Studies in World Christianity 28.2

World Christianity and Reciprocal Exchange

Edited by Afe Adogame, Raimundo Barreto and Richard F. Young

There is sometimes an assumption that Christianity operates, grows and develops in a historical, social, cultural, political and religious silo or context. This is hardly the case. Christianity, past and present, has shaped all geographical, religious and cultural contexts in which it has found itself, but all these various contexts, cultures and religious traditions have in turn also had an impact on Christianity in manifold ways. An exploration of this reciprocal interaction is important for our global age. Christians once viewed the world in split-screen mode: there was Europe, the centre of the faith, and there was the rest of the world with large swaths of non-Christian lands that were ripe for the work of missionaries. However, over the last century an enormous growth in Christianity across the Global South and a drop in the proportion of Europeans and Americans who identify as Christian has upended that perspective. The centre of gravity has shifted from the Global North, serving notice that the future of the faith will look increasingly diverse and dynamic.

The study of World Christianity seeks to understand how Christian communities embody historical and cultural experiences locally and globally; as such, it fosters the study of both local and translocal ways of knowing and doing. Thus, World Christianity hardly exists in a historical and socio-cultural vacuum; it encounters, affects, and is in turn impacted by local, indigenous worldviews, religions and cultures. The complex historical and socio-cultural encounters of worldviews, religions and cultures at the root of Christian communities in a variety of contexts demand further understanding and analysis. The selected, peer-reviewed essays in this issue, originally presented at Princeton’s Third International Conference (2021), explore and reflect on such a diversity of local, indigenous expressions and experiences of Christianity, their encounter with other religious traditions, and the variety of ways they interact with one another critically and constructively across time and space. While based on case studies, they focus on ethnographic practices and new methodological directions. Common themes addressed include conversion, translation, identity, missions, materiality, migration, diaspora, intercultural theology and interreligious dialogue.

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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.

Researching Chinese Christianity in the 2020s

On October 13, 2020, the Centre hosted a panel discussion with leading experts in the field of Chinese Christianity: Dr Mark McLeister (University of Edinburgh), Professor Chloë F. Starr (Yale Divinity School), and Dr Kevin Xiyi Yao (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), and moderated by Dr Alexander Chow (University of Edinburgh). Topics ranged from the personal interests in the field, different disciplinary methodologies (historical, theological, and social scientific), and a debate around Chinese Christianity’s relationship with World 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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