Images of Islam

by Deanna Ferree Womack (originally posted here)

Images of Islam abound these days, and many of them are troubling. Those who speak loudly and most forcefully define Islam in the narrowest of terms, making one image – the militant extremist – into a type for all Muslims. I find striking similarities between recent American public discourses and Protestant missionaries’ portrayals of Muslims in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From a comparative historical perspective, it is clear that the oft-repeated tropes about Islam as a violent and oppressive religion have been transmitted uncritically from one generation to the next. This dismissal of an entire faith tradition and its 1.6 billion adherents around the globe stems from a long pattern of Western representations of “the other” that 1) describe a collectivity rather than recognizing individual identities and 2) presume to speak authoritatively without taking the subjects’ own perspectives into account. The problem did not originate with the modern missionary movement, but American missionaries were among the Orientalist thinkers who adopted this mode of discourse on the Muslim populations they encountered in the Middle East. Continue reading

Studies in World Christianity, Issue 22.1

Missionary Eyes and Indigenous Eyes

Studies in World ChristianityFrom the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, Catholic and Protestant missionaries were the eyes through which Europe viewed the religious and cultural systems of the non-European world. Merchants, soldiers and diplomats sometimes fulfilled the same function, but they were birds of passage who rarely had the necessity or inclination to observe the ritual practices of indigenous peoples at close hand. Missionaries, by contrast, were in for the long haul. The objective of conversion required careful and patient observation of local traditions, the slow learning of language, the gradual attuning of the mind to the finer points of ceremonial observance, totem or taboo. Missionaries compared and contrasted what they saw with what they had seen elsewhere, or with what was familiar to them in European Christendom. As they did so, they began to order the miscellany of phenomena they encountered into divisions, categories, even systems. Continue reading

Studies in World Christianity, Issue 21.3

Special Issue: Religion and Sport

Studies in World ChristianityReligion and Sport is an emerging theme. However, while there is an ever-increasing literature base, there is a serious lack of empirical research in the field of sport and religion. Research, scholarly meetings, journals and practical initiatives that focus on sport and religion have exponentially increased during the last decade. However, these discourses are limited to contexts of a particular country and of a particular discipline. The vast majority of research on sport–religion has come from the USA and focused on a narrow evangelical manifestation of Christianity. There is little, except for Catholic reflection on sport from the Vatican, from mainland Europe and on non-Western understandings of religion and sports. Most of the contributions published in the USA or the UK, for instance, do not take into account developments on the European continent or in Canada, not to mention Africa, Latin America and Asia. And yet important sporting events are characterised by their international dimension.

The articles in this special issue of Studies in World Christianity addresses this fascinating theme, and is based on a interdisciplinary workshop held in March 2013 at the University of Edinburgh entitled ‘Religion and Sport: Past, Present and Future’. Continue reading

Studies in World Christianity, Issue 20.3

Making Sense of the ‘Other’

Studies in World ChristianityThe four articles in this issue of Studies in World Christianity reflect on various aspects of the theme of how Christians in different non-European contexts over a wide historical period have approached and endeavoured to make sense of those who are, or at least appear to be, different from them. As Ankur Barua observes in his article on Christian theological responses to the alterity of the Hindu majority in India, the question ‘precisely how other is the other?’ is not a contemporary invention of postmodern theory but a theological- philosophical puzzle that has confronted Christians throughout the history of the Church. Christian theology is premised on the foundation of the fundamental created unity of humanity – God’s love extends to all human beings without differentiation as those who all bear the image of God, and the scope of salvation in Christ must be similarly unlimited. Yet this universalism of Christian doctrine is always held in some kind of tension with the inescapable biblical antitheses between light and darkness, the Church and the world, the redeemed and the lost. The often radically divergent ways in which different groups of Christians have expressed and maintained – or occasionally even ignored – this tension forms much of the warp and woof of Christian history. Continue reading