Saturday 3rd February, 10am – 12:30pm Playfair Library, Old College, University of Edinburgh EH8 9YL
Eric Liddell is best-known for his athletic achievements, particularly his gold medal in the 400 metres at the Paris Olympics in 1924. In association with the Eric Liddell Community’s celebration of the centenary of that victory, this event will focus on the other aspect of his life, which was perhaps even more important to him, namely his life and work as a Christian missionary and teacher in China.
In this half-day programme, three scholars of the University of Edinburgh will focus on Liddell’s life and work in China, his legacy there, and the subsequent history of Chinese Christianity, worldwide and in China itself.
In the last issue, Studies in World Christianity highlighted several papers presented at the 2022 annual conference of the Yale–Edinburgh Group on World Christianity and the History of Mission. The journal took stock of three decades since the group’s first meeting in 1992, which has since been instrumental in ushering into existence the field of ‘World Christianity’. As was noted in that issue’s editorial, this new academic endeavour had at its origins a postcolonial posture which moved away from a Christendom paradigm of expansion and conquest towards a new paradigm of indigenous initiative and Christianity’s polycentric and multicultural manifestations. Hence, World Christianity is not a shorthand for idiosyncratic expressions of Christianity ‘out there’, as is often (mis)understood. Rather, it is the dynamic nature of a worldwide religion that experiences encounter and contestation, continuity and discontinuity, growth and decline.
A few years ago, Andrew Walls told me that he had once hoped to become a missionary to China. However, with the rise of the Chinese communist revolution, those plans were dashed, and he eventually made his way to Sierra Leone in 1957, followed by Nigeria in 1962. One wonders how the study of World Christianity would have been different if the doyen of the academic field spent his formative missionary years in China instead of Africa. Would he have had the same epiphany in Beijing or Shanghai or Wenzhou that he was ‘actually living in a second-century church’? When considering Confucianism or Daoism, would he likewise speak of the place of ‘primal religions’ in shaping the consciousness of another faith, be it Christianity or Buddhism? Both are undoubtedly possibilities. But perhaps, in this parallel universe, the area less likely to have developed would have been his recognition of the importance of oral cultures – a pervasive characteristic in his beloved Africa, but scantly recognised in China.
On November 2, 2021, Professor Anthony Clark (Whitworth University) delivered a paper entitled “The Theatre of Conversion: Catholic Drama and the (Re)presentation of China,” speaking about the Jesuit mission to China during the late-Qing that employed the dramatization of Boxer era Christian martyrs to “canonize China” as an East Asian holy land.
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.