Lived Theology: Qualitative Data and Theology in World Christianity

On November 10, 2020, the Centre hosted a panel discussion around the intersection of qualitative and theological approaches to the study of world Christianity. We were glad to have with us Dr Easten Law (OMSC), Dr Diane Stinton (Regent College), and Dr Muthuraj Swamy (Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide), and moderated by Dr Alexander Chow (University of Edinburgh). Topics ranged from personal interests in qualitative approaches to the study of theology, the knotty relationship between “elite” and “lived” theologies, and the value of such an approach to the study of the worldwide phenomenon of Christianity.

If you are unable to access the video above from YouTube, you can also try watching it from the University of Edinburgh’s Media Hopper service.

What is the Study of World Christianity?

Last week I was in Atlanta, Georgia, USA to discuss precisely that question. Invited by Jehu Hanciles and hosted by faculty and students of Emory University, 25 scholars grappled with the slippery entity we call ‘World Christianity’. Is it a field, or a lens or even a discipline? Who studies it and why? How did it emerge? Why is it found mainly in Europe and North America? Has it a Protestant bias? What is the relationship between the study of World Christianity and the Christians across the globe who are studied? How do our studies connect with other academic studies like missiology, area studies, demography and anthropology of Christianity? These questions have been asked many times before but I welcomed the opportunity to ruminate collectively with scholars who had carefully prepared and shared papers beforehand. Individual contributions were influenced by the primary discipline of contributors, the areas of the world with which they were most familiar, and how far their institution, post or programme deployed the term ‘World Christianity.’ 

The team at Emory will distil our papers and conversation for public consumption. In the meantime, I have attempted to articulate my description of the present state of World Christianity. I think that because we deliberately cross boundaries of other disciplines when we study World Christianity, it is similar to other emerging foci of study—Global History, intercultural theology etc. However, perhaps the combination of all the following elements does give World Christianity some distinctiveness beyond a useful ‘hold all’ term:

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World Christianity and Interdisciplinarity: Combining Theology and Social Sciences in the Field of World Christianity

Elizabeth Marteijn is a PhD student at the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh. Her research brings together the methods of theology and ethnography in the study of Palestinian Christianity. She attended the conference on World Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary from 18–20 January 2018 and offers the following in conversation with Jason Bruner’s recent essay on this blog.

Cornelis de Man, A Scholar in His Study

The goal of the recent World Christianity conference, held at Princeton Theological Seminary from 18–20 January, was to inquire into the state of the field considering the currents, perspectives and methodologies. One of the conclusions was the fruitfulness of the intersection between theology and social sciences, in particular ethnography and the anthropology of Christianity, within the field of World Christianity, as was highlighted earlier on this blog by Jason Bruner.

In this post, I will explore some of the reasons why the intersection between theology and social sciences is proving so popular. One part of the answer is that World Christianity has developed as an interdisciplinary academic enterprise, with historical, missiological, theological and social-scientific interests. In addition, there have been trends in World Christianity in which different approaches blended together. Firstly, after the publication of the seminal works of Robert Schreiter and Stephen Bevans in the 1980s and 1990s, a proliferation of contextual theological works appeared.1 With this attention to the context, theology becomes to a greater extent a matter of reflection on human life in view of the Christian tradition and opens up to social-scientific study. Secondly, there are trends to study theological reflection and engagement of ordinary people by interviewing them. Diane Stinton and Jason Carter have produced two such works.2 I consider these trends as preliminary to the recent interest in the intersection between anthropology, theology and World Christianity. Continue reading

Questioning a Paradigm: World Christianity

This guest post was written by Dr Jason Bruner, assistant professor of religious studies at Arizona State University, as a reflection on the recent conference “Currents, Perspectives, And Methodologies In World Christianity” held at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr Bruner’s most recent book is entitled Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda. He can often be found on Twitter @jason_bruner.

Is World Christianity a field, a sub-discipline, an analytical disposition? What are its methods, if any? And where is research in relation to it going at present? I will reflect on these questions in light of the proceedings of a recent conference, convened at Princeton Theological Seminary from January 18-20, 2018, which gathered a remarkable group of scholars from around the world who saw their work as intersecting with World Christianity. Continue reading