argued that, ‘We take on many identities over the course of a lifetime, and at any point in time we have many identities that could be activated’ (2009: 131). In other words, everyone’s internal plurality includes multiple identities that can be activated for diverse purposes. (Continue reading the introduction here.)

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